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Search for justice and the 'truthful truth': Hillsborough panel to publish findings

There have been renewed calls for the Prime Minister to offer a national apology to the victims and their families.

Image: Peter Byrne/PA Archive/Press Association Images

THE INDEPENDENT PANEL set up to probe the Hillsborough disaster which saw 96 football fans lose their lives while attending the 1989 FA Cup semi-final will release its findings later today.

The families of the victims will be the first to receive a number of documents relating to the tragedy and its aftermath. The group – headed by the Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Reverend James Jones – was established two-and-a-half-years ago to secure the “maximum possible disclosure” around the materials available.

A report explaining how the newly-disclosed documents add to the public understanding will also be published by the panel after noon today at Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral.

Since January 2010, the panel has accessed and analysed more than 400,000 pages of information from about 80 organisations. The group has said that it wanted to give the 96 families, and everybody else affected by the events of 15 April 1989 at the Sheffield ground, time to prepare for the disclosures, some of which have been described as “shocking”.

There have been calls for the Prime Minister to offer a national apology to victims and their families over mistakes that were made by public authorities in the lead up to the tragic events, as well as the aftermath. Relatives have complained that police were quick to shift the blame to the supporters themselves, citing drunkenness and fans without tickets. Documents released earlier this year revealed that then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was told that a senior officer believed the deaths were caused by ‘drunk Liverpool fans’.

Chairperson of the Hillsborough Family Support Group Margaret Aspinall said she is hoping for a “full, national apology”. She told Liverpool FC:

Over the past 23 years, we’ve had a lot of people slinging mud at us – and we still get that to this day. We want now, a full apology for what they’ve done and caused – the pain, the grief, the heartache, the stress. They’ve put us through hell for 23 years and it’s the least we can expect from Mr Cameron. We are not blaming Mr Cameron for those terrible deaths, but his government was in power on that day and I think he’s got to apologise on behalf of his government.

The 1990 inquiry found that the disaster was caused primarily by mismanagement on the part of South Yorkshire Police who allowed overcrowding on the terraces. However, the initial inquests – which returned a verdict of accidental death – provided few answers as to why so many people were crushed to death during the football game. The coroner had imposed a 3.15pm cut-off point for the inquiry, assuming that all the victims had died by this time but there is much evidence suggesting he was incorrect. No evidence from after 3.15pm was entered into the record, a fact that has upset survivors and families.

The Jones report is expected to reinforce criticism of how authorities managed the occasion. The Hillsborough Family Support Group is waiting “with bated breath” for the today’s report.

“Finally, after 23 years of pain, heartache and stress we are hoping that this time the real truth, the truthful truth will prevail and no stones will be left unturned,” said Aspinall.

“We hope that all the fans and survivors will be exonerated after all these years of lies, deceit and coverups,” she added. “For our 96 loved ones we hope and pray that we will get enough new evidence to change the flawed inquest verdicts and finally we will get to the truth of what happened after 3.15pm on 15 April 1989.”

Speaking to Liverpool FC last weekend, Aspinall added that the group is “desperate to discover what the findings are going to be”.

“It’s going to be a very emotional day, but I’m just hoping for the questions we have put forward, we find all the answers.” She said the main thing for most of the family members is to have the inquest verdicts changed to beyond the 3.15pm cut-off point.

Aspinall has never received her son’s death certificate as she refuses to accept it until the correct verdict is written on it.

Organised by Liverpool City Council, a vigil will be held in the city centre this evening to show support to the victims and all those impacted by the Hillsborough disaster.

Mayor Joe Anderson said he hopes today will be a “momentous day for the right reasons”. The mayor also echoed calls for a full apology, stating: “I think Cameron should, whether he is of a different political party or persuasion, accept the fact that whatever party that was in control at that time, that they got it wrong and that they helped with the cover up that will go down in the annals of history as a miscarriage of justice beyond anybody’s wildest imagination.”

Related: Documents reveal Thatcher was wrongly told ‘drunk fans’ caused Hillsborough>

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