New Hillsborough inquests give hope to victims families

31 March 2014 01:46

Fresh inquests into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 football supporters were crushed to death, begin in northwest England on Monday after the initial verdicts were quashed amid claims of a police cover-up.

The families of Liverpool supporters who died in Britain's worst sporting disaster will gather in a purpose-built court near Warrington, east of Liverpool, after a two-decade fight to overturn the accidental death verdicts handed down at the initial 1991 inquiry.

The fans were caught up in a crush on a terrace during an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, northern England.

Some died on the pitch as fellow fans and police officers desperately tried to revive them, while other fans made makeshift stretchers out of advertising hoardings.

Families of the victims say there is evidence police and authorities altered statements submitted by officers on the day of the disaster.

An independent panel published a damning report in September 2012 that concluded that 41 of those who died would have had the "potential to survive" if they had received medical treatment more quickly.

The High Court in London subsequently quashed the original coroner's verdicts and called for fresh inquests.

Two new investigations were launched, one by the Independent Police Complaints Commission and one wider criminal inquiry.

The IPCC -- the police watchdog -- said Thursday it had interviewed 13 retired or serving police officers on suspicion of offences including manslaughter and perverting the course of justice.

On Friday, police said the two investigations were treating a total of 22 people as suspects -- not all of them police officers -- giving new hope to the families of the dead.

The inquests seek to examine the circumstances in which the deceased came by their deaths but do not apportion blame and are expected to last at least nine months.

Steve Kelly, whose brother Michael, 38, died in the tragedy said the families faced "the biggest months of our lives."

"The families need to steel ourselves for what lies ahead as it will be an emotional experience," he told the Mirror newspaper. "We will be there to support each other."

"In many ways, this is a landmark event. It has never been done before."

It was revealed at a pre-inquest hearing on Thursday that the BBC had found previously unseen television footage from the disaster, which could form new evidence.

Pete Weatherby, an advocate representing 21 of the families, said: "There is at least an hour of it. It is within the stadium at relevant times."

The footage has been turned into 3,000 digital still images and there are reported to be over 70,000 pages of material for the inquest to work through.

The coroner, Lord Justice John Goldring, said the inquests would begin with "pen portraits" of each of the victims, which will last until mid-April.

Source: AFP