Families vindicated 27 years after 1989 tragedy as jurors also decide Liverpool fans did not contribute to disaster

The 96 people who died at the Hillsborough football stadium disaster in 1989 were unlawfully killed and a catalogue of failings by police and the ambulance services contributed to their deaths, the jury at the new inquests into the disaster has determined.

The verdict, which came shortly after the 27th anniversary of the lethal crush at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, vindicated the bereaved families, who have campaigned tirelessly against the police’s efforts to blame supporters for the tragedy.

The jury of six women and three men answered 14 questions relating to the events in Sheffield of 15 April 1989, including one concerning the behaviour of supporters.

Barristers for police officers had repeatedly emphasised allegations of drunkenness and misbehaviour at the new inquests, while the families’ lawyers denounced them as “perpetuating the cover-up”.

On Tuesday, the jury rejected those police claims, ruling unanimously that the fans did not contribute to the dangerous situation at Hillsborough that day.

Families of the 96 victims, who ranged in age from 10 to 67, packed the courtroom in Birchwood Park, Warrington, to hear the jury deliver its decisions at the end of the two-year inquests – the longest jury case in British legal history. Many of the relatives had attended almost every day of the inquests, which began on 1 April 2014.

Once the jury had delivered its unlawful killing verdict and its exoneration of the supporters, those in court and in an overspill annexe cheered, applauded, hugged and burst into tears. Someone shouted “God bless the jury” and the jurors were given a round of applause as they left. Outside, the relatives gathered and spontaneously sang Liverpool football club’s anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Of those who died, 37 were teenagers, most still at school. Three pairs of brothers, one pair of sisters and one father and son died together. Twenty-six of the dead were parents.

The jury’s answers about how they died were comprehensively damning of South Yorkshire police’s planning and handling of the match, at which they had been responsible for the safety of 54,000 people.

Earlier, the jurors had been told they could only reach the determination of unlawful killing if they were sure of four essential matters concerning the deaths.

They had to be convinced that overall match commander Ch Supt David Duckenfield owed a duty of care to those who died, and that he was in breach of that duty.  They also needed to be satisfied that this breach of duty caused the deaths and that it amounted to “gross negligence”. The jury reached their verdict of unlawful killing by a 7-2 majority.

The Crown Prosecution Service, meanwhile, said it was cooperating with two investigations into possible criminal offences committed by police officers and others leading to the Hillsborough deaths, and the alleged police cover-up afterwards.

That could lead to a prosecution of Duckenfield, who was appointed only 19 days before the game, replacing an experienced match commander.

Duckenfield opened a large gate to allow 2,000 supporters trapped in a crush outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles into the ground. The jury found that he should have ordered the closure of the tunnel that led to central “pens” three and four, but he did not, and the incoming supporters went into those pens where the overcrowding caused the crush that killed 96 people and caused more than 400 others to be taken to hospital.

In its verdicts, the jury concluded:

Planning errors “caused or contributed to’’ the dangerous situation that developed on the day of the disaster.
Senior officers failed to issue specific instructions on how crowds were to be managed at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium.
The response to a build-up of fans at the Leppings Lane end was “slow and uncoordinated”.
Commanding officers failed to appreciate that ordering the opening of a gate would increase pressure in the terraces.
Police and the ambulance service caused or contributed to the loss of lives by an error or omission after the crush in the west terrace had begun to develop.

  • Fans were not to blame for the dangerous situation.
  • The design of the stadium contributed to the tragedy.
  • Club officials should have requested the match to be delayed when they became aware of the huge number of fans still outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles.

David Cameron’s spokeswoman said the government would respond to the verdicts in a written ministerial statement on Tuesday, followed by a statement on Wednesday.

She said: “Clearly, this has been one of the longest running legal cases in British history and we are going to need to take time to digest the verdict.”

The prime minister also tweeted:

After the verdicts, relatives of the victims criticised the adversarial approach to the inquests taken by the police and ambulance service. Some called for the chief constable of South Yorkshire police, David Crompton, to resign immediately. He is stepping down in November.

Solicitors Elkan Abrahamson and Marcia Stewart, from the law firms representing the Hillsborough Justice Campaign (HJC) and Hillsborough Family Support Group, said in a statement that the verdicts “completely vindicate the families’ long fight for justice”.

“It is therefore all the more shameful that, rather than focusing on the search for truth and despite having made public apologies, the approach to the inquests taken by South Yorkshire police and the Yorkshire ambulance service was to fight tooth and nail to avoid adverse findings by the jury; this turned the inquests into an adversarial battle that probably doubled the length of time it might otherwise have [taken].”

Margaret Aspinall, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, whose 18-year-old son James died in the disaster, said on Tuesday that she had refused in 1991 to pick up her son’s death certificate showing the original inquest’s verdict of accidental death.

She paid tribute to Liverpool supporters and survivors of the disaster, many of whom gave harrowing evidence during the inquests, almost all saying they saw no evidence of drunken or unusually rowdy behaviour outside the ground.

“The fans should go home and be proud of themselves, they are the heroes,” Aspinall said. “They did nothing wrong that day, and we did this for all of them, too. Our city always gets brought down, but yet again it’s the tough people of Liverpool who have had to fight a cause that was so unjust and so unfair.”

The Labour shadow home secretary, Andy Burnham, whose call for the disclosure of all Hillsborough documents in 2009 led to the 2012 independent panel report and quashing of the first inquest, described the police campaign against supporters as “the greatest miscarriage of justice of our times”.

He said repeated allegations of misbehaviour made by Duckenfield’s barristers at the new inquests were “disgraceful”, adding it “put the families through hell once again”. He also accused South Yorkshire police of going back on the full apology they made in 2012.

Burnham called for prosecutions to follow from the two major investigations, overseen by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The investigations said on Tuesday they intend to send files to the CPS by the end of the year.

Photo showing overcrowding at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough.Photo showing overcrowding at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough. Photograph: David Giles/PA

Crompton, chief constable of South Yorkshire police, admitted the force got the policing of the Hillsborough match “catastrophically wrong”, as he accepted the unlawful killing verdicts and apologised to the families.

Crompton said relatives of those who died had been failed, and that officers “will now take time to carefully reflect on the implications of the verdicts”.

The verdicts came a day after the coroner, Sir John Goldring, had directed the jury that it could reach a majority decision on the unlawful killing question. He was told last week that the jury was unanimous on the 13 other questions.

 


The Hillsborough inquest jury were asked to decide on 14 questions.

Question 1: basic facts of the disaster
Do you agree with the following statement which is intended to summarise the basic facts of the disaster: “On 15 April, 1989, 96 people died in the disaster at Hillsborough stadium as a result of crushing in the central pens of the Leppings Lane terrace, following the admission of a large number of supporters to the stadium through exit gates.”

Jury’s answer: Yes.

Live Hillsborough disaster: families applaud jurors as two-year inquest closes – live updates
Jury delivers decision about police action and other factors in the April 1989 crush during the Liverpool v Nottingham Forest FA Cup semi-final
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Question 2: police planning for the semi-final match
Was there any error or omission in the police planning and preparation for the semi-final match on 15 April, 1989 which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed on the day of the match?

Jury’s answer: Yes.

Explanation for answer:

The jury feel that there were major ommisions in the 1989 operational order including:

Specific instructions for managing the crowds outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles
specific instructions as to how the pens were to be filled and monitored
specific instructions as to who would be responsible for the monitoring of pens
Question 3: policing of the match and the situation at the turnstiles
Was there any error or omission in policing on the day of the match which caused or contributed to a dangerous situation developing at the Leppings Lane turnstiles?

Jury’s answer: Yes.

Explanation:

Police response to the increasing crowds at Leppings Lane was slow and uncoordinated
The road closure and sweep of fans exacerbated the situation
No filler cordons were placed in Leppings Lane
No contingency plans were made for the sudden arrival of a large number of fans
Attempts to close the perimeter gates were made too late
Question 4: policing of the match and the crush on the terrace
Was there any error or omission by commanding officers which caused or contributed to the crush on the terrace?

Jury’s answer: Yes.

Explanation:

Commanding officers should have ordered the closure of the central tunnel before the opening of gate C was requested, as pens 3 and 4 were full
Commanding officers should have requested the number of fans still to enter the stadium after 2.30 pm
Commanding officers failed to recognise that pens 3 and 4 were at capacity before gate C was opened
Commanding officers failed to order the closure of the tunnel as gate C was opened
Question 5: the opening of the gates
When the order was given to open the exit gates at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium, was there any error or omission by the commanding officers in the control box which caused or contributed to the crush on the terrace?

Jury’s answer: Yes.

Explanation:

Commanding officers did not inform officers in the inner concourse poior to the opening of gate C
Commanding officers failed to consider where the incoming fans would go
Commanding officers failed to order the closure of the central tunnel prior to the opening of gate C
Question 6: determination on unlawful killing issue
Are you satisfied, so that you are sure, that those who died in the disaster were unlawfully killed?

Jury’s answer: Yes.

Question 7: behaviour of the supporters
Was there any behaviour on the part of football supporters which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles?

Jury’s answer: No.

If your answer to the question above is “no”, then was there any behaviour on the part of football supporters which which may have caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles?

Jury’s answer: No.

Question 8: defects in Hillsborough stadium
Were there any features of the design, construction and layout of the stadium which you consider were dangerous or defective and which caused or contributed to the disaster?

Jury’s answer: Yes.

Question 9: licensing and oversight of Hillsborough stadium
Was there any error or omission in the safety certification and oversight of Hillsborough stadium that caused or contributed to the disaster?

Jury’s answer: Yes.

Explanation:

The safety certificate was never amended to reflect the changes at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium, therefore capacity figures were never updated
The capacity figures for the Leppings Lane terrances were incorrectly calcualted when the safety certificate was first issued
The safety certificate had not been reissued since 1986
Question 10: conduct of Sheffield Wednesday FC before the day of the match
Was there any error or omission by Sheffield Wednesday FC (and its staff) in the management of the stadium and/or preparation for the semi-final match on 15 April, 1989 which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed on the day of the match?

Jury’s answer: Yes.

Explanation:

The club did not approve the plans for dedicated turnstiles for each pen
The club did not agree on any contingency plans with the police
There was inadequate signage and inaccurate/misleading information on the semi-final tickets
Question 11: conduct of Sheffield Wednesday FC on the day of the match
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Was there any error or omission by Sheffield Wednesday FC (and its staff) on 15 April, 1989 which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed on the day of the match?

Jury’s answer: Yes.

Explanation:

Club officials were aware of the huge number of fans still outside the Leppings Lane turnsitles at 2.40pm. They should have requested a delayed kickoff at this point.

Question 12: conduct of Eastwood & Partners
Should Eastwood & Partners [the club’s consultant engineers] have done more to detect and advise on any unsafe or unsatisfactory features of Hillsborough stadium which caused or contributed to the disaster?

Jury’s answer: Yes.

Explanation:

Eastwoods did not make their own calculations when they became consultants for SWFC, therefore the initial capacity figures and all subsequent calculations were incorrect
Eastwoods failed to re-calculate capacity figures each time changes were made to the terraces
Eastwoods failed to update the safety certificate after 1986
Eastwoods failed to recognise that the removal of barrier 144 and the partial removal of barrier 136 could result in a dangerous situation in the pens
Question 13: emergency response and the role of the South Yorkshire police
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After the crush in the west terrace had begun to develop, was there any error or omission by the police which caused or contributed to the loss of lives in the disaster?

Jury’s answer: Yes.

Explanation:

• The police delayed calling a Major Incident, so the appropriate emergency responses were delayed.

• There was a lack of co-ordination, communication, command and control which delayed or prevented appropriate responses.

Question 14: emergency response and the role of the South Yorkshire metropolitan ambulance service (Symas)
After the crush in the west terrace had begun to develop, was there any error or omission by Symas which caused or contributed to the loss of lives in the disaster?

Jury’s answer: Yes.

Explanation:

• South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service officers at the scene failed to ascertain the nature of the problem at Leppings Lane.

• The failure to recognise and call a Major Incident led to delays in responses to the emergency.

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