After a two-year inquest—the longest in British history—a nine-person jury has found that 96 Liverpool fans who died attending the 1988-89 FA Cup Semifinal between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool at Hillsborough Stadium were unlawfully killed.
The jury was asked to give answers to 14 questions about how the 96 died, and most crucially, answered yes to “Are you satisfied, so that you are sure, that those who died in the disaster were unlawfully killed?” and no to “Was there any behaviour on the part of the football supporters which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles?”
In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, police, politicians, and media blamed the deaths—which were caused by an overcrowding of fans, leading some to be crushed between their fellow fans and steel barriers surrounding the pitch—on the behavior of Liverpool supporters.
South Yorkshire police denied all culpability and blamed drunk and ticketless Liverpool fans, while The Sun’s front page famously screamed “THE TRUTH” in 100-point type, and alleged that Liverpool fans pick-pocketed the dead, pissed on cops, and prevented rescuers from saving lives. None of it, of course, was true, and in 2004 The Sun gave an extremely ham-fisted and widely criticized apology. In 2012, 23 years after the disaster, they finally gave a proper apology.
The official Hillsborough Stadium Disaster Inquiry report—known as the Taylor Report—was released nine months after the disaster, and found that a failure of police control was the main reason for the deaths. It offered a number of recommendations that dramatically increased the safety of British soccer stadiums, but crucially was unable to change the widely-held belief that Liverpool fans were to blame for the deaths of the 96.
Since then, the families of the Hillsborough victims have fought an arduous campaign to clear their names and to hold the police responsible for the deaths. The first inquest, concluded in 1991, held that the deaths were accidental, but that was finally overturned in 2012 following the Hillsborough Independent Panel report. That report found that 41 of the victims could have been saved with a proper emergency response, that an astonishing 116 of 164 police statements about the disaster were doctored, and that warnings about how unsafe Hillsborough Stadium was had gone unheeded.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission is conducting two investigations of its own into alleged criminal offenses committed by officers, and is expected to wrap up by the end of the year. There will likely be additional inquiries and civil suits as well.
After the verdict was announced, the families of the victims gathered outside the courtroom to sing the Liverpool FC anthem, Gerry and the Pacemakers’s You’ll Never Walk Alone: