The jury’s verdict, almost three decades since 96 spectators were crushed to death in a crowd surge at the Hillsborough stadium in northern England, could also lead to criminal prosecutions.
As news came through of the verdict, the famous Merseyside anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, sounded out among family members who had waited 27 years for justice.
After two years of hearings, an inquest in Warrington, northern England, has found police were responsible for the deaths of 96 fans at Hillsborough in 1989 – Britain’s worst sporting disaster.
According to Barry Devonside, whose son Christopher was killed in the crowd crush, the years since have been marred by official cover-ups about what went wrong.
“The South Yorkshire police and its senior officers have tried to deflect blame from the disaster on to supporters or on any other convenient organisation. Today the campaign to deny the truth and to deny justice finally came to an end with the conclusions of this jury.”
Stephen Knight’s brother, Graham, died at Hillsborough.
Speaking on behalf of 22 bereaved families, he’s accused police of blaming mythical, drunk, late, ticketless fans for the crowd crush that killed so many.
“For this central reason we, the 22 families, call for the immediate resignation of David Crompton – the current South Yorkshire Chief Constable. Mr Crompton has not only let the police force down, but also the general public.”
Chief Constable Crompton hasn’t quit but says police unequivocally accept the jury’s verdict of unlawful killing.
“On the 15th of April 1989, South Yorkshire police got the policing at the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough catastrophically wrong. The force failed the victims and failed their families. I want to apologise unreservedly to the families and those affected.”
One of those still affected by what he saw that day is former Liverpool goalkeeper, Bruce Grobbelaar.
He was the closest player to the Leppings Road end of the ground, where the tragedy took place shortly after kick-off.
He says he could hear creaking as the metal barriers bent and the eerie sound of air being forced out of crushed supporters.
“Then I picked the ball up and I realised when I saw the surge again. I put the ball on the ground and I kicked it and turned around and saw people getting up to the top of the stands and a lot of the fans and a lot of the people were saying, ‘get down, you can’t come up here you silly things we’re full’ but they didn’t realise that they were standing on bodies, they wanted to get up as quick as possible.”
More than 27 years after a tragedy that changed British football forever, there were far more uplifting sounds from the relatives of the dead outside court as they celebrated the jury finding.
But there’s anger from their lawyer, Elkan Abrahamson, that it’s taken so long for families to be vindicated.
“The approach to the inquests taken by South Yorkshire police and the Yorkshire ambulance service was to fight tooth and nail to avoid adverse findings by the jury. This turned the inquests into an adversarial battle that took twice as long as it should have done.”
On Twitter, British Prime Minister David Cameron joined the chorus welcoming the verdict, describing it as long-overdue justice and a landmark day.
The Director of Public Prosecutions in Britain must now decide whether criminal prosecutions should be laid.