The 23-year fight for justice by the families of the 96 Liverpool fans crushed to death in the stadium disaster in Sheffield was utterly vindicated yesterday by an independent report which found the fans were entirely blameless for what happened.
Prime Minister David Cameron issued a formal apology in Parliament on behalf of the British Government as more than 400,000 previously withheld documents relating to the tragedy were released, showing how scores of officer statements were secretly changed to cover up police failings.
The Hillsborough Independent Panel found South Yorkshire Police made a litany of errors which led to the devastating crush inside the ground in April 1989, and then attempted to pin the blame on innocent supporters.
Lies about drunken and violent supporters were peddled by senior officers to the media, and criminal record checks run against those who died in an effort “impugn the reputations of the dead”.
The Sun newspaper and its former editor Kelvin MacKenzie, who presented the allegations as fact in an notorious front page headlined “The Truth”, also apologised yesterday, along with White’s Press Agency in Sheffield which first reported them.
But Hillsborough Families Support Group chairman and Keighley father Trevor Hicks, who lost two daughters at Hillsborough, said Mr MacKenzie’s words were “too little, too late”, describing the disgraced editor as a “lowlife”.
Mr Hicks said the families would now press for criminal action against those involved in the disaster, adding: “The truth is out today – justice starts tomorrow.”
He said the report showed that “possibly as many as 41 people might have survived” if the disaster had been better handled by the police and South Yorkshire Ambulance Service, which also changed official statements after the event and briefed against the Liverpool supporters.
Michael Mansfield QC, who is representing the families, said it was “perfectly obvious” from the report that “criminal liability – for which there is no time limit – is on the cards”, and that as many as “half a dozen” people could potentially be brought to justice.
Stating that “justice has to follow truth”, Mr Mansfield called on the Prime Minister to ensure that the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney General “look very carefully” at the report.
In emotional scenes in the House of Commons, Mr Cameron said it was now “black and white” that Liverpool fans were not to blame.
“These families have suffered a double injustice,” he said. “The injustice of the appalling events and then the injustice of the denigration of the deceased, that they were somehow at fault for their own deaths.
“On behalf of the Government, and indeed our country, I am profoundly sorry.”
It now looks highly likely that new inquests into the 96 deaths will be held, after evidence was released that some victims were almost certainly alive after the 3.15pm cut-off point controversially imposed by the original coroner.