UK court quashes Hillsborough disaster verdicts

Tom Williams
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A fan pays his respects outside Anfield on September 23, 2012 to the 96 supporters who died in the Hillsborough disaster

A fan pays his respects outside Anfield on September 23, 2012 to the 96 supporters who died in the Hillsborough disaster. Britain announced a new police investigation into the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster in which 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death

Families of 96 Liverpool fans crushed to death at the Hillsborough football stadium in 1989 welcomed a British court decision Wednesday to quash accidental death verdicts from the disaster, but say their fight is far from over.

High Court judges annulled the inquest verdicts delivered in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy and called for fresh inquests to be held, while police also launched a new investigation.

"If there is sufficient evidence to bring charges against those who were in the wrong, then they have to be held accountable in law," said Barry Devonshire, whose 18-year-old son Christopher perished in the tragedy.

"I am not on a witch-hunt and I don't want people locked up for the sake of it, but if there is evidence, they should be before a court."

The move followed the publication of a damning independent report in September which concluded that 41 of the 96 people who died would have had the "potential to survive" if they had received medical treatment more quickly.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel report also found that police tried to divert blame for the tragedy on to the victims.

It said that 164 police statements had been changed, 116 of them to remove or alter "unfavourable" accounts about the police handling of the crisis, which was the worst sporting disaster in British history.

The fatal crush was caused by huge overcrowding on a terrace at Hillsborough Stadium in the northern English city of Sheffield prior to an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in April 1989.

The new inquest and separate police investigation represent a huge victory for the families of the Hillsborough dead, some of whom have campaigned for years to see the true facts of the case brought to life.

Announcing the decision to order a new inquest, the Lord Chief Justice, Igor Judge, said the "interests of justice must be served" and that "however distressing, the truth will be brought to light".

More than 40 family members were present in court to hear the verdict, while other victims' relatives watched the proceedings via video-link from a court in Liverpool.

In England, inquests are held to examine sudden or unexplained deaths. They set out to determine the place and time of death as well as how the deceased came by their death, but do not apportion blame.

British Home Secretary Theresa May also announced Wednesday that a new police probe into the disaster would be opened, led by former Durham Chief Constable Jon Stoddart.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which has pledged to undertake an investigation of its own, welcomed the development.

"The appointment of Mr Stoddart to lead the investigation into the deaths is a crucial step," said IPCC deputy chair Deborah Glass.

"His investigation will be into a wide range of agencies outside of the IPCC's remit, but, in order to ensure independence from the police service, we will be managing the element which will look at the actions of police officers in relation to the deaths of the 96 men, women and children."

Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool manager at the time of the disaster, wrote on Twitter: "Two fantastic results today for the Hillsborough families."

Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron hinted that a charity single released in aid of the Hillsborough families could be granted dispensation from paying sales tax in order to raise more money to cover their legal costs.

The cover version of the Hollies' 1969 song 'He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother' by a group featuring Robbie Williams and former Spice Girl Melanie Chisholm is the odds-on favourite to become Britain's number one Christmas record.

"The Chancellor of the Exchequer (George Osborne) is currently on the other side of the Atlantic but as the First Lord of the Treasury, I think I can confidently predict there will be a decision that will go down well in Merseyside," said Cameron.