Hillsborough: Police forces agree cover-up compensation for victims

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Fans in the west terrace of Hillsborough stadiumImage source, Independent Office for Police Conduct/PA Media
Image caption,
The crush happened at the FA Cup semi-final match at Sheffield Wednesday's ground

Two police forces are to pay damages to more than 600 people over a cover-up which followed the Hillsborough disaster.

The South Yorkshire and West Midlands forces agreed the settlement earlier this year following a civil claim.

Nobody has ever been convicted over police actions following the disaster, in which 96 Liverpool fans died in a crush at a 1989 FA Cup semi-final.

South Yorkshire Police offered an "unreserved apology" to those affected.

Acting Chief Constable Lauren Poultney said the force acknowledged that "serious errors and mistakes were made" by its officers "both on 15 April 1989 and during the subsequent investigations".

"Those actions on the day of the disaster tragically led to lives being lost and many being injured [while] the force's subsequent failings also caused huge distress, suffering and pain, both to the victims and their families," she added.

Details of the claim were revealed after former Ch Supt Donald Denton, 83, retired Det Ch Insp Alan Foster, 74, and Peter Metcalf, 71, who acted as a solicitor for the force, were acquitted of perverting the course of justice in May.

The men were accused of trying to minimise the blame placed on the force in the aftermath of the disaster by amending police statements.

Image caption,
Ninety-six Liverpool fans died as a result of the disaster on 15 April 1989

A spokesman for Saunders Law, the lead solicitors for the group litigation, said the civil claim for misfeasance in a public office was started in 2015.

It was agreed in April but could not be reported until the conclusion of the trial.

While compensation for the 96 victims will go to their bereaved families, damages will also be paid to survivors for the injuries they have suffered and access to a fund for further psychiatric treatment or counselling.

The exact amount of compensation has yet to be agreed.

"The settlement of these claims marks the end of an unparalleled and extraordinary fight for justice by the victims and their families," the Saunders spokesman said.

"We trust that this settlement will put an end to any fresh attempts to rewrite the record and wrongly claim that there was no cover-up."

He said there had been "an almost complete failure of the justice system to deliver justice" and called on the government to implement a Hillsborough Law, which would include a duty of candour for public officials.

The criminal trial of two police officers and a solicitor collapsed because of a fundamental and very unusual legal barrier to it continuing - but claims for damages in civil law work differently.

The families had to show on a balance of probabilities that there had been a cover-up - and the evidence was massively in their favour.

In 2012 the Independent Panel detailed how the fans were unjustly blamed. The then-South Yorkshire Police chief constable accepted its findings - and then Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs the families had been right all along.

In short, there was no point in police chiefs fighting a case that would, in all certainty, result in a damning verdict that their institutions had acted improperly.

Attention now turns to Parliament. Families want the law to compel public bodies to tell the whole truth in all circumstances.

They want guarantees of proper funding so they, like agencies of the state, can have the best lawyers in the land fighting their corner.

The proposed Hillsborough Law had cross-party backing until the 2017 General Election stopped it. This government has the choice whether to bring it back.

Louise Brookes, who was 17 when her brother Andrew died in the disaster, described the situation as "shameful".

"Why they couldn't have just admitted everything 32 years ago and we could have all moved on with our lives," she said.

"I have sacrificed 32 years of my life. We've done absolutely nothing wrong.

"How they could put us and the survivors through 32 years of hell?"

Image source, Louise Brookes
Image caption,
Louise Brookes was 17 when her brother Andrew died in the disaster

The disaster at Sheffield Wednesday's stadium, which was later investigated by West Midlands Police, remains the UK's worst sporting disaster.

Many families and survivors have since led a campaign for more than 30 years to discover how and why the victims died.

In 2012, then-chief constable of South Yorkshire Police David Crompton apologised for a cover-up following the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report.

New inquests, which concluded in 2016, found that the men, women and children who died were unlawfully killed and fans played no part in the causes of the disaster.

Hillsborough campaigner Prof Phil Scraton said: "You hear outside of Liverpool people saying 'why are they still going on about it?'

"And to put it into context, 96 men, women and children died at a football match and this has been the most costly, the longest and most complex legal process in British history.

"There's never been anything like it before."

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Flowers and tributes were left at the Hillsborough Memorial after the collapse of the recent trial

Acting Chief Constable Poultney has since offered "an unreserved apology to those affected by the Hillsborough disaster and its aftermath" and said the actions of officers on the day of the disaster and afterwards was "something South Yorkshire Police profoundly regrets".

West Midlands Police Deputy Chief Constable Vanessa Jardine added: "We deeply regret the harm and distress caused to those affected by the tragedy.

"Although I know it cannot make up for their suffering, working with South Yorkshire Police we have agreed a scheme to compensate those affected."

She said she would like to thank the families "for the dignified way in which they have conducted themselves".

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