Rachel Smalley: Justice at last for Hillsborough families

Rachel Smalley ,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 27 April 2016, 11:38AM
Fans flood the field after the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 (Getty Images)
Fans flood the field after the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 (Getty Images)

It's taken more than quarter of a century but the families of the Hillsborough tragedy finally, finally have justice.

Jurors in Britain reached a verdict overnight that the 96 people who died that day were unlawfully killed -- and police got it 'catastrophically wrong'.

It wasn't the behaviour of the fans that lead to their deaths -- and more than 700 people being injured that day -- it was errors by the police and the ambulance service that not only contributed to Britain's worst sporting disaster, but caused it.

VIDEO: Families sing You'll Never Walk Alone after verdict

You can imagine some of the images that are coming in at the moment from outside court. Very emotional scenes.

The relatives of those who died have fought for 27 years for justice, since the inquest in 1991 ruled the deaths of all 96 people were 'accidental'. There was nothing accidental about it.

The families have sat through some pretty harrowing evidence over the last two years -- including listening to every individual cause of death. Most of the victims died of compression asphyxia -- they were crushed to death. But what did emerge from this hearing was that many died well after the original time of death that was given in the first inquest.

Why was that? Well, South Yorkshire police delayed declaring a major incident had unfolded -- had they declared it earlier, the emergency response would have been faster and some of those lying on the field that day could have been saved.

Can you imagine what it must have been like to sit in court and listen to that -- that the person you loved, someone from your family, a friend perhaps -- could have been saved if the police had declared an emergency situation sooner then what they did.

It has been the longest hearing in British legal history.

To reach a verdict of unlawful killing, jurors had to be convinced that match commander -- Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield -- owed a duty of care to those who died, and that he was in breach of that duty of care. They ruled that breach did occur.

You may remember what happened that day back in 1989 - some of the turnstiles weren't working and so thousands of people were left outside queuing -- and Duckenfield, the police chief, made the decision to open an exit gate. 2000 fans poured into an already packed, penned area. They had nowhere to go, and that's what led to the crush.

The jury had to answer 14 questions -- essentially around planning errors, police errors, whether the stadium's design contributed to the deaths, were there errors made in the emergency response?. The jury answered yes to all the questions except one -- and that was a question about whether the fans' behaviour contributed to their deaths. No, the jury said.

The conclusion, as it's being reported across the UK right now, is that a major police cover-up took place in order to avoid blame for the disaster --the very people designed to protect the public did the opposite that day, and did all they could to avoid shouldering the blame.

Finally, overnight, the families heard the words they've waited 27 years to hear.

Their loved ones, those who died, were, in fact, 'utterly blameless'.

What a day for them.

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