UK & World News

  • 19 December 2012, 18:22

Hillsborough: High Court Orders New Inquests

The High Court has quashed the original accidental death verdicts for the Hillsborough victims and ordered new inquests to be held.

The landmark ruling was welcomed by the families of the 96 Liverpool supporters who were killed 23 years ago, and came shortly after the Home Secretary announced a new police investigation into the disaster.

Three months ago, a damning report from the Hillsborough Independent Panel revealed a widespread cover-up by police to put officers in a favourable light and deflect blame for the disaster on to Liverpool fans.

More than 40 families had travelled to London to attend the High Court hearing, and many applauded when the ruling by Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge was announced in the packed courtroom.

Others watched by videolink from Liverpool, where some cried at the news and the mayor called it a "watershed moment".

Lord Judge expressed regret that the families had to go through such a "dispiriting and prolonged" process.

The Attorney General Dominic Grieve said the main basis for his application to have the verdicts quashed was new medical evidence made public in the report by Hillsborough Independent Panel.

"It is bitter-sweet. We have known the truth for 23 years," said Michelle Carlile, 44, clutching a photograph of her brother Paul, 19, who died at Hillsborough.

Trevor Hicks, chair of Hillsborough Family Support Group, told reporters outside the courtroom: "Justice is on its way. Everything we've said has been proven to be correct."

The Liverpool supporters died in the crush at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough stadium on April 15, 1989, when their team played Nottingham Forest in a semi-final of the FA Cup.

Watching from videolink in Liverpool, Cathy Crane, whose brother Gary Jones died in the disaster aged 18, said she felt "pleased and delighted".

"It has just been very difficult over the last 23 years. Every day having to fight for the honour of someone who you love and today, at least, people will start to understand what we have gone through."

Marion Brady, whose son Paul was crushed to death, said: "At last we feel we are getting somewhere."

The new police investigation will be led by former Durham chief constable Jon Stoddart, and will focus specifically on the 96 deaths.

Home Secretary Theresa May said: "I am determined to see a swift and thorough response to the findings of the Hillsborough Panel to deliver justice for the 96 football fans who died and the families who have fought so hard on their behalf."

Mr Stoddart will be able to recruit investigators and staff to his team, but he will not be allowed to employ officers or former officers with any prior connection to the Hillsborough disaster.

He is also unable to recruit any officers or former officers who worked in the West Midlands, South Yorkshire or Merseyside police forces.

"I am aware of the great significance and personal responsibility which comes with leading this criminal investigation," he said.

"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 added he had already held some meetings and had been "struck by the families' humility and steadfast determination to see justice delivered for their loved ones".

Reacting to the ruling in London, Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson said: "This is a watershed moment on the road to justice for the families of the 96, and I share their overwhelming relief that, after 23 very painful years, the inquest verdicts have been quashed."

He expressed hope that as a result of the new police investigation "those that played a role in causing the disaster and the monumental cover-up are brought to account."

Meanwhile, Chancellor George Osborne has confirmed he will effectively waive VAT on a charity single in aid of Hillsborough families' legal costs. Any VAT paid will be returned in the form of a charitable donation.

The version of the Hollies' hit He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother by The Justice Collective is currently the front runner in the race to be Christmas number one.

Prime Minister David Cameron earlier told campaigners for a tax break to expect good news, saying there would be "a decision that will go down well in Merseyside".

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