Jury Blames Police, Clears Fans in 1989 Hillsborough Disaster

The hundreds of supporters killed in the tragedy have finally gotten justice.

Updated
Sports
2 min read
Relatives of those who died in the Hillsborough disaster sing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. (Photo: AP)

The families of 96 Liverpool soccer fans who were crushed to death at a crowded stadium in 1989 declared they had finally won justice Tuesday after a jury found that police and emergency services were to blame for Britain’s worst sports disaster.

The jury exonerated the behavior of the crowd, saying it did not contribute to the tragedy at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, and that the victims were “unlawfully killed.”

Relatives who had waged a tireless campaign to protect the reputation of their loved ones leapt to their feet outside a specially built courtroom, cheering and weeping, when the verdicts were announced. They chanted, “Justice for the 96!” and sang the Liverpool soccer club’s anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

Jubilant relatives of those who died in the Hillsborough disaster after the verdict. (Photo: AP)
Jubilant relatives of those who died in the Hillsborough disaster after the verdict. (Photo: AP)

The original inquest recorded verdicts of accidental death, something the families of the victims refused to accept.

The Hillsborough tragedy unfolded on April 15, 1989, when more than 2,000 Liverpool fans were allowed to flood into a standing-room section behind a goal with the 54,000-capacity stadium already nearly full for the match against Nottingham Forest.

The victims were smashed against metal anti-riot fences or trampled underfoot, and many suffocated. A police officer ran onto the field and asked the referee to halt the game, which was abandoned after six minutes.

 In this April 15, 1989 file photo police, stewards and supporters tend and care for wounded supporters. (Photo: AP)
In this April 15, 1989 file photo police, stewards and supporters tend and care for wounded supporters. (Photo: AP)

Fans and rescue workers ripped up advertising boards and used them as makeshift stretchers as police and first-aid workers treated victims on the field.

David Duckenfield, who was then the South Yorkshire police chief superintendent in charge of policing the game, testified at the inquests that he told a “terrible lie” by saying fans had rushed through gates into the stadium, rather than admitting to authorising the gates to be opened.

The jury found Duckenfield was in breach of his duty of care to fans and that his actions amounted to “gross negligence.” It concluded unanimously that police-planning errors “caused or contributed” to the situation that led to the crash, and it confirmed the behaviour of fans did not cause or contribute to the tragedy.

Floral tributes are placed by soccer fans at the ‘Kop’ end of Anfield Stadium in Liverpool. (Photo:AP)
Floral tributes are placed by soccer fans at the ‘Kop’ end of Anfield Stadium in Liverpool. (Photo:AP)

They also found that the construction and layout of the stadium was dangerous and contributed to the disaster.

After the jury’s decision, the police force said “we unequivocally accept the verdict,” and apologised to the families for their failings.

Prime Minister David Cameron called the verdicts a “landmark moment in the quest for justice.”

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