7th October 2013
5th June 2013
25th April 2013
Opening remarks by Lord Justice Goldring
Inquests into the deaths resulting from the Hillsborough Football Stadium Disaster
1. Much has been said and written over the course of the past 24 years concerning the events of 15th April 1989 at Hillsborough Stadium which led to 96 deaths.
2. On that day, 95 spectators of the football match who had travelled to Sheffield to enjoy what should have been one of the high points of the season suffered fatal injuries; one young man, having been so injured that he was left in a persistent vegetative state, died some years later, in March 1993. The disaster claimed men and women, boys and girls. The youngest of those who died was only 10. The oldest was 67. Some families suffered the loss of more than one of its members. I echo the words of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge that each death was, and remains, the source of anguish and grief to those to whom they were precious. I acknowledge that, for all that has been, or will be, said and written concerning the disaster, nothing will remove or lessen the private individual grief for those intimately concerned.
3. The disaster has been the subject of many investigations in the past. I shall sketch only the outline now. I shall do so with little comment.
4. Within a few days of the tragedy on 17th April 1989 the then Home Secretary asked Lord Justice Taylor to conduct a public inquiry. The West Midlands police were appointed to investigate, gather evidence for the Inquiry, and to assist the South Yorkshire Coroner who was to conduct the inquests in due course. Lord Justice Taylor reported on an interim basis in August 1989 and produced his final report in January 1990. He heard evidence from a large number of witnesses on a wide range of issues and received submissions from interested parties.
5. Preliminary inquest hearings, the so-called “mini inquests,” were conducted in Sheffield between April and May 1990. Following the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions not to institute criminal proceedings, the so-called generic inquests began on 19 November 1990. On 28 March 1991 the jury returned verdicts of accidental death in all 95 cases it was considering.
6. Between 1992 and 1993, some bereaved families sought to quash the verdicts and obtain new inquests, first by an application to the Attorney-General and then by judicial review proceedings. They did not succeed. All of these legal processes ran in parallel with civil proceedings and investigations into possible police disciplinary proceedings.
7. In June 1997, the then Home Secretary commissioned Lord Justice Stuart-Smith to undertake a scrutiny review of new evidence. His report was published in June 1998. He advised that there was no basis for a further judicial inquiry, new inquests or new criminal charges.
8. A private prosecution of two of the senior members of the South Yorkshire Police led to their trial on charges of manslaughter in Leeds Crown Court in June and July 2000. One was acquitted. The jury did not agree in respect of the other. An application for a re-trial was refused.
9. A second application to the Attorney-General seeking a new inquest was commenced by Anne Williams, the mother of Kevin, in 2006. This unsuccessful application was considered by the European Court of Human Rights in 2009.
10. In December 2009, the Government waived the 30-year rule protecting public records from disclosure. The Hillsborough Independent Panel was appointed to oversee the disclosure of records, and to produce a report on their work. Their report was published on 12 September 2012. It sought to explain how the wider body of material available to the Panel may add to the public understanding of the tragedy. Following the publication of the Panel’s Report, the Attorney-General commenced statutory review proceedings. On 19th December 2012, the Divisional Court presided over by the Lord Chief Justice quashed the inquests which had been held in 1990. It ordered that fresh inquests be held into each of the deaths arising from the disaster.
11. Throughout the course of these many investigations, inquiries and reviews, the bereaved families have not ceased in their pursuit of a full understanding of the events of that day.
12. This is the first preliminary hearing of the fresh inquests. The purpose of these inquests is to examine fully and fairly how each of the victims of this terrible disaster lost his or her life. The inquests will seek to ensure so far as possible that the full facts are brought to light; that any culpable or discreditable conduct is exposed and brought to public notice. However it should not be forgotten that an inquest is a fact finding investigation. It is not a method of apportioning guilt. There are no parties, no indictment, no prosecution and no defence. In other words, an inquest is not a trial but an inquiry to establish the facts.
13. The original inquests were, as the Lord Chief Justice said, scarred by degenerating into a kind of adversarial battle. This will not happen with the new inquests. There will be a determined search for the facts in which the process is fair and balanced. For my part I shall try to ensure that they are conducted in as open and inclusive a way as possible. In my work, I shall be assisted by Counsel to the Inquests who will make submissions from a wholly independent viewpoint on matters of law and procedure, and assist with the preparations for the hearing and with administrative matters. Ultimately decisions on contentious issues will be mine alone, having heard submissions from interested persons and Counsel to the Inquests.
14. It is with this task ahead of us that we meet today. The enormity of that task and the work involved must not be underestimated. The very fact that these inquests have been preceded by a raft of earlier investigative processes means that there is a very large volume of documents (to be counted in the hundreds of thousands) which require collation and organisation in a form suitable for disclosure to, and use by, the interested persons. This is an urgent, significant and substantial task. There is also important work to be done in identifying the gaps in the evidence and obtaining further factual and expert evidence. As all present will be aware, the work of the Panel has opened up many questions as well as providing answers. This will all take time if it is to be done properly and in a way which is fair to all concerned.
15. One of the topics for discussion today will be the timing of the inquests in relation to the other investigations currently being undertaken by or on behalf of the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the Home Office. I understand that if these inquests are deferred until those investigations have been concluded, we may be unable to start for at least another 2 or 3 years. Whatever my decision on that issue, I bear in mind that 24 years have elapsed since the deaths occurred and that over that course of time some of the bereaved have died, most recently of course, Anne Williams. Her death is a powerful reminder, if one were needed, that there is an urgency attaching to the commencement of the inquest hearings as well as a need for that investigation to be as full as possible.
16. I shall now invite Counsel to the Inquests to make submissions on the procedural matters to be addressed today.
Lord Justice Goldring
25 April 2013