On 15 April 1989, the Hillsborough disaster claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans. It was the worst tragedy in the history of British sport. 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 766 injured. Two other victims later died taking the death toll to 96. Days after the disaster, The Sun newspaper published a front-page story headlined ‘The Truth’, saying drunk Liverpool fans were to blame.
In August 1989, an interim report by 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. He criticised Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, the senior policeman at the game, for ‘failing to take effective control’ and South Yorkshire Police, which blamed supporters for arriving at the ground ‘late and drunk’. In January 1990, Lord Taylor’s full report recommended the removal of terrace fences and the introduction of all-seater stadiums.
In April 1990, an inquest into the victims’ deaths began. It returned verdicts of accidental death for all the victims.
In August 1990, the Director of Public Prosecutions found that there was insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against the police or any other individual, group or body.
In June 1997, the Home Secretary Jack Straw ordered evidence to be re-scrutinised and in August 1998 after he ruled out a new inquiry, the Hillsborough Family Support Group brought private manslaughter charges against Chief Superintendent Duckenfield and his deputy, Superintendent Bernard Murray. In July 2000, following a six-week trial, the jury found Murray not guilty of manslaughter and failed to reach a verdict on Duckenfield. The judge refused a retrial, saying that a fair trial for Duckenfield would be impossible.
In April 2009, the 20th anniversary of the tragedy, the Hillsborough Independent Panel was set up. The panel’s report in September 2012 found that police orchestrated a cover-up, falsified documents and blamed innocent supporters. 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 the Prime Minster David Cameron. Kelvin MacKenzie, editor of The Sun at the time of the tragedy, apologised for the paper’s notorious front page.
In October 2012, the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the Director of Public Prosecutions both announced they would launch inquiries into possible crimes committed by police involved in the disaster.
In December 2012, following the cover-up revelations, the High Court quashed the original coroner’s verdicts of accidental death.
In March 2014, fresh inquests into the deaths began with families of the 96 victims in attendance.
On 26 April 2016, after 267 days of evidence from over 800 witnesses (the longest case heard by a jury in British legal history), the inquest 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.