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Government apology over Hillsborough disaster

British Prime Minister David Cameron rises in Parliament to issue an apology over the mishandling of the investigation into the HIllsborough disaster.

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LONDON: A fresh inquest into the 1989 Hillsborough football stadium disaster, in which 96 Liverpool fans died in a crush, is likely to be ordered after the scale of the establishment cover-up was revealed for the first time.

Prosecutions of key figures are also possible after the Hillsborough Independent Panel, chaired by the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, and with unrestricted access to 450,000 documents, revealed the depth of a police cover-up that began the morning after the disaster.

It confirmed Lord Justice Taylor's key finding in August 1989 that the main reason for the disaster during the FA Cup semi-final was a ''failure in police control''. It also revealed that ''multiple failures'' in other emergency services and public bodies contributed to the death toll. Serious failings in the inquests and reviews that followed prolonged the agony of the victims' families.

Hillsborough Family Support Group member Margaret Aspinall, the mother of Hillsborough victim James Aspinall, reacts during a press conference at Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral

Margaret Aspinall ... new pain over death of her son. Photo: Getty Images

Lawyers for the families said the South Yorkshire Police, Sheffield City Council and Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, the owners of the stadium, could face corporate manslaughter charges.

The Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve, will decide whether to order a new inquest after the original, which recorded a verdict of accidental death, was found to be severely lacking.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, said in Parliament he was ''profoundly sorry'' on behalf of the government for what the former lord chancellor Charles Falconer called ''a concerted conspiracy to withhold the truth''.

''If David Cameron means what he says, and justice has to follow truth, then they have a responsibility today to assess not just the question of unlawful killing but the cover-up and the perversion of the course of justice,'' said Michael Mansfield, a QC acting for the Hillsborough Family Support Group.

The panel discovered that as many as 41 victims might have been saved had the emergency response been better. It found that 116 of the 164 police statements were doctored to show the police in a better light, and that the South Yorkshire ambulance service did the same.

In the original inquest the coroner ruled those who died were already critically injured by 3.15pm and he would not investigate events after this time. This, the report said, ''led to the mistaken belief that an effective emergency services intervention could not have saved lives''. The coroner ordered blood alcohol levels be taken for the deceased. The panel found the weight placed on alcohol levels was ''inappropriate and misleading'' and the pattern of alcohol consumption ''unremarkable''.

Attempts were made to ''impugn the reputation of the deceased'' by checking whether they had criminal records.

''What was new and a shock was how many of them could have been saved,'' said the head of the support group, Margaret Aspinall, whose son James was 18 when he died. ''That is the most important thing. I'll go home and wonder if James was one of them.''

A narrative took hold that drunken Liverpool fans had caused the disaster by forcing a gate. Allegations were printed on an infamous Sun front page headlined ''The truth'' that Liverpool fans had pickpocketed the dead and hampered rescue attempts. The then editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, offered ''profuse apologies'' on Wednesday for the first time.

Guardian News & Media