Prime Minister David Cameron has said that he is “profoundly sorry” for the failures that led to the Hillsborough disaster of 1989 in which 96 Liverpool fans died. His apology for what he described as a “double injustice” came after the publication of a report by the independent panel tasked with scrutinising 450,000 documents related to the disaster.
In its astonishing findings published today, the panel said that there was a failure of authorities to protect people, and an attempt by South Yorkshire Police to blame the fans for what had happened. It was revealed that more than 100 statements by police officers were changed to deflect criticism of the force’s actions.
Cameron said that a “swifter, more appropriate” response from the emergency services who were present on the day could have saved lives.
The medical advisor on the panel, Dr Bill Kirkup, said as many as 41 of the 96 who died could have possibly been saved if they had received treatment earlier.
An inquiry by Lord Justice Taylor at the time of the disaster found that the primary cause was a failure of police crowd control measures on the day, as well as serious safety inadequacies with the Hillsborough stadium itself.
The new independent panel’s findings concurred with this, while unequivocally absolving the fans of any blame for the disaster on 15th April 1989.
The three main findings of the report that were highlighted by Cameron were that the authorities failed to protect those at the ground, there was an attempt to blame the fans orchestrated by the police, and that the finding of the original coroner’s inquest into the disaster was unsustainable.
An inquest carried out into the deaths had originally returned a verdict of accidental death and imposed a 3.15pm cut-off point, meaning that no evidence about the emergency response to the disaster after this time was recorded.
The panel was able to scrutinise all documents related to the emergency response to the disaster and concluded that the verdict of a single pattern of death for all who died was not supported by the evidence available.
Speaking in the House of Commons today, Cameron said that it was now a matter for the Attorney General as to whether he should ask the High Court the quash the original accidental death verdict and order a new inquest.
The findings of the panel were applauded by the families who were given access to the documents and the report early this morning before they were released to the public at 12.30pm.
Hillsborough Justice Campaign spokesperson Sheila Coleman told the Liverpool Echo that while she welcomed the apology from the Prime Minister today to the “shocking” findings, it was now imperative that the inquest verdicts be overturned.
“We want the inquest verdict to be overturned with urgency in all cases. We will be pushing for that and pursuing it legally and having all documents looked over by our own legal team,” she said.
People present at the disaster also welcomed the report of the panel published today, but said that work still need to be done to achieve justice for those who lost their lives.
Survivor Kevin Burke, 48, from Kirkby told JMU Journalism: “I am glad the truth is out. Hopefully the rest of the country will now know what we have known for 23 years.
“However, I don’t know if we will ever get justice. Part of me is still sceptical despite today’s findings. It’s days like today are when it brings all the memories back of that dreadful day. I don’t know if I will ever get closure from it all.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband called for The Sun newspaper – which printed the infamous frontpage headline ‘The Truth’ over false allegations that fans pickpocketed and urinated on the dead – to apologise for its lies.
“We are deeply sorry for your loss, we are deeply sorry for the pain you have suffered. We hope that today is a day of truth,” he also told the House of Commons.
People gathered in Liverpool today to observe a two-minute silence as a mark of respect to those who died. Later a vigil was held at St George’s Plateau, where thousands gathered in front of the Hillsborough families, local MPs, LFC officials and Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson for speeches and prayers in memory of those who died.
The momentous findings of the panel were reported around the world, with FIFA President Sepp Blatter stating on Twitter: “I sincerely hope the findings and the apologies bring some peace to the still-grieving families and the people of Liverpool.”
Additional reporting by Joel Richards