27-years after 96 football fans lost their lives during the FA Cup Semi Final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium, a jury has concluded they were ‘unlawfully killed.’
On the 15 April 1989, 96 men, women, and children aged between 10-67 said goodbye to loved ones before heading to Hillsborough to watch Liverpool play Nottingham Forest in the semi-final of the FA Cup.
They never came home.
54,000 were there the day that hundreds of people were crushed in the carnage of Leppings Lane. There lives were changed forever. As was every football fan in the UK. I remember watching the disaster unfurl on TV. At first I thought it was hooliganism. Then I saw the bodies. Advertising boards were used as stretchers for the dead and the dying.
The Hillsborough gym was turned into a makeshift morgue. I remember policemen and stewards picking up personal belongings left in the stand. A camera zoomed in on the back page of a tabloid covered in blood. It was one of the worse disasters in football’s history. And today, 27-years after 96 people lost their lives, justice was served.
I wasn’t the only person who thought hooliganism caused the crush. It was a period of time when it blighted not only English football, but also European football as a whole. I wouldn’t be the only person at home thinking as much. The South Yorkshire Police knew that, and I guess that’s why they blamed a late influx of ticketless drunken fans for the crush.
On 28 March 1991, two-years after the disaster, an inquest into the tragedy returned a verdict of ‘accidental death.’ Family members of the dead were incensed. They felt the blame lay not with the supporters, but with the police and Sheffield Wednesday football club for creating an environment unsafe enough to kill.
Most fingers were pointed in the direction of the South Yorkshire Police Chief Superintendent in command at the match, David Duckenfield, who retired on 29 October 1991 due to ill health. The families fought for exoneration of the fans, and criminal charges to be brought against those truly responsible for the negligence that led to the deaths of 96 people.
Yesterday, two years after the case reopened, and 27 years after the deaths – making it the longest case ever heard by a British jury – six women and three men delivered the verdict of ‘unlawful killing,’ after the coroner Sir John Goldring said he would accept a majority decision with respect to whether the fans were unlawfully killed. Seven of the nine agreed they were.
The Prime Minister was quick to voice his support via Twitter as the news broke worldwide.
PM: Landmark day as the #Hillsborough inquest provides long overdue justice for the 96 Liverpool fans who died in the tragic disaster.
— UK Prime Minister (@Number10gov) April 26, 2016
The jury had to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to 14 key questions put before them. Two of them were critical and the answers brought cheers and tears in equal fervor.
Are you satisfied, so that you are sure, that those who died in the disaster were unlawfully killed?
They answered ‘Yes’.
Was there any behavior on the part of football supporters, which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles?
They answered ‘No.’
The jury also found that former Commander Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield was “responsible for manslaughter by gross negligence” due to a breach of his duty of care that included police errors resulting in dangerous numbers at the turnstiles, the decision to open the Leppings Lane and exit gates, and subsequent decisions that led to the crush.
The South Yorkshire Ambulance Service was also cited as a responsible party for failing to declare the crush a ‘major incident’ much earlier than they did. Sheffield Wednesday FC were also partially to blame for defects at the stadium including incorrect calculations over crowd capacity, incorrect stadium safety certification, and failure to delay kick off when they were aware there was a huge number of fans still outside the ground.
The current South Yorkshire Police constable David Crompton told the waiting press that the police force ‘got the policing catastrophically wrong,’ and that the force ‘unequivocally’ accepts the verdict of unlawful killing.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will now consider whether criminal charges should be brought against those found responsible including David Duckenfield.
The families of the loved ones united as one after the verdict by singing the Liverpool anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”