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Hillsborough victories open the door to criminal charges

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A DOUBLE victory has been achieved in the Hillsborough families’ 23-year fight for justice as a new police investigation was launched into the tragedy and fresh inquests were ordered into the deaths of the 96 victims.

The inquiry could open the door for criminal charges against those involved in the 1989 disaster and the cover-up which followed.

The development follows the resignation of former West Yorkshire Police Chief Constable Sir Norman Bettison, who quit in the wake of a damning report that laid bare official attempts to shift the blame on to Liverpool fans.

Sir Norman, who was serving with the South Yorkshire force at the time of the tragedy, is being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) as part of its inquiry into officers’ conduct in the aftermath of the disaster.

The police watchdog is also investigating an allegation that Sir Norman tried inappropriately to influence his referral to the IPCC over Hillsborough.

Families of the supporters who died in the crush at the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest yesterday welcomed news of a fresh police investigation into the disaster as the “first step towards accountability”.

Barry Devonside, 65, who lost his son Christopher, 18, in the Sheffield stadium tragedy, said: “This is a legal issue and history has been made today.

“If there is sufficient evidence to bring charges against those who were in the wrong then they have to be held accountable in law. I’m not on a witch-hunt and I don’t want people locked up for the sake of it, but if there is evidence they should be before a court.”

The announcement follows a report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel that found there were clear operational failures in response to the disaster and up to 41 fans could have survived.

It also found former South Yorkshire Chief Constable Peter Wright and his officers, with the help of local Tory MP Irvine Patnick, sought to cover up the failures.

The new investigation could lead to criminal prosecutions, the Home Secretary said.

“Now that the truth about the Hillsborough disaster has finally been revealed, it is crucial that Government and the criminal justice system moves swiftly to make sure that justice is done for all the loved ones who died on that day in 1989, and those who have been campaigning on their behalf ever since,” said Theresa May.

The inquiry will be led by former Durham Chief Constable Jon Stoddart, who will work closely with the IPCC.

He will principally investigate the deaths at Hillsborough and the people and agencies outside the police watchdog’s remit. The IPCC will examine officers’ conduct in the aftermath.

Mr Stoddart said he was aware of the “great significance and personal responsibility” of his role.

“My first priority is to meet with as many of the families as possible and to establish a working, open relationship with them throughout the investigation,” he said. “I have held a number of meetings already and have been struck by the families’ humility and steadfast determination to see justice delivered.”

Neither investigation will be able to employ officers with a prior connection to Hillsborough, or who have worked in the West Midlands, South Yorkshire or Merseyside forces.

IPCC deputy chairwoman Deborah Glass, who will head up the police watchdog’s side of the inquiry, said: “This is not going to be a quick and easy process, but we now have a clear path ahead, with all the investigative and prosecutorial bodies working in a co-ordinated way to complete the full picture for the families of those who died.”

Trevor Hicks, chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group urged all agencies in the investigation to work together.

“There’s a common cause and that’s justice for the families and how we get that,” said Mr Hicks, who lost his daughters Sarah and Victoria in the disaster. He added: “We know we’re in for months if not years of hard work. But we’ve been here before; we’re not going anywhere.”

‘Watershed moment’: Page 5; Comment: Page 12.

 

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