Post by Football News on Apr 26, 2016 15:47:07 GMT
Hillsborough disaster verdict: Inquest jury delivers 'unlawful killing' ruling over 1989 football deaths
Verdict prompts sobbing and cries of 'hallelujah' among those at the hearing
Relatives of Hillsborough victims hug as they depart Birchwood Park after hearing the conclusions of the Hillsborough inquest in Warrington
The 27-year battle for justice by families of those killed at Hillsborough were vindicated today after a jury found the 96 victims of the 1989 disaster were unlawfully killed – a verdict which could see former police chief David Duckenfield stand trial for manslaughter.
The verdict was one of 14 conclusions reached by the jury of nine who, significantly, also concluded that Liverpool supporters had played no part whatsoever in the causes of the disaster.
A survivor of the tragedy, who watched his 41-year-old uncle die in the crush while he fought to avoid being drawn down into the suffocating terrace, told The Independent he had been made to feel culpable for his relative’s death for almost three decades.
“I can finally live with what happened now,” said Dave Golding, who was close to tears.
“To have been at the inquests day in and day out, it is obvious that the 96 were unlawfully killed but we could not be certain of the outcome. The events of the years since it has happened has told us always to expect the worst. It isn’t anger we feel. It’s a sense of righting wrongs. It’s relief more than anger after all these years.”
But others felt stronger emotions towards the man who was commanding officer on the day of the tragedy, when Liverpool played Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday’s football ground in an FA Cup semi-final.
That is because Mr Duckenfield, then South Yorkshire Police's chief superintendent, tried to shift the blame by accusing fans of forcing a gate to cause the crush – something he admitted to during his one week of inquest testimony 13 months ago.
In court, there were cheers of delight at that response and shouts of “thank you” and “hallelujah” as the jury forewoman replied “yes, by a majority” when coroner Sir John Goldring asked her: “Are you satisfied, so that you are sure, that those who died in the Disaster were unlawfully killed?”
The answer to the much-anticipated ‘question six’ does not carry a direct legal consequence because the criminal investigation into the disaster is working independently of the inquests.
But solicitors for the families of the 96 do believe it will make a gross negligence manslaughter charge more likely - and both a team of police detectives and investigators from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said they would submit files to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) if there was enough evidence for potential prosecutions.
Relatives depart Birchwood Park after hearing the conclusions of the Hillsborough inquest
The cheers were almost as loud for the conclusion that supporters had played no part whatsoever in the disaster.
Families sobbed at that moment. The pressure felt by the jury forewoman was also obvious, with her voice trembling as the general findings on the causes of the disaster were delivered.
When the jury adjourned for the families to collect themselves, ahead of individual verdicts on the 96, the courtoom stood to applaud the nine, who had numbered 11 when initially constituted in 2014.
The jury also unanimously found, in response to the 12 further questions, that the disaster had been caused by catastrophic institutional failings.
They concluded South Yorkshire Police errors caused a dangerous situation at the turnstiles, failures by commanding officers caused a crush on the terraces and that there were mistakes in the police control box over the order to open the Leppings Lane end exit gates.
Sheffield Wednesday FC were also found to be culpable, with the jury deciding defects at the club's stadium contributed to the disaster and that there was an error in the safety certification of the Hillsborough stadium.
Mary Corrigan, mother of Hillsborough victim Keith McGrath, was elated after the announcement
It was also found that South Yorkshire Police and South Yorkshire Ambulance Service delayed declaring a major incident - thus delaying the emergency response.
But it was the unlawful killing verdict which was most significant and, if not delivered, risked leaving families feeling justice had not been done.
The burden of proof required to reach such a conclusion about Mr Duckenfield – who under the rules governing inquests cannot be named within the compass of a verdict - is high.
Relatives sing "You'll never walk alone" outside the courtroom
An unlawful killing verdict means the jury concluded that Mr Duckenfield acted or omitted to act in such a way that amounted to manslaughter by gross negligence.
Mr Duckenfield gave the order at 2.52pm on 15 April 1989 to open exit Gate C in Leppings Lane, allowing around 2,000 fans to flood into the already packed central pens behind the goal.
Seven of the nine jury members were satisfied that he knew there was a risk of death when he fatefully opened one of the exit gates to the ground, after which the crush occurred, and yet still failed to recognise what a reasonably competent match commander would have foreseen.
A statement on behalf of the families said the jury's conclusions "completely vindicate" the long fight for justice. It added it has brought "significant progress on the journey... and sense of closure to the bereaved."
Britain’s most senior police officer is facing further criticism in relation to the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, after he stated last week that he has been found to have “done nothing wrong” on the day, in which 96 people died. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan police commissioner, made the comments when responding to a report from the Independent Police Complaints Commission, whose investigation remains ongoing into how 96 people were unlawfully killed. The IPCC is expected to send files to the Crown Prosecution Service in the new year in relation to possible manslaughter and other offences for the 96 deaths, and potential perjury and perverting the course of justice by South Yorkshire police officers in the alleged cover-up that followed.
Hillsborough disaster: deadly mistakes and lies that lasted decades
The IPCC last week cleared Hogan-Howe of misconduct, but said he could have been “more diligent” when he gave a misleading account in 2012 and 2013 about the evidence he provided following the disaster. An inspector in the South Yorkshire police at the time, Hogan-Howe had said that he gave a full statement to the official Taylor inquiry in 1989, then declined to add to it when asked to by another officer, but that was untrue; he had never made a full statement. Paul Spearritt, the brother of Adam, 14 at the time, one of the 96 people to die in the crush at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, had made two complaints against Hogan-Howe.
He said: “I cannot understand how Mr Hogan-Howe can claim he has been found to have done nothing wrong on the day. The IPCC found he could have been more diligent about his statements – which in my opinion does amount to ‘doing something wrong’ anyway – but he seems to have completely exonerated himself over all his actions, even though the IPCC investigation is continuing.”
Hogan-Howe was on duty through the night of the disaster at the Hillsborough boys club, where police kept anxious friends and families waiting for news. Those whose loved ones had died were eventually taken from the boys club to the gymnasium at the Hillsborough football ground, where the dead bodies were kept and which the police had decided would be their CID investigation room.
Friends and family have complained they were treated there as culprits, rather than as bereaved people. After identifying a dead person, family members and friends were immediately questioned by South Yorkshire police CID officers about how much they and their loved ones had to drink. The IPCC announced last week that Hogan-Howe was not the officer at the boys club who had read out a list of people found to be “alive and well” that incorrectly included Adam Spearritt, a cause of distress to the family. Paul Spearritt made a complaint that Hogan-Howe may have been the officer who read out the list, but says his family has accepted that the error was made due to flaws in the police system, and the officer who read out the list has not been identified.
Following these two specific findings announced by the IPCC, the Metropolitan police issued a statement for Hogan-Howe last week, in which he said: “I am pleased that this independent investigation has concluded that I did nothing wrong, in relation to both statements I gave to the media and my conduct on the day of the disaster. “Importantly, I hope that this investigation provides some comfort to the family of Adam Spearritt, who died that tragic day.”
Paul Spearritt said the family drew no comfort at all from the investigation, and is still awaiting the results of the IPCC investigation into the boys club, gymnasium and identification process. “The operation at the boys club was terrible for family and friends, and seems clearly to have been linked to what the police were doing and preparing to do at the gymnasium,” Paul Spearritt said. “We have been told this is all being thoroughly investigated, and nobody has been cleared yet.”
Asked for clarification, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan police said: “The commissioner was talking in the context of the complaints made against him specifically.”
Decisions about prosecutions related to allegations over the involvement of South Yorkshire Police in the Hillsborough disaster and its aftermath could be made as early as next month. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is said to be on course to deliver its decisions within the six month time frame it set out in January. Survivors, campaigners and the families of the 96 fans who died in the tragedy will learn whether anyone from the force faces prosecution. The CPS is currently going through a huge swathe of evidence gathered during the criminal investigations into the disaster and its aftermath.