Hillsborough disaster victim dies

TONY BLAND, the Liverpool football supporter who has been in a coma since being crushed in the Hillsborough stadium disaster, died last night.

His parents, Allan and Barbara, who had won an historic court ruling to have his life-sustaining systems removed, were at his bedside at Airedale General Hospital in Keighley, West Yorkshire.

Mr Bland, 22, was caught in the crush at the Leppings Lane end stand at Sheffield Wednesday's ground in the tragedy in April 1989, which left scores of fans pinned up against wire fencing designed to stopped them getting on to the pitch. The disaster led to the immediate death of 95 people.

As a result of the crushing injuries he sustained, his brain was starved of oxygen and he lapsed into a medical condition known as persistent vegetative state. Mr Bland never regained consciousness.

Although he could breathe by himself, the sentient part of his brain had been destroyed. He could only die if his food and water supply was cut off.

His parents, convinced that they had already lost their son but unable to grieve properly, mounted a legal battle so that he could be allowed to die.

Their wishes posed a dilemma for Mr Bland's doctors. Their sympathies lay with his parents, but complying with their wishes could have made them liable to charges of manslaughter or murder.

The key issue, which had never been tested in the English courts, was whether a feeding tube could be considered a form of medical treatment.

Last month, following a lengthy legal battle, Law Lords decreed that Mr Bland should be allowed to die with dignity.

Although the verdict was unanimous, one of those involved, Lord Mustill, admitted to having profound misgivings. He feared that the Lords' decision might only emphasise the 'distortions' of a legal structure that was already 'both morally and intellectually misshapen'.

In a statement last night, the hospital authorities said Mr Bland had died at 9.30pm. His physician, Dr Jim Howe, ceased all hydration, nutrition and drug therapy on 22 February.

Dr Howe said: 'It is sad when anyone's life comes to an end, but Tony's life really ended almost four years ago in the Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield. So the sadness is eased by a sense of relief that his, and his family's, long ordeal has finally come to an end.

'His parents said only today how peaceful their son has looked over his last few days and how relieved they are that he is finally at rest.'

The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev David Konstant, last night asked for prayers to be said for Mr Bland and his parents in churches in his diocese, which includes the Airedale General Hospital.

(Photograph omitted)

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