A new police investigation into the Hillsborough Disaster was announced by the UK Home Secretary today.
Former Durham Chief Constable Jon Stoddart will lead the new inquiry, which will focus specifically on the 96 deaths of Liverpool fans at the FA Cup semi-final in 1989.
The move comes after a damning report from the Hillsborough independent panel laid bare a cover-up which attempted to shift the blame for the tragedy on to its victims.
Home Secretary Theresa May said: “I am determined to see a swift and thorough response to the findings of the Hillsborough Panel to deliver justice for the 96 football fans who died and the families who have fought so hard on their behalf.”
Mr Stoddart will be able to recruit investigators and staff to his team, but he will not be allowed to employ officers or former officers with any prior connection to the Hillsborough disaster.
He is also unable to recruit any officers or former officers who worked in the West Midlands, South Yorkshire or Merseyside police forces.
Mr Stoddart will also work closely with the previously announced Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation into police conduct in the aftermath of the disaster.
He said: “I am aware of the great significance and personal responsibility which comes with leading this criminal investigation.
“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.
“I have held a number of meetings already and have been struck by the families’ humility and steadfast determination to see justice delivered for their loved ones.
“My role is to ensure that we determine exactly what happened in the lead-up to and on the day of the disaster and establish where any culpability lies.”
The announcement of the investigation came on the same day as the Government's most senior law officer urged the High Court to quash the original accidental death inquest verdicts returned on the 96 victims.
Attorney General Dominic Grieve made his application to the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge and two other judges in a packed London courtroom.
Many families of victims of the 1989 tragedy, who have campaigned to have the verdicts overturned, have travelled to the Royal Courts of Justice in central London.
Others are watching the proceedings in a courtroom in Liverpool via video-link.
Mr Grieve’s legal move comes after a damning report into the disaster laid bare a cover-up which attempted to shift the blame for the tragedy on to its victims.
The court heard at the start of today’s hearing that the application was not opposed.
Mr Grieve said that “nevertheless”, “given the intense public interest” in the case, it was right – with the court’s permission – that he set out the basis for the application he was making.
More than 40 relatives of the 96 victims arrived at the Royal Courts of Justice by coach to attend the hearing.
At least six MPs were also present.
Mr Grieve said the “horrific” events at the stadium were well known, adding: “They were seen by millions on television as the tragedy unfolded and by many of the spectators at the stadium itself.”
He said that in the months and years that followed, the events that led to the tragedy “have been the subject of numerous investigations and inquiries”.
Mr Grieve said today’s application was being made as a consequence of the Hillsborough Panel’s report published on September 12 this year.
He described it as a “remarkable” document.
Mr Grieve said the report was the product of a review of more than 450,000 pages of documentation from 84 organisations and individuals, in addition to audio-visual material.
He said that in the immediate weeks following publication he carefully studied the findings of the Hillsborough Panel with a view to “whether it was right” to exercise his powers under Section 13 of the Coroners Act.
In October he announced to Parliament his intention to make an application “for the inquests of those who died as a consequence of the Hillsborough disaster to be quashed and new inquests ordered”.
He said: “At the same time I indicated that I would immediately start the process of consultation with the families as to their views on whether such an application should be made in their particular case as well as with the defendants and other interested parties.
“Soon after my announcement to Parliament, I commissioned further expert analysis of the new medical evidence which forms the central plank of this application.”
He told the judges: “The report of the Hillsborough Panel undermined a critical assumption that underpinned all of the investigations into the disaster and, most importantly, that had underpinned the inquests.
“The panel’s access to all of the relevant records and expert analysis of the post-mortem evidence confirmed that the notion of a single, unvarying and rapid pattern of death in all cases was unsustainable.
“Some of those who died did so after a significant period of unconsciousness during which they might have been able to be resuscitated, or conversely might have succumbed to a new event such as inappropriate positioning.
“Consequently, the response of the emergency services was not investigated in any detail by the inquests.
“As the panel noted: ’The documents disclosed show that, considered alongside the restrictions placed by the coroner on the examination of the evidence presented to the mini-inquests and the presentation of the pathologists’ medical opinion as incontrovertible, the imposition of the 3.15pm cut-off severely limited examination of the rescue, evacuation and treatment of those who died. This raised profound concerns regarding sufficiency of inquiry and examination of evidence’.”