LONDON, England, September 12 – British Prime Minister David Cameron apologised Wednesday to the families of the 96 victims of the 1989 Hillsborough football stadium disaster for the “double injustice” they suffered.
Speaking after the release of thousands of documents, he told parliament the Liverpool supporters had suffered first from official failings that led to the deaths and then from police attempts to blame the victims of the crush.
“On behalf of the government — and indeed our country — I am profoundly sorry for this double injustice that has been left uncorrected for so long,” a sombre Cameron said in a statement to lawmakers.
He was speaking after the Hillsborough Independent Panel, a seven-member body led by the Bishop of Liverpool, published a report into Britain’s worst sporting disaster following a review of previously unseen files.
The disaster was caused by massive overcrowding in the Leppings Lane End of Sheffield’s Hillsborough stadium at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
To ease overcrowding outside the Leppings Lane End, police opened an exit gate, allowing supporters to flood into the central pens. Fenced in, fans were crushed to death.
Lawmakers gasped as Cameron said the panel found that police repeatedly tried to cover-up evidence of their own failings following the disaster in a bid to make it look as if fans were at fault, Cameron said.
Police “significantly amended” 164 statements, including the removal of 116 negative comments about the leadership of the police, he said.
He said there were also failings by the ambulance service, including that it may have been possible to revive some of the victims had they received treatment earlier.
“With the weight of the new evidence in this report, it is right for me today as prime minister to make a proper apology to the families of the 96 for all they have suffered over the past 23 years,” Cameron said.
“Indeed, the new evidence that we are presented with today makes clear that these families have suffered a double injustice.
“The injustice of the appalling events — the failure of the state to protect their loved ones and the indefensible wait to get to the truth.
“And the injustice of the denigration of the deceased — that they were somehow at fault for their own deaths.”
Cameron said the attorney general would now review the “deeply distressing” report to decide whether to apply to the high court to quash an original, flawed inquest into the tragedy.
The city of Liverpool will hold a two-minute silence from 3:06 pm (1406 GMT) — the time the match was called off — as a mark of respect to the victims, ahead of a candle-lit vigil.
Cameron said the victims’ families had long believed that some of the authorities attempted to create a “completely unjust account of events that sought to blame the fans for what happened.
“The families were right.”
The report found that there had been police efforts “to develop and publicise a version of events that focused on… allegations of drunkenness, ticketlessness and violence.”
Officers carried out police national computer checks on those who died in an attempt “to impugn the reputations of the deceased”, the report said, while the bodies of children were tested for blood alcohol levels.
The ground failed to meet minimum safety standards, had inadequate turnstiles, the capacity was significantly over-calculated and the crush barriers failed to meet safety standards.
Liverpool played Forest at Hillsborough in the previous year’s FA Cup semi-final when a crush occurred and the report “shows clearly that lessons had not been learnt”.
A report by judiciary chief Peter Taylor, published in 1990, found that the main reason for the disaster was a failure of “police control”.
Victims’ families say it is an injustice that no individual or organisation has been held fully accountable for the disaster.