Hillsborough inquests date set

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Respects paid at the Hillsborough memorial outside Anfield on the 24th anniversary of the disaster. Pic by Alice Kirkland

Respects paid at the Hillsborough memorial outside Anfield on the 24th anniversary of the disaster. Pic by Alice Kirkland

The date for new inquests into the deaths of 96 football fans at Hillsborough in 1989 has been set for Monday 31st March 2014.

A scheduled date was announced at a preliminary hearing in London today, where the lawyer for three police chiefs on duty during the Hillsborough disaster also cast doubts on the validity of the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report released in September.

Lord Justice Goldring – who is heading the inquests – confirmed that the new inquests are to be heard in front of a jury.

The coroner, who said shortly after the first hearing that fresh inquests will take place in the North West of England, added today: “I am confident that we shall locate a satisfactory venue, and that will not be a reason not to begin on that date.”

The match commander on the day of the tragedy, David Duckenfield, along with then-South Yorkshire Police colleagues Roger Greenwood and Roger Marshall, were represented by John Beggs QC, who said the inquest should not consider last September’s Hillsborough Independent Panel report as being truly independent.

He claimed that since it had been prepared in consultation with families and campaign groups, it should be seen as having an “agenda,” and that they don’t regard the report as independent.

It was also revealed that families were ‘doorstepped’ by Jon Stoddart’s police inquiry team against their wishes.

Michael Mansfield QC, representing 71 of the families said: “The first signs of investigation came with the unheralded and un-notified approaches to the families. The echoes of the past rang through the streets.”

The Hillsborough disaster, April 15th 1989

The Hillsborough disaster, April 15th 1989

Samantha Leak QC, representing the Stoddart inquiry, said: “May we accept that from the outset mistakes have been made in terms of the approaches to some family members. We apologise unreservedly.”

Counsel to inquests, Christina Lambert QC, outlined the scope of the new inquests is expect to be far-reaching, including covering article two of the European Convention of Human Rights: ‘the right to life.’

The broad topics include the stadium design; preparation for the 1989 semi-final; police actions; emergency response; the likelihood of survival of victims and timescale.

She said: “Our view is that there is a case that the general duty and operational duty were breached. An enhanced inquest is what is in order.”

Ms Lambert also said the possibility of examining the circumstances surrounding some of the witness statements cannot be ruled out.

Mansfield QC said decisions about blood alcohol levels being taken from victims should also come within the scope of the inquest.

Henrietta Hill QC, counsel for 20 of the families, welcomed the broad terms of the inquest.

A third pre-inquest hearing will take place in October this year.

About Ian Bolland, JMU Journalism