Andy Burnham has declared “real justice for the 96” after the inquests into the Hillsborough disaster ruled that fans were unlawfully killed.
The jury at one of Britain’s longest-running legal cases returned a verdict of unlawful killing on the deaths of 96 football fans at the FA Cup semi-final in 1989.
It brings a moment of vindication for the bereaved families who fought to overcome smears that fans behaved badly or contributed to the disaster.
The inquest ruled that the actions of Ch Sup David Duckenfield, the senior policeman in charge on the day of the match at Hillsborough, amounted to gross negligence.
Today the families wept before applauding the jurors as they left the court after the two-year inquest, the longest in British legal history.
The new case opened in 2014 after a High Court judge quashed the original “accidental death” verdict of the 1991 inquest.
Today the inquest, based in Warrington, found police had made a series of appalling errors before and during the game at the South Yorkshire stadium.
These included the decision by senior officers to open the exit gates at the Leppings Lane end, which “caused or contributed” to the fatal crushing of fans.
The jury also ruled that fans had played no part in causing the crush.
Jurors considered a series of 14 questions which looked at the facts of the tragedy, planning by police and their behaviour on the day, the question of unlawful killing, the behaviour of supporters and the licensing of the Hillsborough stadium.
In particular the jury found there were defects at Hillsborough stadium and flaws in the safety certificate awarded to the ground before the match took place.
In the aftermath of the tragedy South Yorkshire Police had tried to pin the blame on Liverpool fans and falsely claimed that many had arrived at the ground drunk and without tickets. This inaccurate version of events was later picked up by national newspapers, including The Sun, whose “The Truth” headline prompted fury on Merseyside – a story for which they took 23 years to apologise.
Today Andy Burnham MP, said justice had been delivered.
“This has been the greatest miscarriage of justice of our times. But, finally, it is over. After 27 long years, this is real justice for the 96, their families and all Liverpool supporters. The survivors of this tragedy can finally be remembered for what they were on that day – the heroes of Hillsborough who tried to help their fellow fans.
“The Hillsborough Independent Panel gave us the truth. This Inquest has delivered justice. Next must come accountability. For 27 years, this police force has consistently put protecting itself above protecting those hurt by the horror of Hillsborough. People must be held to account for their actions and prosecutions must now follow.
“Disgracefully, lawyers for retired police have attempted to continue the cover-up in this courtroom. They made it an adversarial battle in defiance of the Lord Chief Justice’s ruling. This has been brutal on the Hillsborough families and put them through hell once again. The current leadership of South Yorkshire Police needs to explain why it went back on its 2012 apology at this Inquest, prolonging the agony for the families.
“The sense of relief we feel is tempered by the knowledge that this day has taken far too long in coming. The struggle for justice has taken too great a toll on too many. But the Hillsborough families have at long last prevailed and finally their loved-ones can rest in peace.”
Steve Rotheram, MP for Liverpool Walton, said: “I have waited 27 years for this moment. But I know it comes too late for many. I was there on the day and saw the horror unfold before my very eyes.
“Before we’d even buried our dead, the hurt of loss was compounded by the lies and smears. I remember picking up a newspaper and feeling sick to the pit of my stomach. They inflicted terrible pain on a city at its moment of maximum grief.
“I’ve seen how friends have suffered. This is a momentous day but they should never have had to wait so long. The truth is out there for all to see. Justice has been served by the verdicts and now it is about accountability.”
More follows shortly…