Hillsborough files to be made public

Home Office to release documents 10 years early in response to concerns

Hundreds of official documents about the Hillsborough disaster, which have been kept secret for 20 years, are to be made public for the first time following a request from the home secretary, the Home Office confirmed yesterday.

Jacqui Smith has asked South Yorkshire Police to release the documents, which contain detailed evidence of what happened during the tragedy in 1989. Normally they would not be made public until 30 years after the events took place; Ms Smith's intervention means they will be released 10 years early. Families of the 96 people who died at the stadium in Sheffield believe the contents of the documents may provide enough evidence to warrant a new inquiry.

They believe that South Yorkshire Police never initiated a "major incident plan", and that fans in the Leppings Lane end of the Hillsborough stadium were denied emergency medical attention. The families also dispute the findings of the single inquest into all 96 deaths, which ruled that the victims were all dead, or brain dead, by 3.15pm, and subsequently recorded a verdict of accidental death.

As a result, evidence as to what may have happened after that point was never heard. Many bereaved families believe their loved ones could have still been alive at that time, and want a fresh inquiry.

They say it is a injustice that no individual or organisation has every been held fully to account for the disaster.

Ms Smith has met South Yorkshire Chief Constable Meredydd Hughes to discuss the records. The files contain evidence from the police, local council and the ambulance service.

Trevor Hicks, of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, said today: "We have heard that a request has been made and we are expecting confirmation this week.

"I am pleased. It's better late than never. This will enable us to see the full picture of events in a way that we have been denied for 20 years. It is vital that these files are released in full, and not sanitised in any way.

"The families would also like a short period to view the documents before they are made public.

"Some of them are bound to contain information about the manner in which our loved ones died, their medical conditions and so on. I think it's best if we learn of that ourselves, and not through other parties."

The families say they are particularly keen to see the minutes of a meeting between the then-prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, and senior South Yorkshire police officers. This meeting is said to have taken place on the Sunday morning after the disaster.

Mr Hicks said: "We believe that a decision was made at that meeting that the police would not be blamed for what happened. We would like to see the minutes of the meeting, to know what the prime minister was told, and what decisions were taken about the handling of any inquiries."

The Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, was heckled on Wednesday as campaigners shouted "Justice for the 96" at the Hillsborough memorial service. Following the service, he called for "full disclosure" of all evidence on the Hillsborough disaster.

Kevin Robinson, chairman of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign said: "The memorial service on Wednesday, I think had an affect on Andy Burham, the culture secretary. He saw how the pain was still there and he heard the chants for justice. It is high time the government realised that something should be done." Many of the victims families were today returning from Wembley Stadium in London, where they took part in an FA memorial service on the pitch yesterday.

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