Mail Online, December 2012 – James Saunders comments re Hillsborough inquest verdicts quashed by High Court
A giant step to justice: Fresh police probe into Hillsborough Disaster launched as original verdict is quashed
PUBLISHED: 11:03, 19 December 2012 | UPDATED: 12:41, 19 December 2012
A new police investigation into the Hillsborough Disaster was announced by the Home Secretary today, as the High Court quashed the original accidental death inquest verdicts after 96 Liverpool fans died at Hillsborough 23 years ago.
The Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge and two other judges in London ordered fresh inquests following an application by the Attorney General Dominic Grieve.
Former Durham Chief Constable Jon Stoddart, meanwhile, will lead the new police inquiry, which will focus specifically on the deaths of Liverpool fans at the FA Cup semi-final in 1989.
The move comes after a damning report from the Hillsborough independent panel laid bare a cover-up which attempted to shift the blame for the tragedy on to its victims.
Home Secretary Theresa May said: 'I am 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.
He is also unable to recruit any officers or former officers who worked in the West Midlands, South Yorkshire or Merseyside police forces.
Mr Stoddart will also work closely with the previously announced Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation into police conduct in the aftermath of the disaster.
He said: 'I am 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.
'I have held a number of meetings already and have been struck by the families' humility and steadfast determination to see justice delivered for their loved ones.
'My role is to ensure that we determine exactly what happened in the lead-up to and on the day of the disaster and establish where any culpability lies.'
The announcement of the investigation came on the same day the High Court quashed the original accidental death inquest verdicts returned on the 96 victims.
Mr Grieve made his application to Lord Judge and two other judges in a packed London courtroom.
Lord Judge said there were 'good grounds' for the application made by Mr Grieve and described what happened in 1989 as 'catastrophic'.
Referring to the families, he said there had been a 'profound, almost palpable belief that justice has not been done and that it cannot be done without and until the full truth is revealed'.
He said: 'We must record our admiration and respect for their determined search for the truth about the circumstances of the disaster and why and how it had occurred, which - despite disappointments and setbacks - has continued for nearly a quarter of a century.'
After Lord Judge announced the decision of the court, families in the packed courtroom greeted it with a loud round of applause.
More than 40 families, as well as at least six MPs, had made the journey to London for the hearing, while others watched by videolink from Liverpool.
Lord Judge said each of those who died in the tragedy was a 'helpless victim of this terrible event'.
He ruled that it was in the interests of justice to hold a fresh inquest.
He said the 'interests of justice must be served' - 'however distressing the truth will be brought to light'.
Michelle Carlile, 44, clutching a photograph of her brother Paul, 19, who died at Hillsborough, said of today's decision: 'It is bitter-sweet. We have known the truth for 23 years.'
When giving the ruling, Lord Judge expressed regret that the process the families had gone through over the years since the disaster had been 'so unbearingly dispiriting and prolonged'.
Responding to the decision to quash the original Hillsborough inquest verdicts and the announcement that a fresh police investigation is to be held into the disaster, Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said: 'This is a watershed moment on the road to justice for the families of the 96, and I share their overwhelming relief that, after 23 very painful years, the inquest verdicts have been quashed.
'It is the only right and proper decision that the High Court could make in the wake of the overwhelming and compelling evidence uncovered by the Hillsborough Independent Panel.
'We must all keep up the pressure that has driven the momentum over the last few months to make sure that the families get the justice they deserve.
'I also welcome the new police investigation, which we all hope will result in those that played a role in causing the disaster and the monumental cover-up are brought to account.'
James Saunders, managing director of Saunders Law Ltd, the solicitor who represents the Hillsborough Family Support Group, said: 'After truth there must be justice, and the High Court's order for fresh inquests on the 96 who died 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.'
Trevor Hicks, chair of Hillsborough Family Support Group, spoke of his delight at the decision to quash the inquest verdicts.
Speaking outside London's Royal Courts of Justice, he said: 'Justice is on its way. Everything we've said has been proven to be correct.'
Mr Grieve's legal move comes after a damning report into the disaster laid bare a cover-up which attempted to shift the blame for the tragedy on to its victims.
The court heard at the start of today's hearing that the application was not opposed.
Mr Grieve said that 'nevertheless', 'given the intense public interest' in the case, it was right - with the court's permission - that he set out the basis for the application he was making.
Mr Grieve said the 'horrific' events at the stadium were well known, adding: 'They 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'.
Mr Grieve said today's application was made as a consequence of the Hillsborough Panel's report published on September 12 this year.
He described it as a 'remarkable' document.
'We must all keep up the pressure that has driven the momentum over the last few months to make sure that the families get the justice they deserve'
- Lord Justice Judge
Mr Grieve said the report was the product of a review of more than 450,000 pages of documentation from 84 organisations and individuals, in addition to audio-visual material.
He said that in the immediate weeks following publication he carefully studied the findings of the Hillsborough Panel with a view to 'whether it was right' to exercise his powers under Section 13 of the Coroners Act.
In October he announced to Parliament his intention to make an application 'for the inquests of those who died as a consequence of the Hillsborough disaster to be quashed and new inquests ordered'.
He said: 'At the same time I indicated that I would immediately start the process of consultation with the families as to their views on whether such an application should be made in their particular case as well as with the defendants and other interested parties.
'Soon after my announcement to Parliament, I commissioned further expert analysis of the new medical evidence which forms the central plank of this application.'
He told the judges: 'The report of the Hillsborough Panel undermined a critical assumption that underpinned all of the investigations into the disaster and, most importantly, that had underpinned the inquests.
'The panel's access to all of the relevant records and expert analysis of the post-mortem evidence confirmed that the notion of a single, unvarying and rapid pattern of death in all cases was unsustainable.
'Some of those who died did so after a significant period of unconsciousness during which they might have been able to be resuscitated, or conversely might have succumbed to a new event such as inappropriate positioning.
'Consequently, the response of the emergency services was not investigated in any detail by the inquests.
'As the panel noted, "The documents disclosed show that, considered alongside the restrictions placed by the coroner on the examination of the evidence presented to the mini-inquests and the presentation of the pathologists' medical opinion as incontrovertible, the imposition of the 3.15pm cut-off severely limited examination of the rescue, evacuation and treatment of those who died. This raised profound concerns regarding sufficiency of inquiry and examination of evidence".'
Mr Grieve said that Dr Bill Kirkup, the medical member of the panel and a former associate chief medical officer at the Department of Health, has explained that, of the deceased, 58 'definitely' or 'probably' had the capacity to survive beyond the 3.15pm cut-off time.
The panel had also presented new evidence 'that casts significant doubt on the weight placed at the inquests on alcohol levels detected in the deceased'.
'That new evidence undermines the coroner's summing-up at the inquests,' said Mr Grieve.
He said the 'new medical evidence forms the essential basis for this application'.
But he added that there were 'other important findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel' which support the conclusion that it is "necessary or desirable in the interests of justice" that new inquests should be held.
In order to grant the application the High Court must be satisfied under Section 13 of the Coroners Act, he said, that it is 'necessary or desirable in the interests of justice' that new inquests should be held.
He said the new medical evidence presented in the panel report 'strongly leads to the conclusion' that there is a real risk that justice has not been done.