The Hillsborough Inquest started on 31 March 2014, just under 25 years after the major tragedy on 15 April 1989 at the Sheffield Wednesday football ground resulting in the deaths of 96 Liverpool football fans and injury to over 400 hundred football fans. There has never been a tragedy of these proportions before or since at a sports ground in this country involving loss of life and injuries on this scale.
There has been a previous inquest presided over by Dr Popper, as well as Lord Justice Taylor’s Inquiry, civil litigation, disciplinary proceedings, Lord Justice Smith’s Review as well as criminal proceedings all of which have had various shortcomings and have been felt to be inadequate by family members who lost their loved ones at Hillsborough. The families have campaigned tirelessly to bring about this new inquest. One of the major concerns has been that the previous inquest did not look at what happened after 3:15pm on that fateful day and at the possibility of survivability after that time of the victims. There has been ongoing concerns about the witness statements tendered by the South Yorkshire Police as well as the role played by the emergency services and other parties.
In December 2012 following an application by the Attorney General the High Court quashed the verdict in the previous inquest, thus opening the way for the new Inquest. It is said that its purpose is to finally give justice to the families of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster. It is one of a very few inquiries of this magnitude, 7/7 and Bloody Sunday being others of significance. Lord Justice Goldring is presiding over the Inquiry.
The Bindmans’ team working on the Inquiry for nearly 18 months is Najma Rasul, Chris Evans, Ruth Mellor and myself, with Lawrence Barker joining more recently as Najma’s locum. Counsel is Heather Williams QC and Caoilfhionn Gallagher.
The task involves an investigation and exploration of evidence spanning 25 years which is on a huge scale and disclosure remains on-going as the Inquest opens. The Inquest is estimated to last approximately one year and is funded by the government.
It will be an extraordinary and at times painful and gruelling journey into the events of 15 April 1989 in order to establish exactly what happened at the Hillsborough stadium on 15 April 1989. The jury will have the task of establishing the facts – no small feat in a case of this magnitude whilst the families will want to know when, where and how their loved ones died and if more could have been done to save their lives.