Hillsborough: Courts to be asked to quash inquest verdicts
Feature by The Guardian
Updated Tuesday, 16th October 2012
Attorney general to apply to have verdicts of 'accidental death' overturned and fresh inquest held in wake of new evidence
Dominic Grieve QC told parliament he would apply to the high court to have the original verdicts overturned in the wake of new evidence revealed by the Hillsborough independent panel's (HIP) report published last month.
"My consideration of the evidence is far from complete but, given the anxiety further delay may cause the families affected by the Hillsborough disaster, I have decided to take an exceptional course and state at this stage that, on the basis of what I have already seen, I have determined that I must make an application to the court," he said on Tuesday.
Because the deaths arose from a "common chain of events", he said, it would make sense to apply for all 96 verdicts to be quashed but he would take representations from the victims' families on the matter.
"Having announced my decision, I will need further time to prepare the application so the strongest case can be made to the court. I need to complete my consideration of the evidence and consider any representations. I will move as quickly as I can."
Trevor Hicks, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, welcomed the move and said the families would meet the attorney general soon to discuss the next steps.
"We are very pleased with the pace things are going at," said Hicks, who lost two daughters in the disaster on 15 April 1989.
"We have waited 23 years. Due process will have to take place. We are pleased he has pointed out it will be 96 fresh inquests. We didn't want any differentiation between those who might have been saved and those who would not."
Ninety-six people died and more than 760 were injured in a human crush during the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough in Sheffield.
The HIP report, which ran to 395 pages and was based on consideration of 450,000 pages of evidence, confirmed the disaster was caused by an unsafe stadium, chaotic emergency response and police failings, and laid bare the extent of the coverup that followed as police attempted to blame the fans.
It also revealed that up to 41 of the 96 victims had the "potential to survive" beyond the 3.15pm cut-off time imposed by the original coroner, prompting new questions over how many could have been saved had the emergency response been better.
Some families of the victims have said that having the original inquest verdict quashed is their No 1 priority.
"The inquests and any potential prosecutions are important not only for the families of the victims but the whole of society. The agencies of the state let us down and that has to be put right," Hicks said.
Grieve said it was not for him to direct where any new inquest should be held but the families will demand that it takes place in Liverpool rather than Sheffield.
If a new coroner is appointed, he or she is expected to liaise with the families over whether the inquest should proceed before any criminal or disciplinary charges that may arise.
On Friday, the Independent Police Complaints Commission announced it would launch the largest ever review of police conduct in light of the evidence revealed by the panel.
Simultaneously, the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, said he would undertake a review of all the evidence to see if new charges of manslaughter could be brought against corporations or individuals.
Grieve said the DPP's parallel considerations would not impact on the timing of his application to quash the 96 existing verdicts, but any new criminal proceedings "could undoubtedly impact on when an inquest could take place".
Hicks said that at a meeting between Starmer and the families earlier this week they had been given a reassurance that any new inquest would not be delayed by criminal proceedings.
Representatives of the Hillsborough Family Support Group and the Hillsborough Justice Campaign will give evidence to the home affairs select committee on Tuesday afternoon, as will the South Yorkshire police chief constable, David Crompton.