Hillsborough relatives win fresh inquiry

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The Independent Online
It took the screening of a television programme, and a change of government, but yesterday relatives of football fans who died at Hillsborough finally secured a review of how the disaster was handled.

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, told the House of Commons that Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, a senior Court of Appeal judge, would scrutinise new video and medical evidence relating to the deaths of 96 fans at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough stadium in April 1989.

Mr Straw said that the judge would advise him whether the evidence, which is believed to challenge the police version of events at the stadium, was significant enough for a full public inquiry to be held.

Lord Justice Stuart-Smith would also examine any other material submitted by interested parties, he said, and would identify any relevant evidence for the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire police.

Mr Straw's statement followed a long campaign for a fresh investigation by families of the victims, who were invited to London to be briefed by him on details of the review.

The supporters were crushed to death after police decided to open gates to let people into the Leppings Lane terrace at the FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Mr Straw said: "I hope that this examination will enable us to establish conclusively whether or not material evidence ... has been overlooked. We owe it to everyone touched by the tragedy, but above all to the families of those who died, to get to the bottom of this matter once and for all."

Despite earlier inquiries, he said, "concerns have remained about whether the full facts have yet emerged". The suffering of relatives had been "exacerbated by their belief that there are unresolved issues which should be investigated further".

The video evidence consists of a tape taken from a surveillance camera trained on the Leppings Lane stand, which shows events between noon and 5.22pm and is believed to be clear enough to identify faces of individual fans. Police told the inquest in 1990 and an inquiry by the late Lord Taylor that they were unaware of the build-up of fans in the pens because the camera was not working.

Calls for a fresh investigation gained momentum after the broadcasting last December of a documentary drama by Jimmy McGovern, which suggested that officers must have known that the terraces were severely overcrowded.

The medical evidence suggests that more could have been done to save lives. Dr Ed Walker, who treated injured fans, says that one teenager was still alive 25 minutes after the coroner decided that the victims must have been dead. The families believe the new evidence calls into question the inquest verdicts of accidental death. Lord Taylor laid most of the blame at the door of the police.

Since the tape came to light in March, the Crown Prosecution Service has been reviewing the case to establish whether there is sufficient evidence to bring charges against any police officers.

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