Hillsborough inquest finds 96 fans were unlawfully killed in 1989 disaster

The families of the victims are vindicated after a 27-year campaign.

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The 96 Liverpool fans who died in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster were unlawfully killed, an inquest jury has concluded.

Those who died at the FA Cup Semi-Final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest were the victims of gross negligence at the hands of match commander David Duckenfield.

The jury was told it could only return a verdict of unlawful killing if it was sure of four “essential” matters: that Duckenfield owed a duty of care to the 96 people who died; that Duckenfield was in breach of that duty of care; that his breach of that duty of care caused the deaths; and that the breach amounted to gross negligence.

Duckenfield gave the order at 2.52pm to open exit Gate C in the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough, causing around 2,000 fans to rush into the central pens behind a goal, which were already full.

The jurors arrived at the verdict of unlawful killing by a majority of 7 votes to 2.

The Crown Prosecution Service has announced that it will now consider criminal prosecutions related to the disaster. Fans sobbed and cheered as the verdicts were announced in the makeshift coroner’s court at Warrington, before joining in an emotional rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. The inquest began on 1 April 2014, making it the longest case ever heard by a British jury.

The jury also found that:

  • The behaviour of Liverpool fans did not contribute to the disaster.
  • Police planning errors for the match contributed to the dangerous situation.
  • Police errors on the day contributed to the disaster.
  • Defects at the stadium contributed to the disaster.
  • There was an error in the safety certification of the stadium.
  • After the crush developed, there were errors in both the police response and the ambulance service response.

Andy Burnham, the shadow home secretary, who has campaigned for the families of the victims, described the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster as “the greatest miscarriage of justice of our times”. He said: “After 27 long years, this is real justice for the 96, their families and all Liverpool supporters. The survivors of this tragedy can finally be remembered for what they were on that day – the heroes of Hillsborough who tried to help their fellow fans.”

He continued: “The Hillsborough Independent Panel gave us the truth. This inquest has delivered justice. Next must come accountability. For 27 years, this police force has consistently put protecting itself above protecting those hurt by the horror of Hillsborough. People must be held to account for their actions and prosecutions must now follow.”

Steve Rotheram, the MP for Liverpool Walton, said: “I have waited 27 years for this moment. But I know it comes too late for many. I was there on the day and saw the horror unfold before my very eyes.

“Before we'd even buried our dead, the hurt of loss was compounded by the lies and smears. I remember picking up a newspaper and feeling sick to the pit of my stomach. They inflicted terrible pain on a city at its moment of maximum grief.

“I've seen how friends have suffered. This is a momentous day but they should never have had to wait so long. The truth is out there for all to see. Justice has been served by the verdicts and now it is about accountability.”

Henry Zeffman writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2015.

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