Hillsborough ruling sparks families' fury

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FAMILIES of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster reacted with dismay last night and threatened to take legal action after the Government ruled out a new public inquiry into the tragedy. The announcement followed the publication an eight-month study that found no new evidence to justify re-opening the case, in which 96 Liverpool fans died at Sheffield Wednesday's football ground in 1989.

Campaigners for the dead football supporters from the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest condemned yesterday's report as a "whitewash". In the streets surrounding the home of Liverpool Football Club there were emotional scenes at the news, as fans gathered to pay their respects.

The report, however, did find new material to suggest that the football club and city council grossly overestimated the number of spaces available in the section of the stadium where the fans were crushed and that the wrongly sized barriers were fitted. It found that 658 too many spectators could have been allowed into one section.

Campaigners had hoped for a new inquiry and criminal prosecutions of the police officers who were criticised in the original Taylor report into the disaster.

Last July, Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, appointed Lord Justice Stuart- Smith to conduct an "independent scrutiny" of claims that police had deliberately covered up a video of the overcrowding and new medical evidence.

But Mr Straw told the Commons yesterday that the mini inquiry had found that the "new" material did not add "anything significant" to what was already available. He therefore ruled out quashing the accidental death verdicts of the inquest or setting up an fresh inquiry and prosecuting police officers.

The report's conclusions were a bitter blow for campaigners, but gave unequivocal backing to the earlier inquiries.

Lord Justice Stuart-Smith acknowledged that while his report would come as a "disappointment" to campaigners, he could not be swayed by compassion. "That 96 people, the majority of them young should set out in high hopes and spirits on a fine spring day, and yet within a space of less than half an hour suffer crushing injuries from which they died, is nothing less than appalling," he said.

The "new evidence" examined included a video from a closed-circuit TV at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium where the disaster happened. It was alleged that police had initially told the Taylor inquiry that they were taken by a faulty camera and then that they went were missing.

However, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith concluded that the video was available at the original inquiry and that the footage was of no significance. He also rejected claims that the inquest was "flawed" because a doctor said at least one victim was alive after the "cut off" point in which evidence was considered by the coroner.

But he did highlight the over-estimation of the capacity of the Leppings Lane terrace because proper measurements were not taken. This resulted in 2,900 tickets being sold for an area that should have taken 2,242. The barrier was also too low and there was a gap in the fencing, both of which "contributed to the substantially larger number of deaths in Pen 3," said the report.

Lord Justice Stuart-Smith said that if this had been known Lord Taylor might "have criticised Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, their consultant engineers, and those responsible for licensing the ground in more stringent term."

He also criticised the police disciplinary system which meant that the officer in charge had not been punished because he left the service.

The report and Mr Straw's response drew a furious response from the families, who said they would now be considering private prosecutions against senior officers in charge of policing on the day.

Trevor Hicks, chairman of the family support group, said the relatives were disgusted by Labour's "cynical betrayal".

"In very simple terms there is nothing for the families," he said. We are totally devastated. There is not a shred of comfort in it at all."