Bishop of Liverpool to head up panel on Hillsborough disaster evidence

By staff writers
16 Dec 2009

The Anglican Bishop of Liverpool has been appointed as the head of a panel to oversee the release of files on the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster, in which 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death and many more injured.

The Rt Rev James Jones will lead the five-person panel responsible for making thousands of documents related to the tragedy available for investigation.

Hillsborough Stadium is the ground of Sheffield Wednesday FC. The documents include those from the emergency services, the Sheffield Coroner, Sheffield City Council and the football club itself.

The bishop declared: “I want to assure especially the Hillsborough families [that] I will give myself wholeheartedly to the work of the independent panel. The fact that 30,000 people came to Anfield for the Hillsborough 20th anniversary service shows how deep the wound is still, and how great the longing is for healing."

He added: “I am very aware that although many have waited years for this independent panel, the recalling of 15 April 1989 will nevertheless be a very painful and difficult time for all who were affected and for the cities of Liverpool, Sheffield and Nottingham.”

The Home Secretary is yet to confirm the other panel members. However, the Hillsborough chronicler, Professor Phil Scraton, is reported to be one of them.

The documents are being released after 20 years of campaigning by the Hillsborough Family Support Group.

On 15 April 2009, thousands of people took part in a united memorial service on Merseyside to remember the victims who were crushed to death on 15 April 1989 during Liverpool's FA Cup semi-final tie with Nottingham Forest.

A single inquest was held at the time, covering the deaths of all the victims. It recorded a verdict of accidental death, but did not investigate what happened after 3.15 pm on the day, when it is recorded that the last person died of "aggravated asphyxiation".

Liverpool supporters were in the Leppings Lane end of the Sheffield stadium 20 years ago. South Yorkshire Police, who oversaw the event, opened a large exit gate that forced too many Liverpool fans on to the terrace, leaving the fans inside trapped between people entering the ground and the metal fences at the front of the stand. This remains a major source of contention.

Blame is also placed on Margaret Thatcher's government, which had insisted that fans be fenced in to prevent hooligan outbursts. The enclosures were removed after the tragedy and the subsequent enquiry chaired by Lord Taylor led to sweeping changes in domestic football, including all-seater stadiums at big grounds.

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On the BBC: A survivor, a parent and couple describe their Hillsborough experiences - http://tinyurl.com/cm5hxd

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