31 Mar 2014

New inquests into Hillborough disaster

9:16 pm on 31 March 2014

Fresh inquests into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 football supporters were crushed to death, begin in England on Monday after the initial verdicts were quashed amid claims of a police cover-up.

The families of Liverpool supporters who died in Britain's worst sporting disaster will gather in a purpose-built court near Warrington, after a two-decade fight to overturn the accidental death verdicts at the initial 1991 inquiry.

Fans were caught up in a crush on a terrace during an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, northern England. Some died on the pitch as fellow fans and police officers desperately tried to revive them, while other fans made makeshift stretchers out of advertising hoardings, AFP reports.

Families of the victims say there is evidence that police and authorities altered statements submitted by officers on the day of the disaster.

In September 2012, an independent panel published a damning report that concluded that 41 of those who died would have had the "potential to survive" if they had received medical treatment more quickly.

The High Court in London subsequently quashed the original coroner's verdicts and called for fresh inquests.

Two new investigations were launched: one by the Independent Police Complaints Commission and one wider criminal inquiry. The IPCC - the police watchdog - said last Thursday it had interviewed 13 retired or serving police officers on suspicion of offences including manslaughter and perverting the course of justice.

On Friday, police said the two investigations were treating a total of 22 people as suspects - not all of them police officers - giving new hope to the victims' families.

The inquests seek to examine the circumstances in which the deceased came by their deaths but do not apportion blame and are expected to last at least nine months.

It was revealed at a pre-inquest hearing on Thursday that the BBC had found previously unseen television footage from the disaster, which could form new evidence.