British PM sorry for Hillsborough disaster injustice

13 September 2012 06:47

British Prime Minister David Cameron apologised to families of the 96 Hillsborough football stadium disaster victims after a probe found police tried to blame fans for the 1989 tragedy.

Cameron told parliament the victims had suffered a "double injustice" from official failings that led to fans being crushed in Britain's worst sporting tragedy and then from police attempts to impugn the dead.

"On behalf of the government -- and indeed our country -- I am profoundly sorry for this double injustice that has been left uncorrected for so long," said a sombre Cameron.

He was speaking after the seven-member Hillsborough Independent Panel led by the Bishop of Liverpool published a report following an exhaustive review of thousands of formerly secret documents.

The disaster was caused by massive overcrowding in the Leppings Lane End of Hillsborough stadium in the northern English city of Sheffield at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

To ease overcrowding outside, police opened an exit gate, allowing supporters to flood into the central pens. Fenced in, fans were crushed to death.

Lawmakers gasped as Cameron said the panel found that police repeatedly tried to cover up evidence of their own failings following the disaster in a bid to make it look as if fans were at fault.

Police "significantly amended" 164 statements, including the removal of 116 negative comments about the leadership of the police, he said.

The report found that there had been police efforts "to develop and publicise a version of events that focused on. allegations of drunkenness, ticketlessness and violence."

Officers carried out police national computer checks on those who died in an attempt "to impugn the reputations of the deceased", the report said, while the bodies of children were tested for blood alcohol levels.

By analysing post-mortem reports, the panel found 41 people could potentially have been revived had the emergency services taken more prompt action.

Cameron said the attorney general would now review the "deeply distressing" report to decide whether to apply to the high court to quash an original, flawed inquest into the tragedy.

The chief constable of South Yorkshire Police said he was "profoundly sorry" for what happened at Hillsborough as he acknowledged failings in police control, a cover-up from the start and a lack of dignity given to the dead.

David Crompton, who was only appointed to the post in April, said he had been "shocked" by the report's findings.

Asked what his message was to the families, he said: "You send your loved ones to go and watch a football match on 15 April 1989 in the sunshine. Ninety-six of them never come home because catastrophic police failures have led to a loss of control of the ground and a major crush.

"If that wasn't bad enough then a cover up starts immediately afterwards in terms of the explanation that's given as to why that's happened.

"So I would say, even 23 years later, I'm profoundly sorry for what happened on the day and what happened afterwards and offer my unreserved apology."

In Liverpool, a two-minute silence was observed outside the Anglican cathedral at 3:06 pm (1406 GMT) -- the time the match was called off -- as a mark of respect to the victims, ahead of a candle-lit vigil.

Hillsborough Families Support Group member Trevor Hicks, who lost two daughters in the tragedy, said families would now press for criminal action against those involved, adding: "The truth is out today, justice starts tomorrow."

The ground failed to meet minimum safety standards, had inadequate turnstiles, the capacity was significantly over-calculated and the crush barriers failed to meet safety standards.

In the disaster's aftermath, The Sun newspaper, edited by Kelvin MacKenzie, published a front page, headlined "The Truth", based on allegations from a senior police officer and a local lawmaker about the conduct of supporters.

It still invokes anger in Liverpool, where the tabloid is still widely boycotted.

MacKenzie offered his "profuse apologies" on Wednesday, saying he too had been "totally misled".

"I had absolutely no reason to believe that these authority figures would lie and deceive over such a disaster," he said.

"It has taken more than two decades, 400,000 documents and a two-year inquiry to discover to my horror that it would have been far more accurate had I written the headline 'The Lies' rather than 'The Truth'."

Source: AFP