Liverpool great Alan Hansen has revealed his “elation” after the families of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster won their 27-year fight to have the deaths deemed unlawful.
The longest jury proceedings in British legal history concluded with a majority verdict of 7-2 that match commander Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield had committed “gross negligence”.
They also found that police and ambulance services had contributed to the deaths by error or omission, and that the supporters themselves – initially blamed for the fatal crush – were not at fault.
“Elation, absolute elation. These families have fought for 27 years with dignity, integrity and touch of class. It is a wonderful day for all of them,” former Reds captain Hansen told City A.M.
“I just hope that they have closure. there’s still a bit to go, but the families are the most important thing. It’s very difficult for them to get any sort of release because this day is going to be with them forever, but if it gives them any help whatsoever then that’s positive.”
Lawyers for the families said they had “striven tirelessly” but but that the verdict “vindicated the long, long journey”.
The families added in a statement: “The story of Hillsborough is a story of human tragedy but it is also a story of deceit and lies, of institutional defensiveness defeating truth and justice.”
Many of the victims’ families were present for the long-awaited verdict and joined in a chorus of Liverpool anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone outside the courtroom in Warrington.
Ongoing criminal investigations
The verdict came 27 years to the month after the tragedy, which took place at an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday’s stadium on 15 April 1989.
Fans were crushed when 2,000 were allowed to flood into an already crowded end. The inquest found that all but three of the victims had died from compression asphyxia.
It was also more than two years after the inquests, which followed the 2012 quashing of the original verdict of accidental death, first began. Two criminal investigations remain ongoing; decisions on possible prosecutions are not expected until 2017.
What they said:
Leading campaigner Margaret Aspinall, whose teenage son James died in the tragedy, said: “I think we have changed a part of history now. I think that’s the legacy the 96 have left.”
Labour MP Andy Burnham said: “This has been the greatest miscarriage of justice of our times. But, finally, it is over.”
The Football Association said: “While much has changed since 1989, the FA and English football in general must continue to recognise, remember and learn from the tragedy.”
Chief Constable David Crompton of South Yorkshire Police said: “Very many lessons have been learned in the way major sporting events are policed.”
Liverpool FC said: “After 27 long years the true verdict has finally been delivered, confirming what the families always believed – their loved ones were unlawfully killed. Liverpool Football Club welcomes the jury’s decision, once and for all, that our supporters were not in any way responsible for what happened at Hillsborough.”
The jury’s main findings:
- Police errors or omissions in planning and policing on the day contributed to the dangerous situation that developed
- Commanding officers caused or contributed to the fatal crush by failing to consider where fans would go once gates were opened
- Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield’s breach of duty of care was grossly negligent and that this amounted to unlawful killing
- Supporter behaviour did not contribute to the disaster
- Defects in the design, construction or layout of Hillsborough contributed to the deaths, and that the safety certificate should have been amended to reflect changes
- Sheffield Wednesday failed to agree contingency plans with police and club officials ought to have requested a delay in kick-off
- The club’s safety engineers Eastwood and Partners could have done more to advise on Hillsborough’s unsafe features
- Police and ambulance services were both too slow to identify a major incident was unfolding and therefore delayed emergency services