Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Hillsborough: Jury rules 96 victims were 'unlawfully killed'

Hillsborough: Jury rules 96 victims were 'unlawfully killed'


Operation Resolve expects criminal investigation to be completed before end of 2016

Jurors have ruled by a majority of 7-2 that the 96 football fans who died at Hillsborough stadium in 1989 were unlawfully killed.

Giving their decision today, the jury also unanimously decided that the Liverpool supporters' behaviour did not cause or contribute to the dangerous situation.

The jury's verdict brings to an end a 27-year campaign by victims' families to exonerate the behaviour of Liverpool fans on that fateful day.

On 15 April 1989, after an FA Cup semi-final had begun, hundreds of Liverpool football fans were crushed against steel fences in the Leppings Lane end, leaving 96 dead and many more injured.

Months after the disaster, a public inquiry led by Lord Justice Taylor produced an interim report which described the failure to cut off the 'already overfull' central pens after gate C was opened as the main cause of the disaster.

Family members and friends of the victims, who gathered at Warrington coroner's court, heard how several errors or omissions made by the police, ambulance service, and Sheffield Wednesday FC staff had contributed to the deaths.

The decision culminates more than two years of fresh inquests after evidence was heard from more than 1,000 witnesses. The verdict was delivered by Sir John Goldring, the coroner who presided over the inquests.

The jury - comprised of six women and three men - were tasked with answering 14 questions on the incident. With the exception of the decision on unlawful killing, the other questions were decided unanimously.

Jurors agreed that the fans had died in the crush caused by the supporters entering through the exit, that police were erroneous in their planning and at the turnstiles - when orders were given to open the gates - and that terrace police commanders had made errors.

It was also confirmed that no contingency plans were made for a sudden arrival of a large number of fans and how major omissions in the operational order of the Leppings Lane turnstiles had contributed to the deaths.

As the incident was occurring, neither the police nor ambulance response was deemed sufficient by the jury. The police had a lack of coordination, command, and control in their response while the South Yorkshire ambulance service failed to recognise the severity of the incident.

Defects at Hillsborough were also established while errors or omissions in safety certification and licensing at the stadium were further contributory factors, including incorrect capacity figures for the Leppings Lane stand.

Furthermore, it was announced that stadium engineers Eastwood & Partners should have done more to advise on the unsafe stadium.

Jurors agreed that Sheffield Wednesday should have asked for a delayed kick-off when it became aware that there were a large number of fans at Leppings Lane, while errors made the day before the match also contributed to the outcome.

The jury exonerated Sheffield Wednesday and its staff for contributing to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles.

Criminal inquiry

Operation Resolve, a criminal inquiry ordered by the home secretary, Theresa May, in 2012, is currently ongoing. The officer in overall command, Jon Stoddart, expects the investigation to be completed before the end of the year.

'Today is a day for the families,' he said. 'They have fought hard for many years for these new inquests and today brings an end to this particular part of their journey. My thoughts and those of my team are with the families and friends of the 96 as they take stock of what has happened over the past two years at the court in Warrington and begin to understand the determinations of the jury.

'Now that the inquests have concluded my sole focus is on completing the criminal investigation which I expect will be finished by the turn of the year. It will then be for the Crown Prosecution Service to consider the evidence and decide whether any individual or organisation should face criminal prosecution.'

The deputy chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), Rachel Cerfontyne, echoed Stoddart's sentiments: 'This is by far the biggest and most complex investigation ever undertaken by the IPCC.

'We have made significant progress on the investigation and we will continue to work closely with Operation Resolve and the Crown Prosecution Service to pursue our remaining lines of enquiry as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. I anticipate we will conclude the criminal investigations by the turn of the year.'

Meanwhile, Sue Hemming, head of the special crime and counter terrorism division at the Crown Prosecution Service said: 'The CPS will formally consider whether any criminal charges should be brought against any individual or corporate body based upon all the available evidence, in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.'