Senior judge appointed coroner for new Hillsborough inquests

ONE of England’s most senior High Court judges has been appointed to oversee the new inquests into the deaths of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster.

The Hillsborough disaster in 1989

The Judicial Office announced yesterday that Lord Justice Goldring will act as the coroner for the new inquests, which are likely to be held outside of South Yorkshire in line with the wishes of the victims’ families.

The families have welcomed the appointment, and urged the new coroner to fix a time and date as swiftly as possible.

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Hillsborough Family Support Group chair Margaret Aspinall said: “It’s important to give us a time schedule, so we can let the families know.

“I’m sure they will realise the concerns of the families. It’s been 24 years. That’s a hell of a long time.”

The original inquests into the deaths of the Liverpool supporters killed in the crush at Hillsborough in April 1989 were quashed by the High Court last year, following a request from Attorney General Dominic Grieve.

The 1990 inquests were heavily criticised in last year’s report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, having been a huge source of grievance for the Hillsborough families for the past two decades.

The then Sheffield coroner Dr Stefan Popper had controversially imposed an arbitrary cut-off point on the inquests, deciding he would not look at any evidence after 3.15pm on the day of the disaster. This meant many of the failures of the emergency services were never investigated.

He eventually returned verdicts of accidental death.

The families have said they do not want the fresh inquests to be held in Sheffield, and Ministers announced this week that they have changed the law so that coroners are no longer required to hold inquests within their own districts.

Lord Justice Goldring therefore has the power to hold the inquests anywhere in England and Wales, if he deems it to be in the best interest of the bereaved families and others, such as witnesses.

A statement from the Judicial Office said: “Lord Justice Goldring will decide in due course where the inquests will be held.

“He plans to open the inquests as soon as possible.”

Ms Aspinall, who lost her 18-year-old son James in the disaster, said: “The most important issue is where it’s going to be held. The inquest is going to take a long time. Yes, we want it to be thorough, but we want it done as quickly as possible.”

She added: “A lot of the families have been tormented, and we do not want anything more to happen to any of the families before these inquests.

“We have waited 24 years. It is an awful long time for this. It is imperative to get the right verdicts on the death certificates.”

The appointment of Lord Justice Goldring follows a precedent of drafting in senior judges to oversee inquests in the most high-profile cases.

Lord Justice Scott Baker conducted the inquests into the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Al Fayed; Lady Justice Hallett conducted the inquests into the deaths of those killed in the 7/7 bombings; and Sir Michael Wright was brought in to conduct the inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot by the Metropolitan Police in 2005.

Lord Justice Goldring, who is 68, was the senior presiding judge of England and Wales from January 2010 to December 2012, having previously sat on the trial of 10-year-old Damilola Taylor’s killers in 2006.

He will hold the formal title of assistant deputy coroner for the new Hillsborough inquests, but will preside over all proceedings.

It is believed that all 96 inquests will be heard together but he has been appointed to conduct the inquests into 95 deaths at Hillsborough by the South Yorkshire (East) Coroner.

He will also handle the inquest into the death of Tony Bland who died of injuries he sustained at Hillsborough, by appointment of the West Yorkshire (West) Coroner. Mr Bland had remained in a persistent vegetative state at the Airedale Hospital in Keighley, virtually from the time of the disaster until his death in March 1993.