sport

Coroner: 96 'not to blame'

None of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster should be blamed for their deaths, a coroner has said.

But Lord Justice Goldring said the jury would be faced with key questions in the fresh inquest into the deaths of the victims - including how other supporters behaved.

He said: "What was the conduct of the fans or some of them, excluding those who died, and did that play any part in the disaster? I phrase it in that way because I don't believe anyone will suggest that the conduct of those who died in any way contributed to their deaths."

Speaking outside court, Margaret Aspinall, chairwoman of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, said she welcomed the coroner's statement that none of the victims were to blame.

"It's absolutely great. We've always known that for 25 years. We've had a lot of mud thrown at us for 25 years. It's nice to hear the coroner say that. To hear that officially from Lord Justice Goldring was really music to our ears," she said.

On the third day of the inquests the jury heard that police accounts of what happened that day were changed, with critical comments about police leadership and fans removed.

South Yorkshire police officers had been asked to write their own accounts of what happened, and then senior ranks and lawyers for the force altered some of the statements before they were passed to West Midlands Police, which was investigating the tragedy.

The coroner said: "Over the years between 1989 and today it has become known that a large number of statements were amended in the review. The amendments vary in type and significance.

"Some simply involve corrections of language and factual error. Others involve removing expletives.

"A number involved the removal of comments criticising the police leadership on the day of the disaster.

"Others were of deletions of passages denouncing poor and defective radio communications.

"A small number were amended to remove comments which were critical or even abusive of the fans at the match."

Lord Justice Goldring said the jury of seven women and four men would have to consider whether the amendments affect their view of the "reliability" of early written statements given by the officers.

He said: "You will have to give some consideration to the amendments which were made to some of the statements.

"Among the questions which you may consider are these. Do the amendments affect your view of the reliability of these early written accounts given by the officers, an account on which he may be heavily reliant after 25 years? Why was the amendment made? Was it made for innocent and perfectly understandable reasons? Or was it part of a policy of blaming fans in order to deflect criticism from police?

"Do the amendments throw any light on the crucial question, how those who came to die did so?"

Jurors were sent away until Thursday, when a series of "pen portraits" of the fans who died will begin to be read to the court.