The campaign for justice for the Hillsborough disaster victims took a major step forward today as the Government paved the way towards fresh inquests into their deaths and it emerged that the police watchdog was about to receive a full list of officers on duty on the day of Britain’s worst sporting disaster.
Relatives of the 96 Liverpool fans who died in the crush 23 years ago expressed delight after the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, announced he would apply to the High Court to have the original verdicts of accidental death overturned.
The families are pressing for charges of manslaughter to be brought against people and organisations whose mistakes contributed to the deaths of the fans as they crowded into Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium in April 1989 to watch their team play an FA Cup semi-final.
Mr Grieve’s highly-unusual move came five weeks after a damning report into the tragedy by an independent panel exposed a cover-up by police which attempted to shift the blame for the deaths on to the supporters who died.
The panel, which was chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, also estimated that 41 lives could have been saved if the emergency services had been quicker to respond to the tragedy.
Announcing his decision in a statement to the Commons, Mr Grieve said: “Given the anxiety further delay may cause the families affected by the Hillsborough disaster, I have decided to take an exceptional course and state at this stage that, on the basis of what I have already seen, I have determined that I must make an application to the court.”
The Liverpool Walton MP, Steve Rotheram, said the move represented “one of the biggest steps forward in the fight for justice for the families in 23 years”.
Pat Joynes, whose son Nicholas was killed in the tragedy, said: “Ninety-six people can’t die and hundreds injured without someone being held responsible.”
She said: “We want to see justice. If that means police officers have to stand trial, well they should stand trial in a criminal court.”
The Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, David Crompton, told the Commons home affairs select committee yesterday that his force had identified about 1,000 officers on duty on the day of the disaster, including 100 still with the force, between 600 and 700 no longer serving and a few hundred from other forces.
He said their details would be handed over within a fortnight to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which last week launched its biggest ever investigation into police wrong-doing. Although he agreed that it had been “sick” to try to blame fans for the tragedy, he said his force was making no judgement on individuals’ culpability and would leave that to the IPCC.
Asked about morale in his force, Mr Crompton said: “People are feeling a little beleaguered. Many on the force were serving at the time of Hillsborough.”
Pressure is also growing for Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, to co-ordinate the various investigations into the Hillsborough disaster as a way of accelerations decisions on whether criminal charges could be brought.
Jenni Hicks, whose teenage daughters died in the disaster, told the committee: “We’ve already had 23 years of waiting. We don’t want to go round in circles with one agency here, one agency there.”
The victims’ families hope to meet Theresa May, the Home Secretary, ahead of a Commons debate on Hillsborough next Monday to press for a single investigation
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