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Monday 4 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C

Hillsborough disaster: The almost three-decade journey to justice

The Crown Prosecution Service confirmed today that six people will be charged over the 1989 disaster.

TODAY THE CROWN Prosecution Service (CPS) confirmed six people will be charged over the Hillsborough disaster.

They are:

  • David Duckenfield – the police officer was the match commander on the day
  • Graham Mackrell – Sheffield Wednesday’s safety officer
  • Peter Metcalf – a solicitor who acted for the South Yorkshire Police in the initial inquest
  • Donald Denton – former Chief Superintendent of South Yorkshire Police
  • Alan Foster – Detective Chief Inspector of South Yorkshire Police
  • Norman Bettison – former South Yorkshire Police officer

On that day in 1989, as crowds gathered in Sheffield stadium for the FA cup semi-final, 96 Liverpool fans were killed in a crush. Hundreds more were injured. Up until now, almost three decades after this disaster, no criminal proceedings have been taken against anyone.

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15 April 1989

At the start of an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough in Sheffield, a crush of supporters against the steel fences at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium led to the deaths of 94 Liverpool fans and left more than 766 injured.

Days after the disaster, The Sun newspaper published a front-page story headlined ‘The Truth’, saying drunk Liverpool fans were to blame,

This prompted a mass boycott of the paper on Merseyside.

John Walton John Walton

Fourteen-year-old Lee Nicol, who was on life support, died, taking the death toll to 95.

August 1989

An interim report by leading judge Lord Justice Peter Taylor said police were at fault for failing to close off a tunnel leading to pens for supporters, failing to control the build-up of fans outside the stadium and their slow reaction to the tragedy.

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He criticised South Yorkshire Police for blaming supporters for arriving at the ground “late and drunk”.

January 1990

Taylor’s full report recommended the removal of terrace fences and the introduction of all-seater stadiums.

April 1990

An inquest into the victims’ deaths began, heard by coroner Dr Stefan Popper.

August 1990

Britain’s Director of Public Prosecutions found there was insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against the police or any other individual, group or body.

March 1991

Popper’s inquest into the deaths returned verdicts of accidental death for all the victims, ruling that they were all dead by 3.15 pm.

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There was anger from family members at the way in which this inquest was conducted. Popper had ruled out any evidence relating to the fans’ deaths after 3.15pm because, he said, “the damage was done” by that stage. Many relatives refused to collect death certificates for victims.

March 1993

Tony Bland, 22, became the 96th and final victim of the tragedy when he was taken off life support after four years in a persistent vegetative state.

Allan and Barbara Bland - High Court PA Archive / PA Images Allan and Barbara Bland, parents of Hillsborough coma victim Tony Bland in 1992. PA Archive / PA Images / PA Images

Campaigning by family members continued. One strong voice was Anne Williams, whose 15-year-old son Kevin had been killed at the football stadium that day. She was convinced her son had been alive after 3.15pm and she found a number of people who were there that day who tried to help her son. One recalled the teenage boy saying “mum” at 4pm that day.

A drama-documentary entitled ‘Hillsborough’ caused a stir in December 1996 as it revealed new evidence that some of the 96 victims were alive after 3.15pm.

June 1997

Home Secretary Jack Straw ordered evidence to be re-scrutinised.

April 2009

Then government minister Andy Burnham was heckled as he addressed the crowd at the 20th Hillsborough memorial at Anfield. Chants of “justice for the 96″ interrupted his speech.

lfcjustice96canada / YouTube

A petition with 140,000 signatures forced a debate in the House of Commons, which led to the disclosure of 300,000 documents on the disaster held by public bodies.

By January 2010, the Hillsborough Independent Panel was set up to review previously unseen evidence.

September 2012

The report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel found police failings and highlighted again how supporters were blamed erroneously.

It said the lives of 41 fans could have been saved and cleared supporters of any wrongdoing or blame for the disaster, prompting a public apology from Prime Minster David Cameron. Kelvin MacKenzie, editor of The Sun at the time of the tragedy, offered “profuse apologies” for the paper’s notorious front page.

October 2012

The Independent Police Complaints Commission watchdog and Director of Public Prosecutions announced they would both launch inquiries into possible crimes committed by police involved in the disaster.

December 2012

Following the cover-up revelations, London’s High Court quashed the original coroner’s verdicts of accidental death.

18 April 2013

Anne Williams died of cancer at the age of 60 after 20 years of campaigning for justice for her son. Liverpool lowered its flags in tribute to her.

Peter Byrne Peter Byrne

March 2014

Fresh inquests into the deaths began at a purpose-built courtroom in Warrington, east of Liverpool, with families of the 96 victims in attendance.

January 2016

After 267 days of evidence – the longest case heard by a jury in British legal history – from over 800 witnesses, coroner John Goldring began his summing up.

26 April, 2016

The jury returned a verdict of “unlawful killing”, blaming policing decisions and stadium design and saying that the behaviour of the supporters did not cause or contribute to the tragedy.

Andy Burnham described the verdict as “real justice”.

Speaking last year, Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James died at Hillsborough, said:

“We’ve been climbing up mountains and never reached the top. We’ve got to the peak now lads! Every one of us has got to the peak of that mountain and got what we rightfully deserved. I knew in the end we will overcome them, they will not rule us.”

28 June 2017

The Crown Prosecution Service has announced it will bring charges against six people referred to it over the Hillsborough disaster.

- With reporting by Michelle Hennessy.

Comments are closed on this article as charges are to be brought in this case.