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Saturday 22 October 2016

Liverpool families attack South Yorkshire Police 'culture of denial'

Published 26/04/2016 | 16:31

Stephen Wright lost his brother Graham in the Hillsborough disaster
Stephen Wright lost his brother Graham in the Hillsborough disaster

Families of the 96 Liverpool fans who died as a result of the Hillsborough disaster accused South Yorkshire Police of "a culture of denial" after an inquest jury ruled their loved ones were unlawfully killed.

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After the latest step of the families' campaign for justice, the chief constable of SYP and the chief executive of Yorkshire Ambulance Service fully accepted the jury's conclusions and reiterated previous public apologies.

But lawyers for some of the families had previously argued in court that despite their public stance, both organisations sought to minimise their responsibility at the inquests so the jury was unaware of any acceptance of responsibility or fault.

Following Tuesday's conclusion to the longest jury case in British legal history, a number of family members echoed those criticisms.

Anne Burkett, the mother of Peter, 24, who had travelled to the match with friends, said: "If Chief Superintendent (David) Duckenfield had told the truth about what caused the disaster on the day it happened, if the police had truly accepted the conclusions of Lord Taylor's report a few months after the disaster, we would not be here today. Instead they lied and blamed the fans."

She said the story of Hillsborough was one of "human tragedy" but added: "It is also a story of deceit and lies, of institutional defensiveness defeating truth and justice. It is evidence of a culture of denial within South Yorkshire Police."

Stephen Wright, whose brother Graham, 17, died in the tragedy, said: "The evidence over the past two years has been overwhelming, yet South Yorkshire Police and their senior officers have tried to look truth in the eye and deny responsibility and shift blame on to others."

The cost of legal representation for eight former South Yorkshire Police officers, including Mr Duckenfield and the current chief constable David Crompton, has been paid by South Yorkshire's police and crime commissioner and has amounted to £19.4 million.

The deaths were ruled accidental at the end of the original 1991 inquests into the deaths at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final at Sheffield Wednesday's ground.

But those verdicts were quashed following the 2012 Hillsborough Independent Panel report, which concluded that a major cover-up had taken place in an effort by police and others to avoid the blame for what happened.

The jury of six women and three men at the fresh inquests in Warrington concluded that blunders by the police and ambulance service on the day "caused or contributed to" the disaster.

In response, Mr Crompton admitted the force got the policing of the match "catastrophically wrong" and "unequivocally" accepted the conclusions.

Rod Barnes, the current head of Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, said he was "truly sorry" and admitted lives could have been saved if its response had been different.

Both organisations could face criminal prosecution as well as a number of individuals including overall match commander Mr Duckenfield.

He gave the order at 2.52pm to open exit Gate C in Leppings Lane, allowing around 2,000 fans to flood into the already packed central pens behind the goal.

Operation Resolve, the continuing police inquiry into the events of the day and its lead-up, and the probe by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) into the aftermath of the disaster, are due to send their final case files to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) by the end of the year.

Any decision on charges by the CPS is expected to follow within three to six months.

The jurors were told they could only reach the unlawful killing determination if they were sure of four "essential" matters, including whether a breach of duty by Mr Duckenfield caused the deaths and it amounted to gross negligence. They concluded it was unlawful killing by a 7-2 majority, to the delight of families in the packed courtroom.

The jury also found that:

:: The police and the ambulance service caused or contributed to the loss of lives in the disaster by an error or omission after the terrace crush had begun to develop

:: Policing of the match caused or contributed to a dangerous situation developing at the Leppings Lane turnstiles

:: Commanding officers caused or contributed to the crush on the terrace, as did those senior officers in the police control box when the order was given to open the exit gates at Leppings Lane

:: Features of the design, construction and layout of the stadium considered to be dangerous or defective caused or contributed to the disaster

:: Sheffield Wednesday's then consultant engineers, Eastwood & Partners, should have done more to detect and advise on any unsafe or unsatisfactory features of the stadium

After the key conclusions, someone in court shouted: "God bless the jury."

The jurors were given a round of applause as they left the courtroom.

Dozens of relatives of the victims have attended each of the more than 300 days the court has sat since it began on March 31 2014.

At 4.10pm on Tuesday the court resumed for its final session, with coroner Sir John Goldring thanking the jury and paying tribute to the families of the 96 - who responded by giving him a round of applause.

Sir John, addressing the jurors, said: "You have devoted over two years of your lives to these inquests. Your commitment and diligence has been remarkable. I suspect I speak for most when I say how hugely impressed we have been."

To the families, he said: "You could not have done more by your loved ones. You have done your duty by them."

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