Hillsborough Verdict: 96 Football Fans Were Unlawfully Killed

Hillsborough doves
Doves are released into the air to symbolize each of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster during a memorial service at Anfield, Liverpool, England, April 15, 2016. Chief Constable David Crompton of South Yorkshire Police was suspended on Wednesday. Christopher Furlong/Getty

A jury has concluded that the "Hillsborough 96" who died at the FA Cup football semi-final in April 1989 were unlawfully killed.

Families of the victims began to cry as the jury foreman announced that there were "major emissions in the 1989 operational order" and agreed that the "slow and uncoordinated" policing had contributed to the disaster.

They also agreed that commanding officers should have closed the tunnel that led to the terrace.

As the foreman answered "yes" to the question on unlawful killing, family members yelled and punched the air.

The jury answered "no" when asked if any of the Liverpool fans were at fault.

Many of the families of the 96 victims were at court for the conclusion of the longest jury proceedings in British legal history.

Jurors gave their conclusions having answered a general questionnaire of 14 questions as well as a record of the time and cause of death for each of the Liverpool fans, 27 years and 12 days since the disaster on April 15 1989.

These included questions about the police planning before the game, stadium safety, events on the day, the emergency services' response to the disaster and whether the fans were unlawfully killed.

The hearings have been ongoing for more than two years, with the jury hearing evidence from around 1,000 witnesses.

The fresh inquests began on March 31, 2014, in a specially-built courtroom in Warrington, Cheshire.

At the start of the inquests, the coroner said none of the victims should be blamed for their deaths. Emotional tributes to each of the 96 were then delivered by family members in the form of personal portraits.

The Hillsborough tragedy unfolded during Liverpool's FA Cup semi-final tie against Nottingham Forest as thousands of fans were crushed on Sheffield Wednesday's Leppings Lane terrace.

David Duckenfield, Hillsborough's police match command, gave the order at 2.52 p.m. to open exit Gate C in Leppings Lane, allowing around 2,000 fans to flood into the already packed central pens behind the goal. Giving evidence in 2015, he agreed his failure to close a tunnel "was the direct cause of the deaths of 96 people." Duckenfield also accepted he "froze" during the afternoon of the 1989 football disaster.

The 1991 accidental deaths verdicts from the original inquests were quashed following the 2012 Hillsborough Independent Panel report after a long campaign by the families of the dead.

The coroner, Sir John Goldring, told the jury on Monday that he would accept a majority decision of 8-1 or 7-2 on whether the 96 people were unlawfully killed by gross negligence manslaughter.

The tragedy marked a turning point in football as rules and regulations imposed in subsequent years saw the game pulled out of its darkest years.

Within the space of a month in 1985, 56 people were killed when a stand at Bradford City caught fire, and 39 Juventus supporters died during riots at the European Cup final in Brussels.

Hillsborough memorial
Flowers beneath the temporary Hillsborough memorial, ahead of a rememberancel service at Anfield, April 15, 2015. Paul Ellis/Getty
Hillsborough papers
A copy of the report delivered by the Hillsborough Independent Panel next to a copy of the Liverpool Echo during a press conference for the release of the unpublished papers by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, Liverpool, September 12, 2012. Peter Byrne/Getty

After the 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death and hundreds more injured on the steel-fenced terraces at Hillsborough, action was taken to prevent further disasters.

Led by the British government, a review of stadium safety took place and saw the introduction of a programme aimed at transforming English stadia, plus a new system of safety management in stadiums.

The Taylor report, an inquiry by Lord Justice Taylor, published in January 1990, played a large part in the transformation to the safety measures seen today, as it set out 76 recommendations for change.

Today, there are no pitch perimeter fences or segregational fences, and all stadia in the top two divisions, plus many lower divisions, are all-seated and prohibit consistent standing.

The Taylor report also saw football clubs require a safety certificate that outlined the need for a designated Safety Officer, responsible for safety management on match days, stewards trained to a nationally-high standard, cameras installed and control rooms to monitor cameras around stadiums.

Police and ambulance services are deployed at every football match in the country, with a heightened focus on health and safety as well as preventing violence, plus also filtering fans in and out of the stadium to prevent post-match fights, which were commonplace in the 1980s.

Responsibility for safety has been shifted to football clubs due to the Taylor Report, as prior to 1990, police officers would have provided the only response to incidents.

Now, the trained stewards and Safety Officer are in place to address any issues and prevent incidents. To ensure standards are maintained, local authorities are able to reduce the capacity of stadiums.

All these changes have transformed football to become a sport in which 90,000 people can safely watch matches at the new Wembley Stadium, 78,000 fans at Manchester United's Old Trafford and 60,000 at the Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal.