Families welcome new Hillsborough probe

Criminal charges over the Hillsborough disaster are back on the table as a fresh police investigation is launched.

The deaths of the 96 Liverpool fans at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final is the focus of the new inquiry, led by former Durham chief constable Jon Stoddart, Home Secretary Theresa May said.

Families welcomed the move as the “first step towards accountability” but urged all authorities to work together to ensure justice.

The announcement came as High Court judges quashed the original accidental death verdicts on the disaster and ordered a fresh inquest. Both decisions follow a damning report from the Hillsborough Independent Panel in September, which laid bare the attempts to shift blame for the tragedy onto its victims.

Jenni Hicks, who lost her teenage daughters Sarah and Victoria at Hillsborough, said “accountability has to come now”.

She said: “After the truth we had in September it has to be followed up with accountability, and I think today is the first step of that, which is brilliant.”

Mr Stoddart will work closely with the previously announced Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation into police conduct in the aftermath of the disaster. Both investigations will be conducted from the same office in Warrington, Cheshire.

The Stoddart investigation will be into a range of agencies outside the IPCC’s remit but in order to maintain independence, the IPCC will look at the actions of police officers in relation to the deaths.

In addition to announcing a new investigation, a liaison board will be established to bring together all organisations working on behalf of the Hillsborough families.

Ms Hicks’s ex-husband Trevor, chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, said he is encouraging all sections of the investigation to work together.

“We’ve said all along that we wanted joined-up writing, if you like. We want them all to work together. There’s a common cause and that’s justice for the families and how we get that,” he said.

Mr Stoddart will be able to recruit investigators and staff to his team but will not be allowed to employ officers or former officers who have prior connection to the Hillsborough disaster.

He is also unable to recruit any officers or former officers who worked in West Midlands, South Yorkshire or Merseyside police forces.

The investigation may trigger criminal prosecutions, the home secretary said, which will be the responsibility of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Mr Stoddart, appointed to Metropolitan Police as assistant commissioner, said: “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.”

The Liverpool fans died in a crush at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium where their team were to meet Nottingham Forest.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel report triggered a raft of apologies from the likes of prime minister David Cameron and former newspaper boss Kelvin MacKenzie.

Mr MacKenzie was editor when the Sun ran a front page story blaming fans for the disaster.

The report also led to the resignation of West Yorkshire Police Chief Constable Norman Bettison, a chief inspector with South Yorkshire Police at the time of the deaths.

The panel’s report found that the response to the disaster had clear operational failures and that as many as 41 people could have survived.

It also found that the then chief constable of South Yorkshire, Peter Wright, and his officers, with the help of local Tory MP Irvine Patnick, sought to cover up the failures.

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.”

The IPCC said it is making progress in its investigation but warned it would not be a “quick and easy” process.


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