British police and medics whose failures contributed to the deaths of 96 soccer fans in the country’s worst sports disaster unfairly blamed the dead for the 1989 tragedy and sought to cover up their actions, newly disclosed documents revealed on Wednesday.
The documents vindicated efforts by the victims’ families, who had spent 23 years demanding a full accounting of the events at Hillsborough Stadium that killed fans of the Liverpool soccer team. Most of the victims were crushed and suffocated in a standing-only section after they were herded there by police.
British Prime Minister David Cameron issued a full apology Wednesday for the wrongdoing of authorities and the subsequent cover-up, saying that Britain had been shamed for more than 20 years by its reluctance to expose the errors that led to the deaths. Lawmakers in the House of Commons gasped and wept as he spoke.
The tragedy took place during an FA Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on April 15, 1989, at the stadium in Sheffield, northern England. A total of 94 supporters died that day — two more died later, one in 1993 — and almost 800 others were injured when police officers herded about 2,000 Liverpool fans into caged-in enclosures that were already full.
Following a lengthy campaign by victims’ relatives to learn the full details of the Hillsborough disaster, a government-appointed panel reviewed and released 400,000 pages of previously undisclosed documents from police, the government and local authorities.
Bishop James Jones of Liverpool, who led the panel, said the documents offered clear evidence of failures by British authorities. He said they showed authorities’ extensive attempts to shift blame for the tragedy onto fans and some proof that a number of Liverpool fans were denied medical treatment that could have saved their lives.
”The tragedy should never have happened,” Jones said. “There were clear operational failures in response to the disaster and in its aftermath there were strenuous attempts to deflect the blame onto the fans.”
Panel member Bill Kirkup, previously associate chief medical officer at Britain’s health ministry, said evidence showed 41 of the dead had at least the “potential to survive,” although he could not be certain that a speedier response would have saved them all.
Tests were carried out on possible alcohol levels in the bloodstreams of the dead — including children — for “no apparent medical reason,” and police officers had consulted a national database to check whether victims had criminal records, all in an effort to “impugn the reputations of the deceased,” the report said.
Among its other conclusions, the panel found that:
‧ Problems with overcrowding and crushes at Hillsborough were well-known, but ignored by authorities.
‧ A total of 116 of 164 police statements were amended to “remove or alter comments unfavorable to” South Yorkshire Police, while the South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service also tampered with statements.
‧ The senior police officer at the stadium falsely told his superiors that Liverpool fans had broken into the stadium and caused the fatal crush, while then-British prime minister Margaret Thatcher was told by police that drunkenness and violent crowd behavior were to blame.
Although some compensation payments have been paid by police, no individual or organization has ever faced criminal charges in connection with the calamity.