Relatives to contest disaster verdict: Hillsborough families granted legal challenge

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The Independent Online
SIX FAMILIES whose relatives died in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster yesterday won an important battle in their campaign to show that some of the victims could have been saved by the emergency services.

Many of the families were in tears after being given leave in the High Court to challenge the accident verdict returned at the inquest on 95 of the 96 who died as a result of the disaster.

Mr Justice Macpherson said the families had an 'arguable case' when they claimed that the South Yorkshire coroner, Dr Stefan Popper, had made a series of errors at the inquest in March 1991.

Afterwards, they said the ruling marked a crucial step in their efforts to show that the police and ambulance services failed in their duty to care for victims of the tragedy.

Ann Williams, whose 15-year-old son, Kevin, died in the disaster, said: 'At least we have won something. I feel that justice may now get done.'

The High Court was told that Dr Popper had been wrong to exclude evidence of events that happened after 3.15pm on the day of the FA Cup semi-final. His inquest ruling that the victims had been crushed to death by that time was contradicted by new evidence, Edward Fitzgerald, for the families, said.

But this ruling prevented the inquest jury from hearing details of a flawed and tardy rescue operation, he said. If the jury had been allowed to consider 'evidence of the delays by the police summoning help, and the emergency services in responding to them', the verdict could have been lack of care.

Further, he said that two doctors whose evidence 'was plainly highly relevant . . . and raised the question of whether the deaths were preventable' had not been called at the inquest.

They should have been.

Giving the families leave to seek judicial review, Mr Justice Macpherson noted that Dr Popper was not represented at the hearing.

He warned the families against undue optimism. 'I don't know what will happen in the end,' he said. 'I don't know how desirable it is that these agonies should be prolonged.'

His ruling follows the families' campaign not to let the Hillsborough tragedy slip out of the public eye.

Mrs Williams, one of the campaigners, last year won official backing for her claims that her son had been alive at 3.55pm - more than 40 minutes after he was supposed to have died.

A Liverpool City Council working party said evidence from a woman police constable that Kevin Williams had been conscious for almost an hour was suppressed by the West Midlands police during its investigation into the disaster. Yesterday, the High Court was told that this evidence should have been heard at the inquest.

The 96th victim, Tony Bland, died on 3 March this year after doctors were given permission to withdraw the feeding tubes that had sustained him since 1989.

Mr Bland never regained consciousness after being caught in the crush at the stadium.