Historic day as Hillsborough verdicts are quashed in High Court

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Alan Ratcliffe rounds up the key quotes from a historic day in the battle for Justice for the 96.

Justice For the 96

Accidental death, the original inquest verdict returned on the 96 Liverpool supporters who lost their lives at Hillsborough 23 years ago, was today quashed at the High Court.

The decision by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge paves the way for a new inquest into their deaths next year.

“However distressing or unpalatable, the truth will be brought to light,” he said. “In this way, the families of those who died in the disaster will be properly respected. Our earnest wish is the new inquest will not be delayed for a moment longer than necessary.”

The judgement was applauded by the families of some of the victims, who have campaigned against the original verdicts following the disaster on 15 April 1989.

“We are absolutely delighted, justice is on its way,” said Trevor Hicks, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, who lost two daughters in the disaster. “This is a huge step for the families.”

Margaret Aspinall, who lost her son, said: “Something has been achieved here today that’s not been achieved before.

“It’s took us 23 years to get this, we’re not there yet but hopefully now we’ll get there.

“We have proved we were telling the truth all along – now we have to get the justice [the victims] deserve.”

Anne Williams, who has campaigned tirelessly on the issue of the 3.15pm cut-off and refused to collect her son Kevin’s death certificate, said: “I wanted the record put straight.”

Damian Kavanagh, who was in the crowd at Hillsborough on the day of the disaster and helped care for those injured, said the judgement was “massive”.

“I never thought this day would come,” he said. “It’s uplifting to get to this stage and a serious wrong in society is going to be put right.

“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.”

Sheila Coleman, of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, said: “This truly is a momentous day for those that have fought for 23 years from those dark days in Sheffield when the accidental death verdict was recorded.

“The intervening years have seen a lot of other victims. The quashing of the verdicts, while 23 years too late, is the first phase in righting the wrong that is Hillsborough. It is the first phase on the road to justice.”

Liverpool Football Club’s Managing Director Ian Ayre welcomed the judgement.

“Today the High Court has quashed the original inquest verdicts, which is another positive step forward for the families and survivors in their search for justice,” he said.

“Everyone at Liverpool Football Club remains committed to supporting the fight for justice and we hope that every person affected by this can take some comfort from today’s announcement.”

Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson described it as a “watershed moment” on the road to justice for the families of the 96, adding: “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 (HIP).”

The application made to the High Court by the Attorney General Dominic Grieve was made in the wake of the publication of the HIP report in September.

The HIP’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 which had negative comments about the policing of the match either changed or removed.

New medical evidence commissioned by the Mr Grieve revealed that 58 victims “definitely or probably” could have survived beyond the 3.15pm cut-off point imposed by the original coroner. In a further 12 cases, the cause of death remained unclear.

Other supporting factors were the revelation that police and ambulance service statements were changed to shift the blame onto supporters, and the lack of a valid safety certificate at Sheffield Wednesday’s stadium.

Shockingly, the number who might have survived is even higher than the figure of 41 suggested by the HIP report, which was chaired by the bishop of Liverpool and examined 450,000 documents from more than 80 organisations.

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.

“We must record our admiration and respect [to the families] for their determined search for the truth about the disaster and why and how it had occurred, which – despite disappointments and setbacks – has continued for nearly quarter of a century.”

Mr Grieve said: “The families’ long and painful quest for the truth reached a breakthrough with the publication of the HIP report.

“I hope and trust that new inquests will provide a better understanding of how each of their loved ones died, and bring closer the justice for which they have fought so hard.”

The new inquest is expected to take place in parallel with the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s (IPCC) wide-ranging investigation into the matters raised by the HIP report.

On Wednesday, Home Secretary Theresa May also announced a new police inquiry into the disaster, which will be headed up by former Durham Chief Constable Jon Stoddart.

The inquiry will not be able to employ any officers or former officers with any prior connection to the Hillsborough disaster or from the West Midlands, South Yorkshire or Merseyside police forces.

“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,” Mr Stoddart said.

South Yorkshire Police Chief Constable David Crompton said the force, which policed the game in 1989, would “continue to co-operate fully with any judicial processes”.

“We do not want to cause any unnecessary delays for the families and reiterate our commitment to supporting all processes,” he added.

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