The Hillsborough disaster as it unfolded

By Robert Stevens
28 April 2016

April 15, 1989

An estimated 54,000 people attend the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Ninety-four men, women and children are killed and 766 injured. Two more subsequently die as a result of their injuries. They were crushed to death after police gave the order to open Gate C at 2.52 p.m., just before kickoff. As a result, hundreds of fans were directed into two already dangerously overcrowded pens.

The Football Association selected the Hillsborough ground for the semi-final despite it not having a valid safety certificate and two previous incidents when the games had to be delayed due to crowd congestion.

April 16 , 1989

Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and her press secretary, Bernard Ingham, visit Hillsborough. Ingham said he was informed the deaths were caused by a “tanked-up mob.”

April 19, 1989

The Sun publishes the front-page headline, “The Truth”, claiming that as people were dying Liverpool supporters stole from them, urinated on police officers and beat up “brave cops.”

August 1, 1989

Lord Justice Taylor’s official report blames police mismanagement of the event and criticises South Yorkshire police for blaming Liverpool supporters instead of accepting responsibility. No one is charged and made to stand trial, or even disciplined.

November 19, 1990–March 28, 1991

An inquest into the deaths is held and the jury returns a majority verdict of accidental death.

October 29, 1991

David Duckenfield, the chief constable of South Yorkshire police, retires on a full pension escaping imminent police disciplinary action.

January 13, 1992

Disciplinary action against Superintendent Bernard Murray, the police control box commander at Hillsborough, is dropped.

November 5, 1993

An application by six of the families for a judicial review to quash the perverse inquest verdict is rejected by Lord Justice McCowan.

December 5 , 1996

ITV broadcasts a drama documentary, Hillsborough, written by Jimmy McGovern. This contains new evidence pointing to police responsibility for the disaster and an orchestrated cover-up.

June 30, 1997

Labour government Home Secretary Jack Straw orders the “scrutiny” of new evidence by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith. It emerges that South Yorkshire police changed 164 officers’ accounts of the disaster before sending them to the Taylor inquiry. Regarding calls for a new public inquiry into Hillsborough, in light of the revelations, Prime Minister Tony Blair writes, “What is the point?”

February 18, 1998

The Labour government rules out a public inquiry into Hillsborough. Straw claims new evidence looked at by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith had not added “anything significant” to the material available to the Taylor inquiry.

December 2009

In response to widespread anger at the cover-up, the Labour government finally establishes the Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP) and agrees to release previously confidential documents.

September 12 , 2012

The Hillsborough Independent Panel, which has reviewed 450,000 documents disclosed to it, publishes its 394-page report. It collected documents from more than 80 organisations, including the South Yorkshire Police, Sheffield City Council, the South Yorkshire coroner and the fire and ambulance services.

New medical evidence reveals that 58 victims “definitely or probably” had the capacity to survive beyond 3.15 p.m. South Yorkshire West District Coroner, Dr Stefan Popper, had ruled in 1991 that those who died had already received their critical injuries by 3:15 p.m., so evidence beyond that point was not required as to the cause of death. This resulted in no evidence ever being heard regarding the role of the police and failings of the emergency services after that time.

Michael Mansfield, the legal representative of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, describes what followed the Hillsborough disaster as “the biggest cover-up in British legal history.”

Theresa May, the Conservative home secretary, is forced to accept the HIP report and orders a criminal inquiry into the disaster, Operation Resolve. This is still ongoing.

December 19, 2012

The “accidental death” verdict of the first inquests is quashed in the High Court by three judges.

March 31, 2014

The new inquests begin in Warrington, northwest England.

April 26, 2016

After two years, the longest case ever heard by a jury in British legal history, the jury delivers its verdict that the 96 men, women and children who died at Hillsborough were unlawfully killed.

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