For years, “Justice for the 96” has served as a rallying cry for many touched by the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster. On Wednesday, that call came one step closer to becoming a reality.
A high court in England has thrown out the findings of a 1990 inquest which determined accidental death to be the main cause of 96 fatalities at Sheffield’s Hillsborough Stadium on April 15, 1989.
Today’s ruling clears the way for a new inquest to take place next year, one which will take into account new evidence published by (and since) the Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP) September’s findings.
The lord chief justice said it was “inevitable” that the emergence of fresh evidence about how and why the 96 victims died made it “desirable and reasonable for a fresh inquest to be heard”.
“However distressing or unpalatable, the truth will be brought to light,” Lord Judge said. “In this way, the families of those who died in the disaster will be properly respected. Our earnest wish is the new inquest will not be delayed for a moment longer than necessary.”
The “fresh evidence” presented by the Panel — the basis for attorney general Dominic Grieve’s request to have the original findings quashed — found Liverpool fans were not responsible for the crush that led to the disaster.
Grieve also supplied new medical evidence showing 58 victims could have survived past a 3:15 p.m. cut-off point that constrained the original verdict. Imposed by the investigating coroner, the cut-off point (nine minutes after Liverpool and Nottingham Forest’s FA Cup semifinal was stopped) prevented the investigation from considering the police and medical response, both of which came under scrutiny by the HIP.
Grieve told the court that the new medical evidence from Dr Bill Kirkup and Professor Crane formed “the essential basis” for his application, meaning that the premise of the original inquest was unsustainable.
“The new medical evidence presented by the panel’s report leads to the conclusion that justice has not been done,” he said.
After today’s ruling, justice will get another chance. A new investigation will likely begin in the new year, one which will take into consideration the HIP’s findings as well as the evidence commissioned by Grieve in the wak of the panel’s findings.
“New inquests are the only way in which the families can learn the truth about the circumstances in which their relatives died,” said [Michael Mansfield, acting on behalf of the families of 63 of those killed in the disaster].
“As the attorney general also recognises, they are the only way in which the justifiable and widespread public concerns about the previous investigations into the tragedy can be allayed.”
But with each step this story takes toward the justice, we’re reminded of the last 22 years’ cruel absurdities. Thanks to Septembers findings, we know that years of complaints of police coverups and failures of emergency services were not only true but too often fell on deaf ears. Those ears have been opened now, but it has taken far too long.
Families of the victims have had to engage in a generation-long fight to merely get back to square one. But thanks to today’s ruling, they have that reset. Now, a new inquiry can begin.