The provisional dates for the fresh inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans at Hillsborough 24 years ago have been set for early 2014.
Coroner Lord Justice Goldring is set to announce a venue next week – and he will not await the outcome of any criminal investigations, after the pre-inquest hearing opened at the High Court in London today.
Lord Justice Goldring said: “It seems to me to come down to the North West or London [for location of inquests]. There’s some disagreement regarding that.
“As far as the venue is concerned I want to think about this. I shall hand down my decision next week and set out the reasons for it.”
Hillsborough Family Support Group Chair Margaret Aspinall said: “I’m hoping it’s another step towards the beginning of the end.”
New inquests were ordered in December after the High Court quashed the Accidental Death verdicts from the original inquest in 1991.
Michael Mansfield QC, who was speaking on behalf of the HFSG and 71 of the families, appealed for the inquests to be held in the first two weeks of January 2014 – in London, for the sake of its neutrality.
He, along with Pete Wetherby QC, who was representing the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and 20 families, said that victims’ relatives did not have much faith in the Independent Police Complaints Commission – asking for another independent team to scrutinise the work of the IPCC, and the inquiry led by recently retired Durham Chief Constable, Jon Stoddart.
However, some families are concerned that if the inquests were to take place in the capital then many people will not be able to attend and there are calls for a more local venue, with Chester, Preston and Warrington all suggested.
Mr Mansfield argued that Warrington, along with Manchester, would not be appropriate because of the “legacy” of lies and smears which followed the tragedy.
Mr Wetherby said: “Some families are vehemently opposed to inquests held more than 200 miles from Liverpool for reasons of principle and practicality.
“We wouldn’t want Manchester for reasons outlined earlier but there are a wealth of towns such as Preston, Chester or Crewe that would all be entirely suitable, with plenty of adequate venues.”
The IPCC said the inquests should take place in early January – whilst the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said it should take place as soon as possible.
However, families were not happy at the suggestion from the Police Federation that officers would not have to testify at the new inquests at the risk of incriminating themselves.
The court also heard that many organisations want to be designated as “interested persons” along with the families include police forces, South Yorkshire Ambulance Service, the FA along with others.