Hillsborough inquests: Jury chosen to probe fans' deaths

Angus Crawford at the "unique" court being used for the Hillsborough inquests

A jury has been selected to hear fresh inquests into the deaths of 96 football fans who lost their lives in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.

The inquests, being held in Warrington, were ordered in December 2012 when the High Court quashed the original accidental death verdicts.

Jenni Hicks, vice-chairwoman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, said: "It's been a long time coming."

The panel of five men and six women are expected be sworn in on Tuesday.

The inquests, set to last a year, were ordered after new evidence was revealed by the Hillsborough Independent Panel about Liverpool FC's FA Cup semi-final where the men, women and children died.

Fresh inquests into the deaths of victims of the Hillsborough disaster

The coroner asked the potential panel to indicate whether they support Sheffield Wednesday, Liverpool or Nottingham Forest football clubs.

Any potential jurors with links to police or ambulance service were excused by the court.

Members of the jury panel have been asked to consider carefully whether they have any connections to any of the issues that may arise or witnesses who may be called before they are sworn in.

They were given a list of witnesses to see if they knew any of them.

Analysis

The coroner, a serving Lord Justice of Appeal, a very senior judge, is being assisted by five lawyers, five counsel to the inquest, three solicitors and of course there are lawyers representing all the families of those who died who wish to be represented, the authorities, the police, the emergency services and so on.

When the coroner selects individual jurors they will be told they have to set aside up to a year. They will not be sitting continuously for that period, they will have to take a break, but nevertheless it is a considerable period of time.

Obviously, they will be asked about any particular connections to the tragedy at Hillsborough and they will be checked to make sure that they really can serve this considerable period of time.

The coroner could record a verdict of natural causes; accidental death, unlawful killing; an open verdict; or these days, they often give a narrative verdict, where they set out in some detail what they believe to have happened.

Lord Justice Goldring, a Court of Appeal judge who is acting as coroner, said: "It is absolutely fundamental that you must put out of your minds anything you may have heard or read about Hillsborough.

"Do not do any research into Hillsborough, whether on the internet or in any other way."

"Do not discuss the case with anyone. Do not say anything about the case on Facebook or Twitter or any such site," he added.

All of the Hillsborough disaster victims were Liverpool supporters watching their team play Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday's ground.

The original inquests in March 1991 recorded verdicts of accidental death, which stood for more than 20 years before they were quashed.

Charlotte Hennessy, who lost her father James Robert Hennessy in the disaster when she was six years old, said: "I'm really, really nervous. It's been a long, long fight.

"Hopefully, this is the beginning of the end."

The inquests are being held in a purpose-built courtroom, the biggest in England and Wales, in an office building in Birchwood Park, in Warrington.

Unseen footage

Lord Justice Goldring will open the hearing with a statement to the court.

Families of the victims will be invited to read out "background statements" - or what they are calling "pen portraits" - of their loved ones.

During proceedings the jurors will make a site visit to the Hillsborough stadium but will be directed not to read the "deeply moving" tributes on the memorial to the tragedy.

The hearing will break for several weeks for lawyers to consider new pathological evidence into how each of the 96 died.

Sue Roberts and Margaret Aspinall from the Hillsborough Family Support Group Sue Roberts and Margaret Aspinall, from the Hillsborough Family Support Group, arrive in Warrington for the inquests

Over the course of the inquests, jurors are expected to hear evidence on themes including stadium safety, emergency planning, crowd management and the response of the emergency services.

The court will also be shown hitherto unseen BBC footage recorded on the day.

Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool's manager at the time of the disaster, said: "We were there, we experienced it, but what about the families, the mothers and the fathers who were watching it on television? What a horrible experience that must have been."

'Difficult time'

Margaret Aspinall, who lost her son James in the disaster, said: "A lot of the families will find out an awful lot of things that they did not know about before, and I think that's going to be a very difficult time for them."

There are two separate inquiries running alongside the inquests.

Operation Resolve, led by former Chief Constable of Durham Jon Stoddart, is a criminal investigation into events leading up to the disaster, as well as the disaster itself.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is looking into allegations of police misconduct arising from the aftermath of the tragedy.

Hillsborough memorial Accidental death verdicts on the 96 men, women and children who died were quashed in December 2012

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