British government launches formal bid to quash original Hillsborough inquest verdicts
Published 10/12/2012 | 18:58
A FORMAL application to quash the verdicts of the original Hillsborough inquests has been made by the British Government's top lawyer.
British Attorney General Dominic Grieve said there was a "good" case for setting aside the accidental death verdicts and holding new hearings into the deaths of the 96 Liverpool fans killed in the 1989 football stadium disaster.
The move comes after a damning report into the tragedy revealed a cover-up which attempted to shift the blame on to the victims.
Mr Grieve will appear in person at the High Court to argue that new evidence means there should be fresh inquests.
He said: "I believe that the case for the High Court to quash the original inquests is a good one.
"My application has now been lodged with the Court. It is my intention to appear to argue the case at the hearing that will take place in the High Court."
If the court quashes the original inquests and orders fresh inquests to be heard, its powers are limited to referring the cases back to the district in which they were originally heard.
In 95 of the cases this means the cases must be sent back to Sheffield or Doncaster.
It is understood that the Attorney General will suggest that the court should return the cases to Doncaster.
The families had made it clear they wished for the new inquests to be held in Liverpool but a spokesman for the Attorney General's office said the location will be "a matter for the coronial process".
Anne Williams, whose son Kevin died in the disaster, wrote on Twitter: "Just received e mail the Attorney General is sending kevins case to the divisional courts seeking a new inquest his death."
More than 105,000 people have signed an e-petition calling for a fresh inquest into Kevin Williams' death to be held swiftly as his mother is suffering from cancer.
Mrs Williams, 60, who has made four submissions to overturn the verdict of her son's inquest to different Attorney Generals over the years, said this is what she had been waiting 23 years for.
She said: "Looking at it (the email) now, I can't believe it. This is my fourth submission to Attorney Generals over the years and they have always come back 'not in the interests of justice'."
Mrs Williams said she was now "one step closer" to knowing the truth about what happened to her son on that day.
Chairwoman of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, Margaret Aspinall, whose son James, 18, died at Hillsborough, said: "We have waited over 20-years for these verdicts to be overturned and I'm sure all the families will be delighted to hear that these steps are being taken.
"It is a great step towards getting the justice we have fought for."
Last week new laws giving extra powers to the police watchdog investigating the Hillsborough disaster and cover-up were rushed through the Commons.
Policing minister Damian Green said the changes were essential to ensure the "double injustice" suffered by the victims of the disaster, as uncovered by the Hillsborough Independent Panel report published earlier this year, could be remedied.
The Police (Complaints and Conduct) Bill had cross-party support and cleared the Commons in under four hours, receiving its second and third readings without a vote.
The actions of up to 2,400 serving or retired officers could be considered by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation - the watchdog's biggest ever investigation.
The new rules, which still have to be approved by the House of Lords, would enable the IPCC to compel serving officers or staff on other police bodies to attend an interview.
Hillsborough campaigner and Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotheram said: "This is another huge milestone on the road to justice for the 96.
"The Attorney General made clear earlier this year that the evidence from the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report was overwhelming and as a consequence he would be filing an application to the High Court to overturn the original 'accidental death' inquest verdicts from 1989. Today, he delivered on that promise.
"In terms of what happens now, there will be a 14-day consultation period in which time any individual or organisation involved in the original 1989 inquest may make representations to the court. It is important that due process is done.
"This means the original coroner, Stefan Popper, the South Yorkshire Police and ambulance services, Sheffield City Council, the Football Association and Sheffield Wednesday Football Club will be deciding right now whether or not to submit evidence relating to the original inquests not already in the public domain, or made available to the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which can be considered by the court.
"If no organisation or individual has any further evidence to present, I am led to believe that the Lord Chief Justice has the power to end the consultation process early - and name a date for the hearing - which potentially could be before Christmas."
He added: "Last week, Andy Burnham, Maria Eagle and I wrote to the Lord Chief Justice urging him to expedite the process. He has personally assured us that arrangements have been made to ensure that the Hillsborough case is treated as a 'matter of urgency'.
"This is a massive step. The amount of times that attempts have been made to overturn the verdicts of 1989 would have demoralised any grieving person. The persistence and dignity that the families have shown over the last 23-and-a-half years has been inspiring. Today is their day.
"They know the fight isn't over, but that they have moved a giant step closer to finishing the job and finally achieving justice for the 96."