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New Hillsborough inquiry to study police role

LONDON: Serving and former police officers involved in the Hillsborough stadium disaster and subsequent cover-up could face criminal prosecution in a new investigation into the deaths of 96 Liverpool supporters in April 1989.

The British Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced a fresh criminal investigation as the High Court quashed the original inquest verdicts of accidental death, 22 years after they were handed down.

New inquests will fully examine the roles of the police and emergency services in the light of new evidence, and could lead to verdicts of unlawful killing.

The 96 fans died in a crush on the Leppings Lane terrace at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground after police opened an exit gate to relieve congestion outside the ground, and allowed fans to flood into an already overcrowded pen.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster senior police officers claimed drunken fans had forced the gate open, and allegations of theft and sexual assault were then spread by police officers to the media and investigating authorities.

Overturning the inquest verdicts has been a priority of the families since the publication in September of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report, which provided new medical evidence that the accidental death finding was flawed.


The original inquests imposed a cut-off time of 3.15pm, assuming that all 96 victims were dead by that time.

This was directly contradicted by Bill Kirkup, the medical member of the Hillsborough panel and a former associate chief medical officer at the Department of Health, who found that 41 of those who died could have survived beyond 3.15pm.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, said there was ''ample evidence to suggest that the 3.15pm cut-off was seriously flawed'' and that, on its own, was enough to quash the original verdicts.

He also cited evidence of ''deliberate misinformation surrounding the disaster'', including the fact that 116 of the police statements provided in the aftermath of the tragedy were amended to improve the police position.

The families of the Hillsborough victims welcomed the news.

''This is a giant leap for the families. We could not have written the judgment better ourselves,'' said Trevor Hicks, of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, whose two daughters died at Hillsborough.

''It's clear now justice is on its way - I think a lot of us are going to have a much happier Christmas.''

Mrs May said the new criminal inquiry would be led by Jon Stoddart, the former chief constable of Durham, and would run in parallel to an existing inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Mr Stoddart will principally investigate the deaths at Hillsborough, examining the circumstances and actions that led to the disaster and assess whether there are grounds for criminal charges. He will lead an investigation team, but no officers with links to Hillsborough or the West Midlands, South Yorkshire or Merseyside forces will be able to serve on it. All three forces have links to previous investigations.

''The findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel were truly shocking, but while the families have now been given the truth, they have not yet received justice,'' Mrs May said.

Telegraph, London