Ecstatic families whose loved ones died in the Hillsborough tragedy hailed a landmark decision to quash the original inquest verdicts of accidental death and admitted: “We must be dreaming.”
The Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge today ordered fresh hearings into the fatal crushing of 96 Liverpool football fans at the 1989 FA-Cup semi-final disaster following the Attorney General Dominic Grieve’s application, as he spoke unequivocally of a “profound, almost palpable belief that justice has not been done.”
Describing the legal move as built on ‘good grounds’ and the 23-year-old tragedy as ‘catastrophic’, it now clears the path for new inquests to be scheduled early in the New Year as campaigners steel themselves to push for a U-turn verdict of unlawful killing.
It came as Home Secretary Theresa May announced there would be a new police investigation into the disaster, led by former Durham Chief Constable Jon Stoddart, which will focus specifically on the 96 deaths.
Immediately after the decision, tearful families hugged each other and embraced on the steps outside the High Court of Justice, as the fight for Hillsborough justice took another decisive step.
Mary Corrigan, 62, who lost her son Keith McGrath, 17, in the Leppings Lane crushes, told the 澳门新蒲京娱乐场: “We’re made up. There’s emotions flying everywhere.
"I just wanted the judge to come out and keep repeating it - ‘inquest quashed’. I feel like I’m dreaming.
“We were frightened of another knockback, but no. When he said accidental death was overturned, it was incredible.
“For the new inquests we say, ‘bring it on.’
“My son and the others will be resting now, they’ve been guiding us for 23 years and now they’re saying ‘the truth starts now.’
“The judge said he wants it to start as quick as possible, so let’s hope it’s January to get things on the road.
“I want an unlawful killing verdict.”
In a packed and expectant courtroom in central London which was attended by up to 40 families, Lord Judge told them: “We must record our admiration and respect for their determined search for the truth about the circumstances of the disaster and why and how it had occurred, which - despite disappointments and setbacks - has continued for nearly quarter of a century.”
He said the last 23 years for the Hillsborough families had been ‘unbearable, dispiriting, and prolonged.”
Now, 95 inquests will be referred to the coroner in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, while the death of Tony Bland (whose life support machine was switched off in 1993) will be sent to Bradford, West Yorkshiire.
The coroners will then have the power to appoint an assistant deputy coroner who can be a high court judge and could send the hearings back up to the North West, and possibly Liverpool, although that is far from certain.
Criminal proceedings, if appropriate, could run alongside any future inquest hearing, or take place afterwards.
Today, the Attorney General explained how the emergence of new and crucial medical evidence - specifically that 58 of the 96 deceased had the capacity to survive beyond the controversial and now descredited 3.15pm cut-off point in Sheffield - had influenced his decision.
He said: “Only new inquests can give a full answer if intervention could have prevented the tragedy.
"The new evidence of blood alcohol (that orders were made by original coroner Stefan Popper to check the levels of those who had died) renders it necessary in the interests of justice that the inquests are quashed.”
Anne Williams, 60, who lost her son Kevin, 15, at Hillsborough, and who has twice taken her fight for a new inquest to the European Courts, attended the Royal Courts of Justices in a wheelchair after recently being diagnosed with terminal cancer.
With a broad smile after the decision, she said: “I'm delighted. A big part of me was to get justice for the survivors and those who died who wrongly got the blame.
“The fans wrongly carried the can, and the lies that drunken fans robbed the dead.
"I’ve always felt sorry for them, and I hope they feel better and relieved to know once again they played no part in Hillsborough.
“Nobody ever gave up, even though we were fighting the judicial system. But the support from people across the world kept me going.
“I’m really pleased there’s a wider enquiry because of the extremes they went through to stop the truth coming out is now being told.
“The authorities didn’t care about my son Kevin or any of those who died, or the survivors, and in Kevin’s case there were professional people, ambulance drivers professional policemen...their lives were destroyed as well, just so the establishment secured the verdict of accidental death.
“Now, they have to pay for what they’ve done.”
Sheila Coleman, spokeswoman for the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, told the 澳门新蒲京娱乐场: “What a day it’s been, such a powerful verdict by the judge.
"We were here in 1993 after the judicial review and a lot of the evidence the judge used to back up his decison now was information we used on that occasion, like the altering of the statements.
“That was all muddied and dismissed 19 years ago which goes to the heart of a shift in political support and how it’s politically expedient now to deal with Hillsborough within the parameters of the truth.
“There’s been a shift in the climate, this has been a monumental day.
“The inquests should proceed with efficiency and speed and if they run alongside criminal proceedings so be it.
"We are going in the right direction. Today is the first phase of justice achieved, it’s an historic day.
“This decision makes us feel good, and people are allowed to feel good.”
Jenni Hicks, who lost their teenage daughters Sarah and Victoria in the incident, said “accountability has to come now”.
She added: “After the truth we had on September 12, it has to be followed up with accountability, and I think today is the first step of that, which is brilliant.”
As Lord Judge was unveiling his decision to order fresh inquests, Home Secretary Theresa May revealed a new probe which will assess potential police misconduct and have the added authority to analyse the behaviour of other organisations outside the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s remit - like Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and the county’s ambulance service.
Mrs May said: “The findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel were truly shocking, but while the families have now been given the truth, they have not yet received justice.
“I am giving the IPCC new powers to investigate police misconduct, but this investigation will ensure no body with responsibility for fan safety at Hillsborough will escape scrutiny.
“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.”
Former Durham Chief Constable Jon Stoddart, who leads this new investigation, will be able to recruit investigators and staff to his team, but he will not be allowed to employ officers or former officers with any prior connection to the Hillsborough disaster.
Margaret Aspinall, who lost her son James, 18, at Hillsborough, said: “It was emotional when the judge came out and said what he did that we were going to get new inquests.
“It was bittersweet as we were absolutely made up that the inquest verdict? has been quashed, but we are there because 96 people lost their lives.
“We have got to get the new inquests as soon as possible for the families.
“I just want to spend some time with my family and grandchildren. I didn’t see my children grow up, I want to see my grandchildren grow up.”
Visibly moved and hugged by victims’ relatives outside, MP Andy Burnham, instrumental in pressing for last September’s explosive and damning Independent Hillsborough Panel report, said: “Nothing I will ever do, the deep sense of fulfilment we both have got from this moment, nothing we ever do in politics will mean more to us because it’s where the personal and political come together.
“I was at the other semi-final that day, all my friends were at Hillsborough.
"I was 19 on the day and nothing had a bigger impact on me growing up. It’s a momentous day.”
Maria Eagle, Garston MP who worked with Mr Burnham in setting up the independent panel, was moved to tears in the court room.
She told the 澳门新蒲京娱乐场: “It is a day that has been a long time coming, and which is also long overdue. It is the first real legal recognition that the families were wronged.
“I felt a great relief. I have been at this for many years knocking my head against a brick wall for new legal avenues.
“The fact that what Andy and I devised has actually turned the tide and let out the truth... it is very emotional.”
Campaigners for a tax break on sales of a charity single in aid of the families of Liverpool supporters killed, meanwhile, have been told by David Cameron to expect good news.
The version of the Hollies’ hit He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother by The Justice Collective will help cover the families’ legal costs.
Pressed on whether it could benefit from a VAT waiver granted to previous such singles, the Prime Minister told MPs: “The Chancellor of the Exchequer is currently on the other side of the Atlantic but as the First Lord of the Treasury I think I can confidently predict there will be a decision that will go down well in Merseyside.”
The Hillsborough disaster fund will get extra money from sales of a charity single after Chancellor George Osborne confirmed he would effectively waive VAT on it.
Mr Osborne said: “These families have been campaigning for justice for almost 24 years.
“It’s been a long journey so I’m pleased to be able to say the Government will effectively waive the VAT on sales of the Hillsborough single, ensuring that as much money as possible goes towards helping these families.”
A sum equivalent to the VAT receipts collected by the Exchequer on sales of the song up to the end of March will be refunded in the form of a charitable donation from Home Office, Ministry of Justice, Department of Health and Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Treasury said.
* How our sister website the Liverpool Echo is reporting the story.