BBC News Website, December 2012 – James Saunders comments re Hillsborough inquest verdicts quashed by High Court
Hillsborough inquest verdicts quashed by High Court
The High Court has quashed the original inquest verdicts returned on 96 Liverpool football fans who died in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.
The Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge ordered fresh inquests following an application by the Attorney General.
Dominic Grieve made his request to the High Court three months after a new report established 41 of those who died might have been saved.
The home secretary has also announced a new police inquiry into the disaster.
Theresa May said the new inquiry would re-examine what happened in April 1989.
New medical evidence was used as a basis for the new inquests application.
Mr Grieve said the application was being made as a consequence of the Hillsborough Panel's report published on 12 September, which he said was a "remarkable" document.
He said that Dr Bill Kirkup, the medical member of the panel and a former associate chief medical officer at the Department of Health, had explained that, of the deceased, 58 "definitely" or "probably" had the capacity to survive beyond the 15:15 cut-off time.
The families of the victims celebrated the ruling outside the High Court
That new evidence, which Mr Grieve said formed the "essential basis" for his application "undermines the coroner's summing-up at the inquests".
In making his judgement, Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge said there had been "deliberate misinformation surrounding the disaster".
"There has been a profound and palpable belief that justice had not been done [and] it is clear there are sound grounds for this application," he said.
Mrs May said former Durham Chief Constable Jon Stoddart would lead the new inquiry, which will focus specifically on the 96 deaths of Liverpool fans as a result of what happened at the FA Cup semi-final in 1989.
The fans died after they were crushed within two pens at the Leppings Lane terrace of Sheffield Wednesday's stadium during the semi-final with Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989.
Mrs May said she was "determined to see a swift and thorough response to the findings of the Hillsborough Panel to deliver justice for the 96 football fans who died and the families who have fought so hard on their behalf".
Mr Stoddart will be able to recruit investigators and staff to his team, but he will not be allowed to employ officers or former officers with any prior connection to the Hillsborough disaster or from the West Midlands, South Yorkshire or Merseyside police forces.
He said he was "aware of the great significance and personal responsibility which comes with leading this criminal investigation".
"My first priority is to meet with as many of the families as possible and to establish a working open relationship with them throughout the investigation," he said.
Jon Stoddart stepped down as Durham Police chief constable in October
In making his request, the Attorney General said the "horrific" events at the stadium were well known and "were seen by millions on television as the tragedy unfolded and by many of the spectators at the stadium itself".
He said that in the months and years that followed, the events that led to the tragedy "have been the subject of numerous investigations and inquiries".
The original inquest verdicts angered many of the bereaved families who were told at the 1990 hearing that all Hillsborough's victims had been injured by 15:15 on the afternoon of the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
Evidence covering the response by the emergency services after this time was also not heard at the original inquest.
Relatives of those who died travelled to London for the High Court hearing, while other family members and survivors watched the hearing on screens in Liverpool Family Court.
Damian Kavanagh, who was in the crowd on the day and helped care for those injured, said the judgement was "massive".
"I never thought this day would come. It's uplifting to get to this stage and a serious wrong in society is going to be put right," he said.
"It's been an open wound for the city. We went through hell on that day and to get it turned around as if it was our fault, I can't describe it."
Solicitor James Saunders, who represents the Hillsborough Family Support group, said the order "opens the path to justice for the Hillsborough families".
"Those who caused the deaths, concealed what happened, lied to the press and denigrated the victims to hide their own culpability may expect to be brought to account in court," he said.
Police altered statements
The Hillsborough panel's findings showed police and emergency services had made "strenuous attempts" to deflect the blame for the disaster on to the fans.
More than 160 police statements had been altered - 116 of them to remove or change negative comments about the policing of the match.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotheram said he was concerned the families of the victims may not have the finances to support any new legal cases.
In response, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: "I think it might be helpful to say that my department is very mindful of the financial pressures faced by the Hillsborough families.
"We all recognise the very difficult circumstances they have been through and they are certainly in our consideration."