Pressure was growing today for criminal prosecutions to be brought against police officers involved in the Hillsborough disaster.
A damning report, published yesterday by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, laid bare a shocking cover-up which attempted to shift the blame on to its 96 victims.
The report found that 164 police statements were altered, 116 of them to remove or alter “unfavourable” comments about the policing of the match and the unfolding disaster.
The families of the Liverpool fans killed 23 years ago said the report had vindicated them, and have pledged to carry on their fight by pursuing criminal prosecutions against those who they said should “hang their heads in shame”.
Former Cabinet minister Lord Falconer, who is advising the victims’ relatives alongside Michael Mansfield QC, told BBC Breakfast: “The question of criminal proceedings needs to be looked at.”
Liverpool-born shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, who was instrumental in the creation of the panel, said the role of serving police officers implicated in the report must be investigated further.
“There now has to be a process of investigation into what they did, what they knew, what they ordered, and where accountability lies,” he said.
David Crompton, who was appointed chief constable of South Yorkshire Police in April, said the issue of criminal responsibility for the changing of statements was the same as in any other situation.
“If someone has falsified something and it breaches the criminal law then, fair enough, that applies to anybody, whether it’s in relation to Hillsborough or anything else.
“They should face prosecution, let’s be clear about it,” he said.
The Liverpool supporters died in a crush at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium on April 15 1989, where their team were to meet Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final.
It is expected that the victims’ relatives, largely represented by the Hillsborough Families Support Group, will meet in the coming days to discuss how they take matters further.
One of their first steps will be to start the process of overturning the inquest verdicts of accidental death, which is already being considered by the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve.
Margaret Aspinall, chairwoman of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, said last night: “They were a disgrace, they were a mockery and the system should be ashamed of itself. The fight will go on.”
Support group president, Trevor Hicks, who lost two daughters at Hillsborough, also said they would now press for criminal action against those involved in the disaster, adding: “The truth is out today, justice starts tomorrow.”
Mr Hicks said the report disclosed shocking “depths of depravity” in the way the police tried to blame the fans after the disaster.
British Prime Minister David Cameron led a chorus of apologies – including from former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie, current Sun editor Dominic Mohan and Mr Crompton - and said that Mr Grieve will review the report as quickly as possible in order to decide whether to apply to the High Court to quash the original, flawed inquest and order a new one.
The Sun newspaper, which just days after the tragedy published a notorious front page headline, The Truth, reporting the police’s version of events, apologised today to the victims, their families and the people of Liverpool, saying it was “deeply ashamed and profoundly sorry”.
Introducing the report to the Hillsborough families at the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool, Bishop James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool and chairman of the panel, said: “The documents disclosed to and analysed by the panel show that the tragedy should never have happened.
“There were clear operational failures in response to the disaster and in its aftermath there were strenuous attempts to deflect the blame on to the fans.
“The panel’s detailed report shows how vulnerable victims, survivors and their families are when transparency and accountability are compromised.”