UK lawmakers demand prosecutions for Hillsborough stadium deaths

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 27, 2016 10:30 AM

By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) - Those responsible for the failures that led to the 1989 Hillsborough soccer stadium crush and then tried to cover up Britain's worst sporting disaster should be brought to account as soon as possible, lawmakers demanded on Wednesday.

An inquest jury concluded on Tuesday that 96 Liverpool fans who died in an overcrowded, fenced-in enclosure at the Hillsborough ground in Sheffield, northern England, had been unlawfully killed, with police accepting catastrophic mistakes had been made.

"Those responsible must be held to account for 96 unlawful deaths and a 27-year cover-up," Andy Burnham, the opposition Labor Party home affairs spokesman who has long campaigned for "Justice for the 96", told parliament.

The Hillsborough tragedy changed the face of English soccer with banks of terracing and metal fences around pitches replaced by modern, all-seated venues.

However, families of the victims and survivors were forced to fight for decades to overturn original conclusions that the deaths were accidental and to combat initial police claims that drunken Liverpool fans without tickets had stormed into overcrowded pens.

The jury absolved supporters of any blame, and David Duckenfield, the police commander in charge at the match, admitted to the inquest he had lied about fans forcing a gate open, and acknowledged that his failure to close an access tunnel had directly caused the loss of lives.

"No one should have to endure what the families and survivors have been through. No one should have to fight year after year, decade after decade in search of the truth," Home Secretary Theresa May told parliament.

"They suffered the injustice of hearing the victims, their loved ones, and fellow supporters being blamed."

She said prosecutors were weighing up whether to bring criminal charges against those involved, with offences ranging from gross negligence manslaughter and misconduct in public office to perjury and perverting the course of justice.

Prosecutors and the independent police watchdog will conclude their investigations by the end of the year, May said, but Burnham and other lawmakers urged charging decisions to be made sooner.

Burnham, whose speech was greeted with rare applause in the House of Commons, said the lies about Liverpool fans' behavior had persisted because there had been complicity between police, politicians and newspapers, a cover-up that went "right to the top".

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)