96 fans ‘unlawfully killed’ in UK stadium

The 96 Liverpool soccer fans who were crushed to death in overcrowded sections at Hillsborough Stadium in 1989 were “unlawfully killed” in a disaster caused by police actions, a jury has concluded.

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The police force responsible for the stadium in the northern English city of Sheffield on Tuesday said “we unequivocally accept the verdict,” while apologising for their failings to families who have spent 27 years campaigning for the police to be officially blamed.

Relatives of the victims of the disaster chanted “Justice for the 96” and sang the Liverpool club anthem, You’ll Never Walk Alone, outside a specially-built courtroom after the conclusion of two years of fresh inquests into Britain’s worst sporting disaster.

By the end of the year, police plan to conclude a separate criminal investigation into wrongdoing by authorities at the April 1989 FA Cup semifinal match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the stadium where second-tier English club Sheffield Wednesday still plays.

The Crown Prosecution Service said it will then “formally consider whether any criminal charges should be brought against any individual or corporate body.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to the courage displayed by the victims’ families, tweeting that “long overdue justice” had been provided by the jury.

Families have fought to ensure authorities were held to account after being angered by the verdicts of accidental death at the original inquests.

Those verdicts were overturned in 2012 following a far-reaching inquiry into the disaster that examined previously secret documents and exposed the wrongdoing and mistakes by police.

New hearings held in Warrington, close to Liverpool in northwest England, required a jury for the longest time in British legal history.

Relatives leapt to their feet, cheering and weeping, as the jury gave its answer to the most significant of the 14 questions set by the coroner, reaching the verdict of unlawful killing by a 7-2 majority.

That finding meant the jury was convinced David Duckenfield, the then-South Yorkshire Police chief superintendent in charge of policing the game, was in breach of his duty of care to fans and his actions amounted to “gross negligence.”

Duckenfield told the inquests that he told a “terrible lie” by saying fans had rushed through gates at the Leppings Lane turnstiles eight minutes before kickoff rather than admitting to authorising for the gates to be opened.

The order allowed more than 2000 fans to flood into a standing-room section behind a goal with the 54,000-capacity stadium already nearly full.

Inside the stadium, five minutes after kickoff, a surge of people pushed hundreds of spectators against a steel mesh fence that soon collapsed. A police officer ran onto the field and asked the referee to halt the game, which was abandoned after six minutes at 3.06pm

Fans and rescue workers ripped up advertising boards and used them as makeshift stretchers as police and first aid workers treated victims on the field.

“The police delayed calling a major incident so the appropriate emergency response was delayed,” the jury concluded. “There was a lack of co-ordination, command and control which delayed or prevented appropriate responses.”