Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, the home of Sheffield Wednesday, was selected by the Football Association (FA) as a neutral venue to host the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest football clubs. Kick-off was scheduled for 3:00 pm on 15 April, and fans were advised to take up positions 15 minutes beforehand.
At the time of the disaster, most English football stadiums had high steel fencing between the spectators and the playing field in response to both friendly and hostile pitch invasions. Hooliganism had affected the sport for some years, and was particularly virulent in England. From 1974, when these security standards were put in place, crushes occurred in several English stadiums.
A report by Eastwood & Partners for a safety certificate for the stadium in 1978 concluded that although it failed to meet the recommendations of the Green Guide, a guide to safety at sports grounds, the consequences were minor. It emphasised the general situation at Hillsborough was satisfactory compared with most grounds.
Risks associated with confining fans in pens were highlighted by the Committee of Inquiry into Crowd Safety at Sports Grounds (the Popplewell inquiry) after the Bradford City stadium fire in May 1985. It made recommendations on the safety of crowds penned within fences, including that "all exit gates should be manned at all times ... and capable of being opened immediately from the inside by anyone in an emergency".
Hillsborough hosted five FA Cup semi-finals in the 1980s. A crush occurred at the Leppings Lane end of the ground during the 1981 semi-final between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers after hundreds more spectators were permitted to enter the terrace than could safely be accommodated, resulting in 38 injuries, including broken arms, legs and ribs. Police believed there had been a real chance of fatalities had swift action not been taken, and recommended the club reduce its capacity. In a post-match briefing to discuss the incident, Sheffield Wednesday chairman Bert McGee remarked: "Bollocks—no one would have been killed". The incident nonetheless prompted Sheffield Wednesday to alter the layout at the Leppings Lane end, dividing the terrace into three separate pens to restrict sideways movement. This 1981 change and other later changes to the stadium invalidated the stadium's safety certificate. The safety certificate was never renewed and the stated capacity of the stadium was never changed. The terrace was divided into five pens when the club was promoted to the First Division in 1984, and a crush barrier near the access tunnel was removed in 1986 to improve the flow of fans entering and exiting the central enclosure.
After the crush in 1981, Hillsborough was not chosen to host an FA Cup semi-final for six years until 1987. Serious overcrowding was observed at the 1987 quarter-final between Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry City and again during the semi-final between Coventry City and Leeds United at Hillsborough. Leeds were assigned the Leppings Lane end. A Leeds fan described disorganisation at the turnstiles and no steward or police direction inside the stadium, resulting in the crowd in one enclosure becoming so compressed he was at times unable to raise and clap his hands. Other accounts told of fans having to be pulled to safety from above.
Liverpool and Nottingham Forest met in the semi-final at Hillsborough in 1988, and fans reported crushing at the Leppings Lane end. Liverpool lodged a complaint before the match in 1989. One supporter wrote to the Football Association and Minister for Sport complaining, "The whole area was packed solid to the point where it was impossible to move and where I, and others around me, felt considerable concern for personal safety".
Police presence at the previous year's FA Cup semi-final (also between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest and also at Hillsborough Stadium) had been overseen by Chief Superintendent Brian L. Mole. Mole had supervised numerous police deployments at the stadium in the past. In October 1988 a probationary PC in Mole's F division, South Yorkshire was handcuffed, photographed, and stripped by fellow officers in a fake robbery, as a hazing prank. Four officers resigned and seven were disciplined over the incident. Chief Superintendent Mole himself was to be transferred to the Barnsley division for "career development reasons". The transfer was to be done with immediate effect on 27 March 1989.
Meanwhile, Hillsborough was accepted as the FA Cup semi-final venue on 20 March 1989 by the Football Association. The first planning meeting for the semi-final took place on 22 March and was attended by newly promoted Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, not by Mole. No known minutes exist of this meeting. Although Mole could have been assigned the semi-final match's planning despite his transfer, that was not done. This left planning for the semi-final match to Duckenfield, who had never commanded a sell-out football match before, and who had "very little, if any" training or personal experience in how to do so.
As is common at domestic matches in England, opposing supporters were segregated. Nottingham Forest supporters were allocated the South Stands and Spion Kop on the east end, with a combined capacity of 29,800, reached by 60 turnstiles spaced along two sides of the ground. Liverpool supporters were allocated the North and West ends (Leppings Lane), holding 24,256 fans, reached by 23 turnstiles from a narrow concourse. Ten turnstiles (numbered 1 to 10) provided access to 9,700 seats in the North Stand; a further 6 turnstiles (numbered 11 to 16) provided access to 4,456 seats in the upper tier of the West Stand. Finally, 7 turnstiles (lettered A to G) provided access to 10,100 standing places in the lower tier of the West Stand. Although Liverpool had more supporters, Nottingham Forest was allocated the larger area, to avoid the approach routes of rival fans crossing. As a result of the stadium layout and segregation policy, turnstiles that would normally have been used to enter the North Stand from the east were off-limits and all Liverpool supporters had to converge on a single entrance at Leppings Lane. On match day, radio and television advised fans without tickets not to attend. Rather than establishing crowd safety as the priority, clubs, local authorities and the police viewed their roles and responsibilities through the 'lens of hooliganism'.
Three chartered trains transported Liverpool supporters to Sheffield for a match fixture in 1988, but only one such train ran in 1989. The 350 passengers arrived on the grounds about 2:20 pm. Many supporters wished to enjoy the day and were in no hurry to enter the stadium too early. Some supporters were delayed by roadworks while crossing the Pennines on the M62 motorway which resulted in minor traffic congestion. Between 2:30 pm and 2:40 pm, there was a build-up of supporters outside the turnstiles facing Leppings Lane, eager to enter the stadium before the game began. At 2:46 pm, the BBC's football commentator John Motson had already noticed the imbalance of distribution of people in the Leppings Lane pens. While rehearsing for the match off-air, he suggested a nearby cameraman look as well. "There's gaps, you know, in parts of the ground. Well, if you look at the Liverpool end, to the right of the goal, there's hardly anybody on those steps...that's it. Look down there."
Outside the stadium, a bottleneck developed with more fans arriving than could be safely filtered through the turnstiles before 3:00 pm. People presenting tickets at the wrong turnstiles and those who had been refused entry could not leave because of the crowd behind them but remained as an obstruction. Fans outside could hear cheering as the teams came on the pitch ten minutes before the match started, and as the match kicked off, but could not gain entrance. A police constable radioed control requesting that the game be delayed, as it had been two years before, to ensure the safe passage of supporters into the ground. The request to delay the start of the match by 20 minutes was declined.
With an estimated 5,000 fans trying to enter through the turnstiles and increasing safety concerns, the police, to avoid fatalities outside the ground, opened a large exit gate (Gate C) that ordinarily permitted the free flow of supporters departing the stadium. Two further gates (A and B) were subsequently opened to relieve pressure. After an initial rush, thousands of supporters entered the stadium "steadily at a fast walk".
When the gates were opened, thousands of fans entered a narrow tunnel leading to the rear of the terrace into two overcrowded central pens (pens 3 and 4), creating pressure at the front. Hundreds of people were pressed against one another and the fencing by the weight of the crowd behind them. People entering were unaware of the problems at the fence; police or stewards usually stood at the entrance to the tunnel and, when the central pens reached capacity, directed fans to the side pens, but on this occasion, for reasons not fully explained, they did not. A BBC TV news report conjectured that if police had positioned two police horses correctly, they would have acted as breakwaters directing many fans into side pens, but on this occasion, it was not done.
The match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest began as scheduled at 3:00 pm. Fans were still streaming into pens 3 and 4 from the rear entrance tunnel as the match began. For some time, problems at the front of the Liverpool central goal pens went largely unnoticed except by those inside it, and by a few police at that end of the pitch. Liverpool's goalkeeper, Bruce Grobbelaar, reported fans from behind him pleading to him for help as the situation worsened. The police at first attempted to stop fans from spilling out of the pens, some believing this to be a pitch invasion. At approximately 3:05 pm in match action, Peter Beardsley kicked a shot which struck Nottingham Forest's goal bar. Possibly connected to the excitement, a surge in pen 3 caused one of its metal crush barriers to give way, thrusting people forward on top of one another, and into the pen's front fences.
South Yorkshire Police Superintendent Greenwood (the ground commander) realised the situation, and ran on the field to gain referee Ray Lewis's attention. Lewis stopped the match at 3:05:30 as fans climbed the fence in an effort to escape the crush and went onto the track. By this time, a small gate in the fence had been forced open and some fans escaped via this route, as others continued to climb over the fencing. Other fans were pulled to safety by fans in the West Stand above the Leppings Lane terrace. The intensity of the crush broke more crush barriers on the terraces. Holes in the perimeter fencing were made by fans desperately attempting to rescue others.
The crowd in the Leppings Lane Stand overspilled onto the pitch, where many injured and traumatised fans congregated who had climbed to safety. Football players from both teams were ushered to their respective dressing rooms, and told that there would be a 30-minute postponement. Those still trapped in the pens were packed so tightly that many victims died of compressive asphyxia while standing. Meanwhile, on the pitch, police, stewards and members of the St John Ambulance service were overwhelmed. Many uninjured fans assisted the injured; several attempted CPR and others tore down advertising hoardings to use as stretchers. Chief Superintendent John Nesbit of South Yorkshire Police later briefed Michael Shersby MP that leaving the rescue to the fans was a deliberate strategy, and is quoted as saying "We let the fans help so that they would not take out their frustration on the police" at a Police Federation conference.
As events unfolded, some police officers were still deployed making a cordon three-quarters of the way down the pitch to prevent Liverpool supporters reaching the opposing supporters. Without public address announcements to explain the situation, many Nottingham Forest fans on the other end were chanting for their team and whistled their anger at what they saw as a pitch invasion, incensing some of the Liverpool supporters. Some fans tried to break through the cordon simply to ferry injured fans to waiting ambulances on the Nottingham Forest end but were forcibly turned back. A total of 44 ambulances arrived, but police prevented all but one from entering the stadium.
Only 14 of the 96 fatally injured people arrived at hospital.
BBC television cameras were at the ground to record the game for Match of the Day. As the disaster unfolded, the events were relayed live to the Saturday sports show, Grandstand. In Ireland, RTÉ also showed the disaster unfolding, as it was covering the match live through its programme Sports Stadium.
Condolences flooded in from across the world, led by the Queen. Other messages came from Pope John Paul II, US President George H. W. Bush, and the chief executive of Juventus (fans of Liverpool and Juventus were involved in the Heysel Stadium disaster) amongst many others.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Home Secretary Douglas Hurd visited Hillsborough the day after the disaster and met survivors. Anfield Stadium was opened on the Sunday to allow fans to pay tribute to the dead. Thousands of fans visited and the stadium filled with flowers, scarves and other tributes. In the following days more than 200,000 people visited the "shrine" inside the stadium. The following Sunday, a link of football scarves spanning the 1.6 kilometres (0.99 mi) distance across Stanley Park from Goodison Park to Anfield was created, with the final scarf in position at 3:06 pm. Elsewhere on the same day, a silence–opened with an air-raid siren at three o'clock–was held in central Nottingham with the colours of Forest, Liverpool and Wednesday adorning Nottingham Council House.
At Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, a requiem mass attended by 3,000 people was held by the Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool, Derek Worlock. The first reading was read by Liverpool goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar. Liverpool players Ronnie Whelan, Steve Nicol, and former manager Joe Fagan carried the communion bread and wine. David Sheppard, the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, on holiday on the Scottish island of Barra on the day of the disaster, was airlifted by RAF helicopter to attend.
The FA chief executive Graham Kelly, who had attended the match, said the FA would conduct an inquiry into what had happened. Speaking after the disaster, Kelly backed all-seater stadiums, saying "We must move fans away from the ritual of standing on terraces". Standing on terraces and the use of perimeter fencing around the pitch, the use of CCTV, the timing of football matches and policing of sporting events were factors for a subsequent inquiry to consider.
UEFA President Jacques Georges caused controversy by describing the Liverpool supporters as "beasts", wrongly suggesting that hooliganism was the cause of the disaster, which had occurred less than four years after the Heysel Stadium disaster. His remarks led to Liverpool F.C. calling for his resignation, but he apologised on discovering hooliganism was not the cause.
At the 1989 FA Cup Final between Liverpool and local rivals Everton, held just five weeks after the Hillsborough disaster, the players from both participating teams wore black armbands as a gesture of respect to the victims, with a minute's silence also observed.
During the final match of the 1988–89 English Football League season, contested on 26 May 1989 between Liverpool and second-place Arsenal, the Arsenal players presented flowers to fans in different parts of Anfield in memory of those who had died in the Hillsborough disaster.
A disaster appeal fund was set up with donations of £500,000 from the Government, £100,000 from Liverpool F.C. and £25,000 each from the cities of Liverpool, Sheffield and Nottingham. Liverpool donated the share of the money they would have received for the game. Within days donations had passed £1 million, swelled by donations from individuals, schools and businesses. Other fund raising activities included a Factory Records benefit concert and several fundraising football matches. Bradford City and Lincoln City, the teams involved in the Bradford City stadium fire, met for the first time since the 1985 disaster in a game which raised £25,000. When the appeal closed the following year, it had raised over £12 million. Much of the money went to victims and relatives of those involved in the disaster and provided funds for a college course to improve the hospital phase of emergency care.
In May 1989, a charity version of the Gerry and the Pacemakers song "Ferry Cross the Mersey" was released in aid of those affected. The song featured Liverpool musicians Paul McCartney, Gerry Marsden (of the Pacemakers), Holly Johnson, and the Christians, and was produced by Stock Aitken Waterman. It entered the UK Singles Chart at number 1 on 20 May, remaining at the top for a total of three weeks. Although Gerry and the Pacemakers' earlier hit "You'll Never Walk Alone" had stronger ties to Liverpool FC, it was not used because it had recently been rerecorded for the Bradford City stadium fire appeal.
By the disaster's 10th anniversary in 1999, at least three people who survived were known to have committed suicide. Another survivor had spent eight years in psychiatric care. There were cases of alcoholism, drug abuse, and collapsed marriages involving people who had witnessed the events. The lingering effects of the disaster were seen as a cause, or contributary factor, in all of these.
A total of 96 people died as a result of the disaster. On the day 94 people, aged from 10 to 67 years old, died as a result of their injuries, either at the stadium, in the ambulances, or shortly after arrival at hospital. A total of 766 people were reported to have suffered injuries, although less than half required hospital treatment. The less seriously injured survivors who did not live in the Sheffield area were advised to seek treatment for their injuries at hospitals nearer to their homes. On 19 April, the death toll reached 95 when 14-year-old Lee Nicol died in hospital after his life support machine was switched off. The death toll reached 96 in March 1993, when artificial feeding and hydration were withdrawn from 22-year-old Tony Bland after nearly four years, during which time he had remained in a persistent vegetative state showing no sign of improvement. This followed a legal challenge in the High Court by his family to have his treatment withdrawn, a landmark challenge which succeeded in November 1992.
Andrew Devine, aged 22 at the time of the disaster, suffered similar injuries to Tony Bland and was also diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state. In March 1997—just before the eighth anniversary of the disaster—it was reported he had emerged from the condition and was able to communicate using a touch-sensitive pad, and he had been showing signs of awareness of his surroundings for up to three years before. He is still alive as of 2015.
Two sisters, three pairs of brothers, and a father and son were among those who died, as were two men about to become fathers for the first time: 25-year-old Steven Brown of Wrexham and 30-year-old Peter Thompson of Widnes. Jon-Paul Gilhooley, aged 10, was the youngest person to die. His cousin, Steven Gerrard, then aged 8, went on to become Liverpool F.C.'s captain. Gerrard has said the disaster inspired him to lead the team he supported as a boy and become a top professional football player. The oldest person to die at Hillsborough was 67-year-old Gerard Baron, an older brother of the late Liverpool player Kevin Baron (1926–1971), who had been on the losing side in the 1950 FA Cup Final.
Stephen Whittle is considered by some to be the 97th victim of Hillsborough, as due to work commitments he had sold his ticket to a friend (whom he and his family chose not to identify), who then died in the disaster; the resulting feeling of survivor guilt is believed to be the main reason for his suicide in February 2011.
The majority of victims that lost their lives were from Liverpool (37) and Greater Merseyside (20). A further 20 were from counties adjacent to Merseyside. An additional 3 victims came from Sheffield with 2 more living in counties adjacent to South Yorkshire. The remaining 14 victims lived in other parts of England.
Of those who died, 78 were aged 30 or younger. 38 of the victims were children or teenagers, and all but three of them were aged under 50.
Inquests into the deaths, commencing later in 1989, proved controversial. South Yorkshire coroner Stefan Popper limited the main inquest to events up to 3:15 pm on the day of the disaster – nine minutes after the match was halted and the crowd spilled onto the pitch. Popper said this was because the victims were either dead, or brain dead, by 3:15 pm. The decision angered the families, many of whom felt the inquest was unable to consider the response of the police and other emergency services after that time. The inquest returned a verdict of accidental death on 26 March 1991, much to the dismay of the bereaved families, who had been hoping for a verdict of unlawful killing or an open verdict, and for manslaughter charges to be brought against the officers who had been present at the disaster. Popper's decision was subsequently endorsed by the Divisional Court who considered it to have been justified in the light of the medical evidence available to him. Relatives later failed to have the inquest reopened to allow more scrutiny of police actions and closer examination of the circumstances of individual cases.
One of the individual cases where the circumstances of death were not fully resolved was that of Kevin Williams, the fifteen-year-old son of Anne Williams. Williams, who died in 2013, rejected the coroner's decision that the Hillsborough victims, including her son, had died before 3:15 pm, citing witness statements that described her son showing signs of life at 4:00 pm. She unsuccessfully appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in 2009. The Hillsborough Independent Panel considered the available evidence and stated that "the initial pathologist's opinion appeared definitive, but further authoritative opinions raised significant doubts about the accuracy of that initial opinion."
After the disaster, Lord Justice Taylor was appointed to conduct an inquiry into the events. The Taylor Inquiry sat for a total of 31 days and published two reports: an interim report which laid out the events of the day and immediate conclusions, and the final report which outlined general recommendations on football ground safety. This became known as the Taylor Report.
Taylor concluded that policing on the day "broke down" and "the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control". Attention was focused on the decision to open the secondary gates; moreover, the kick-off should have been delayed, as had been done at other venues and matches.
Sheffield Wednesday was also criticised for the inadequate number of turnstiles at the Leppings Lane end and the poor quality of the crush barriers on the terraces, "respects in which failure by the Club contributed to this disaster".
Taylor found there was "no provision" for controlling the entry of spectators into the turnstile area. He dismissed the claim by senior police officers that they had no reason to anticipate problems, since congestion had occurred at both the 1987 and 1988 semi-finals. He said that "the Operational Order and police tactics on the day failed to provide for controlling a concentrated arrival of large numbers should that occur in a short period. That it might so occur was foreseeable". The failure by the police to give the order to direct fans to empty areas of the stadium, was described by Taylor as "a blunder of the first magnitude".
There was no means for calculating when individual enclosures had reached capacity. A police officer ordinarily made a visual assessment before guiding fans to other pens. However, on the day of the disaster, "by 2.52 pm when gate C was opened, pens 3 and 4 were over-full … to allow any more into those pens was likely to cause injuries; to allow in a large stream was courting disaster".
The report noted that the official capacity of the central pens was 2,200, that the Health and Safety Executive found this should have been reduced to 1,693 due to crush barriers and perimeter gates, but actually an estimated 3,000 people were in the pens shortly 3:00 pm. The report said "When spectators first appeared on the track, the immediate assumption in the control room was that a pitch invasion was threatened. This was unlikely at the beginning of a match. It became still less likely when those on the track made no move towards the pitch. ... [T]here was no effective leadership either from control or on the pitch to harness and organise rescue efforts. No orders were given for officers to enter the tunnel and relieve pressure". Further that: "The anxiety to protect the sanctity of the pitch has caused insufficient attention to be paid to the risk of a crush due to overcrowding".
Lord Taylor regarded spectator allocation as irrelevant to the disaster. "I do not consider choice of ends was causative of the disaster. Had it been reversed, the disaster could well have occurred in a similar manner but to Nottingham supporters".
Lord Taylor concluded that the behaviour of Liverpool fans, including accusations of drunkenness, were secondary factors, and said that most fans were: "not drunk, nor even the worse for drink". He concluded that this formed an exacerbating factor but that police, seeking to rationalise their loss of control, overestimated the element of drunkenness in the crowd.
The report dismissed the theory, put forward by South Yorkshire Police, that fans attempting to gain entry without tickets or with forged tickets were contributing factors.
Taylor concluded his criticism of South Yorkshire Police by describing senior officers in command as "defensive and evasive witnesses" who refused to accept any responsibility for error: "In all some 65 police officers gave oral evidence at the Inquiry. Sadly I must report that for the most part the quality of their evidence was in inverse proportion to their rank. Further stating: "South Yorkshire Police were not prepared to concede they were in any respect at fault in what occurred. ... [T]he police case was to blame the fans for being late and drunk, and to blame the Club for failing to monitor the pens. ... Such an unrealistic approach gives cause for anxiety as to whether lessons have been learnt".
The Taylor Report had a deep impact on safety standards for stadiums in the UK. Perimeter and lateral fencing was removed and many top stadiums were converted to all-seated. Purpose-built stadiums for Premier League and most Football League teams since the report are all-seater. Chester City F.C.'s Deva Stadium was the first English football stadium to fulfil the safety recommendations of the Taylor Report, with Millwall F.C.'s The Den being the first new stadium to be built that fulfilled the recommendations.
In July 1992, the government announced a relaxation of the regulation for the lower two English leagues (known now as League One and League Two). The Football Spectators Act does not cover Scotland, but the Scottish Premier League chose to make all-seater stadiums a requirement of league membership. In England and Wales all-seating is a requirement of the Premier League and of the Football League for clubs who have been present in the Championship for more than three seasons. Several campaigns have attempted to get the government to relax the regulation and allow standing areas to return to Premiership and Championship grounds.
In May 1997, when the Labour Party came into office, Home Secretary Jack Straw ordered an investigation. It was performed by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith. The appointment of Stuart-Smith was not without controversy. At a meeting in Liverpool with relatives of those involved in Hillsborough in October 1997, he flippantly remarked "Have you got a few of your people or are they like the Liverpool fans, turn up at the last minute?" He later apologised for his remark, saying it was not intended to offend. The terms of reference of his inquiry were limited to "new evidence", that is "...evidence which was not available or was not presented to the previous inquires, courts or authorities." Therefore, evidence such as witness statements which had been altered were classed as inadmissible. When he presented his report in February 1998, he concluded that there was insufficient evidence for a new inquiry into the disaster. In paragraph 5 of his summary, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith said:
I have come to the clear conclusion that there is no basis upon which there should be a further Judicial Inquiry or a reopening of Lord Taylor's Inquiry. There is no basis for a renewed application to the Divisional Court or for the Attorney General to exercise his powers under the Coroners Act 1988. I do not consider that there is any material which should be put before the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Police Complaints Authority which might cause them to reconsider the decisions they have already taken. Nor do I consider that there is any justification for setting up any further inquiry into the performance of the emergency and hospital services. I have considered the circumstances in which alterations were made to some of the self-written statements of South Yorkshire Police officers, but I do not consider that there is any occasion for any further investigation.
Importantly, Stuart-Smith's report supported the coroner's assertion that evidence after 3.15 pm was inadmissible as "that by 3.15 pm the principal cause of death, that is, the crushing, was over." This was controversial as the subsequent response of the police and emergency services would not be scrutinised. Announcing the report to the House of Commons, Home Secretary Jack Straw backed Stuart-Smith's findings and said that "I do not believe that a further inquiry could or would uncover significant new evidence or provide any relief for the distress of those who have been bereaved." However the determination by Stuart-Smith was heavily criticised by the Justice Minister, Lord Falconer, who stated "I am absolutely sure that Sir Murray Stuart-Smith came completely to the wrong conclusion". Falconer added: "It made the families in the Hillsborough disaster feel after one establishment cover-up, here was another."
The Hillsborough Independent Panel was instituted in 2009 by the British government to investigate the Hillsborough disaster, to oversee the disclosure of documents about the disaster and its aftermath and to produce a report. On 12 September 2012 it published its report and simultaneously launched a website containing 450,000 pages of material collated from 85 organisations and individuals over two years.
In the years after the disaster, the Hillsborough Family Support Group, had campaigned for the release of all relevant documents into the public domain. After the disaster's 20th anniversary in April 2009, supported by the Culture secretary, Andy Burnham, and Minister of State for Justice, Maria Eagle, the government asked the Home Office and Department of Culture, Media and Sport to investigate the best way for this information to be made public. In April 2009, the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced she had requested secret files concerning the disaster be made public.
In December 2009, Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the Hillsborough Independent Panel's remit would be to oversee "full public disclosure of relevant government and local information within the limited constraints set out in the disclosure protocol" and "consult with the Hillsborough families to ensure that the views of those most affected by the disaster are taken into account". An archive of all relevant documentation would be created and a report produced within two years explaining the work of the panel and its conclusions.
The panel was chaired by James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool. Other members were:Raju Bhatt, human rights lawyer
Christine Gifford, expert in the field of access to information
Katy Jones, investigative journalist
Bill Kirkup, Associate Chief Medical Officer in the Department of Health (United Kingdom)
Paul Leighton, former Deputy Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland
Professor Phil Scraton, expert in criminology
Peter Sissons, broadcaster (media)
Sarah Tyacke, formerly Chief Executive of the National Archives
On 12 September 2012, the Hillsborough Independent Panel concluded that no Liverpool fans were responsible in any way for the disaster, and that its main cause was a "lack of police control". Crowd safety was "compromised at every level" and overcrowding issues had been recorded two years earlier. The panel concluded that "up to 41" of the 96 who perished might have survived had the emergency services' reactions and co-ordination been improved. The number is based on post-mortem examinations which found some victims may have had heart, lung or blood circulation function for some time after being removed from the crush. The report stated that placing fans who were "merely unconscious" on their backs rather than in the recovery position, would have resulted in their deaths due to airway obstruction. Their report was in 395 pages and delivered 153 key findings.
The findings concluded that 164 witness statements had been altered. Of those statements, 116 were amended to remove or change negative comments about South Yorkshire Police. South Yorkshire Police had performed blood alcohol tests on the victims, some of them children, and ran computer checks on the national police database in an attempt to "impugn their reputation". The report concluded that the then Conservative MP for Sheffield Hallam, Irvine Patnick, passed inaccurate and untrue information from the police to the press.
The panel noted that, despite being dismissed by the Taylor Report, the idea that alcohol contributed to the disaster proved remarkably durable. Documents disclosed confirm that repeated attempts were made to find supporting evidence for alcohol being a factor, and that available evidence was significantly misinterpreted. It noted "The weight placed on alcohol in the face of objective evidence of a pattern of consumption modest for a leisure event was inappropriate. It has since fuelled persistent and unsustainable assertions about drunken fan behaviour".
The evidence it released online, included altered police reports.
Subsequent apologies were released by Prime Minister David Cameron on behalf of the government, Ed Miliband on behalf of the opposition, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, South Yorkshire Police, and former editor of The Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie, who apologised for making false accusations under the headline "The Truth". MacKenzie said he should have written a headline that read "The Lies", although this apology was widely discredited by the Hillsborough Family Support Group and Liverpool fans, as it was seen to be "shifting the blame once again."
After publication, the Hillsborough Families Support Group called for new inquests for the victims. They also called for prosecutions for unlawful killing, corporate manslaughter and perversion of the course of justice in respect of the actions of the police both in causing the disaster and covering up their actions; and in respect of Sheffield Wednesday FC, Sheffield Council and the Football Association for their various responsibilities for providing, certifying and selecting the stadium for the fatal event.
Calls were made for the resignation of police officers involved in the cover-up, and for Sheffield Wednesday, the police and the Football Association to admit their blame. Calls were also made for Sir Dave Richards to resign as chairman of the Premier League and give up his knighthood as a result of his conduct at Sheffield Wednesday at the time of the disaster. The Home Secretary called for investigations into law-breaking and promised resources to investigate individual or systematic issues.
On 23 October 2012, Norman Bettison resigned with immediate effect as Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, after Maria Eagle MP on the floor of the House and protected by Parliamentary privilege, accused him of boasting about concocting a story that all the Liverpool fans were drunk and police were afraid they were going to break down the gates and decided to open them. Bettison denied the claim, and other allegations about his conduct, saying: "Fans' behaviour, to the extent that it was relevant at all, made the job of the police, in the crush outside Leppings Lane turnstiles, harder than it needed to be. But it didn't cause the disaster any more than the sunny day that encouraged people to linger outside the stadium as kick off approached. I held those views then, I hold them now. I have never, since hearing the Taylor evidence unfold, offered any other interpretation in public or private." Merseyside Police Authority confirmed that Bettison would receive an £83,000 pension, unless convicted of a criminal offence. Hillsborough families called for the payments to be frozen during the IPCC investigation. In the same 22 October House of Commons debate, Stephen Mosley MP alleged West Midlands police pressured witnesses—both police and civilians—to change their statements. Maria Eagle confirmed her understanding that WMP actions in this respect would be the subject of IPCC scrutiny.
Following an application on 19 December 2012 by the Attorney General Dominic Grieve, the High Court quashed the verdicts in the original inquests and ordered fresh inquests to be held. Sir John Goldring was appointed as Assistant Coroner for South Yorkshire (East) and West Yorkshire (West) to conduct those inquests. The inquest hearings started on Monday 31 March 2014 at Warrington. Transcripts of the proceedings and evidence that was produced during the hearings were published at the Hillsborough Inquests official website. On 6 April 2016, the nine jurors were sent out to consider their verdicts. These were formally given to the inquest at 11:00 on 26 April 2016. The jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing in respect of all 96 victims (by majority verdict of 7–2). Upon receiving the April 2016 verdict, Hillsborough Family Support Group chair Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James was killed in the disaster, said:
"Let's be honest about this – people were against us. We had the media against us, as well as the establishment. Everything was against us. The only people that weren't against us was our own city. That's why I am so grateful to my city and so proud of my city. They always believed in us.
Prime Minister David Cameron also responded to the April 2016 verdict by saying that it represented a "long overdue" but "landmark moment in the quest for justice", adding "All families and survivors now have official confirmation of what they always knew was the case, that the Liverpool fans were utterly blameless in the disaster that unfolded at Hillsborough." The Labour Party described the handling of the Hillsborough disaster as the "greatest miscarriage of justice of our times", with Labour MPs Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram calling for accountability and the prosecution of those responsible. Liberal Democrat MP John Pugh called for David Cameron to make a formal apology in the House of Commons to the families of those killed at Hillsborough and to the city of Liverpool as a whole.
Kelvin MacKenzie, who wrote the now-infamous "The Truth" front page for the Sun, said that although he was "duped" into publishing his story, that his "heart goes out" to the families of those affected, saying that "It's quite clear today the fans had nothing to do with it". However, MacKenzie did not accept any personal responsibility for the story.
During the inquest, Maxwell Groome – a police constable at the time of the disaster – made allegations of a high-level "conspiracy" by Freemasons to shift blame for the disaster onto Superintendent Roger Marshall, also that junior officers were pressured into changing their statements after the disaster, and told not to write their accounts in their official police pocketbooks. Groome also claimed that match commander Duckenfield was a member of the "highly influential" Dole lodge in Sheffield (the same lodge as Brian Mole, his predecessor.) Coroner Sir John Goldring warned the jury that there was "not a shred of evidence" that any Masonic meeting actually took place, or that those named were all Freemasons, advising the jury to cast aside "gossip and hearsay". During the inquest Duckenfield confirmed that he became a Freemason in 1975 and became Worshipful Master of his local lodge in 1990, a year after the Hillsborough tragedy; following this revelation, Freemasons were forbidden to take part in the IPCC investigation as civilian investigators to prevent any perceived bias.
Following the inquest verdict, South Yorkshire police announced it would refer the actions of its officers to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). West Yorkshire Police announced it would refer its Chief Constable, Norman Bettison, to the IPCC in mid September. Bettison, had been one of a number of police officers who were accused of manipulating evidence by the Hillsborough Independent Panel. In early October, Bettison announced his retirement, becoming the first senior figure to step down since publication of the panel's report.
The IPCC announced on 12 October 2012 it would investigate the failure of the police to declare a major incident, failure to close the tunnel to the stands which led to overcrowded pens despite evidence it had been closed in such circumstances in the past; changes made to the statements of police officers; actions which misled Parliament and the media; shortcomings of previous investigations; and the role played by Norman Bettison.
By 22 October 2012, the names of at least 1,444 serving and former police officers had been referred to the IPCC investigation. In its announcement, the IPCC praised the tenacity of the Hillsborough families' campaign for truth and justice. On 16 October 2012, the Attorney General announced in Parliament he had applied to have the original inquest verdict quashed, arguing it proceeded on a false basis and evidence now to hand required this exceptional step.
On 12 July 2013 it was reported that the IPCC had found that in addition to the now 164 police statements known to have been altered, a further 55 police officers had changed their statements. Deborah Glass, deputy chair of the IPCC said, "We know the people who have contacted us are the tip of the iceberg." That was after the IPCC's Hillsborough Contact team had received 230 pieces of correspondence since October 2012.
The IPCC is also investigating the actions of West Midlands Police, who in 1989 had been tasked with investigating South Yorkshire Police's conduct for both the original inquest and also the Taylor independent inquiry.
In April 2016, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that it would consider bringing charges against both individuals and corporate bodies once the criminal investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission – Operation Resolve – had been completed.
In February 2000, a private prosecution was brought against Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield and another officer, Bernard Murray. The prosecution argued that the crush was "foreseeable" hence the defendants were "grossly negligent". Prosecutor Alun Jones told the court that Duckenfield gave the order to open the gates so that hundreds of fans could be herded on to the already crowded terraces at the stadium. Jones stated that minutes after the disaster, Duckenfield "deceitfully and dishonestly" told senior FA officials that the supporters had forced the gate open. Duckenfield admitted he had lied in certain statements regarding the causes of the disaster. The prosecution ended on 24 July 2000, when Murray was acquitted and the jury was unable to reach a verdict in the case of Duckenfield. On 26 July 2000, the judge refused the prosecution's application for a re-trial of Duckenfield.
Police disciplinary charges were abandoned when Duckenfield retired on health grounds and, because he was unavailable, it was decided it would be unfair to proceed with disciplinary charges against Bernard Murray. Duckenfield took medical retirement on a full police pension.
Home Secretary Theresa May announced on 18 December 2012 that a new police enquiry would be initiated to examine the possibility of charging agencies other than the police over the deaths of the 96 Liverpool fans who lost their lives at Hillsborough. The enquiry was headed by former Durham Chief Constable Jon Stoddart. Now it is headed by Assistant Commissioner Rob Beckley.
Various negligence cases were brought against the police by spectators who had been at the ground but had not been in the pens, and by people who watched the incident unfolding on television (or heard about it on the radio). A case, Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police  1 A.C. 310, was eventually appealed to the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords and was an important milestone in the law of claims of secondary victims for negligently inflicted psychiatric injury. It was held that claimants who watched the disaster on television/listened on radio were not 'proximal' and their claims were rejected.
Another psychiatric injury claim was brought to the House of Lords, White v Chief Constable of the South Yorkshire Police  2 A.C. 455. It was brought by police officers on duty against the Chief Constable who was said to have been vicariously liable for the disaster. Their claims were dismissed and the Alcock decision was upheld. It affirmed the position of the courts once again towards claims of psychiatric injuries of secondary victims.
A third legal case which resulted from the Hillsborough disaster was Airedale N.H.S. Trust v Bland  A.C. 789, a landmark House of Lords decision in English criminal law, that allowed the life-support machine of Tony Bland, a Hillsborough victim in a persistent vegetative state, to be switched off.
In April 2016, a private prosecution was launched on behalf of victim's relatives against both SYP and the West Midlands Police force (who had investigated the actions of SYP), alleging a concerted cover-up designed to shift blame away from the police.
Several memorials have been erected in memory of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster; all are listed below:Flames were added either side of the Liverpool F.C. crest in memory of the 96 fans who lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster.
Alongside the Shankly Gates at Anfield, Liverpool's home stadium.
A memorial at Hillsborough stadium, unveiled on the tenth anniversary of the disaster on 15 April 1999, reads: In memory of the 96 men, women, and children who tragically died and the countless people whose lives were changed forever. FA Cup semi-final Liverpool v Nottingham Forest. 15 April 1989. "You’ll never walk alone."
A memorial stone in the pavement on the south side of Liverpool's Anglican cathedral.
A memorial garden in Hillsborough Park with a 'You'll never walk alone' gateway.
A headstone at the junction of Middlewood Road, Leppings Lane and Wadsley Lane, near the ground and by the Sheffield Supertram route.
A Hillsborough Memorial Rose Garden in Port Sunlight, Wirral.
A memorial rose garden on Sudley Estate in South Liverpool (also known as the APH). Each of the six rose beds has a centre piece of a white standard rosebush, surrounded by red rose bushes, named 'Liverpool Remember'. There are brass memorial plaques on both sets of gates to the garden, and a sundial inscribed with the words: "Time Marches On But We Will Always Remember".
In the grounds of Crosby Library, to the memory of the 18 football fans from Sefton who lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster. The memorial, sited in a raised rose bed containing the Liverpool Remembers red rose, is made of black granite. It is inscribed "In loving memory of the 96 football supporters who died at Hillsborough, Sheffield on 15 April 1989. Of those who lost their lives the following young men were from Sefton families." The memorial was unveiled on 4 October 1991 (two years before the death of Tony Bland) by the Mayor of Sefton, Councillor Syd Whitby. The project was carried out by the Council after consultation with the Sefton Survivors Group.
A 7-foot high circular bronze memorial was unveiled in the Old Haymarket district of Liverpool in April 2013. This memorial is inscribed with the words: "Hillsborough Disaster – we will remember them", and displays the names of the 96 victims who died.
An 8 foot high clock, dating from the 1780s, was installed at Liverpool Town Hall in April 2013, with the hands indicating 3:06 (the time at which the match was abandoned). In 2015 it was announced that the clock would now be on public display in the foyer of the Cunard Building.
A memorial plaque dedicated to the 96 at Goodison Park in Liverpool, home of local rivals Everton F.C..
The disaster has been acknowledged on 15 April each year by the community in Liverpool and football in general. An annual memorial ceremony is held at Anfield and at a church in Liverpool. The 10th and 20th anniversaries were marked by special services to remember the victims.
Since 2007 there has been a Hillsborough Memorial service held at Spion Kop, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The significance of this ceremony is that it is held on the Spion Kop Battlefield which gave its name to the Kop Stand at Anfield. There is a permanent memorial to the 96 fans who died, in the form of a bench in view of the battlefield at a nearby lodge. Dean Davis and David Walters, South African Liverpool supporters, are responsible for the service and the bench was commissioned by Guy Prowse in 2008. Following on from, and out of respect for the Hillsborough families decision to conclude official memorials at Anfield as of 2016; there will be no further Memorials held at Spion Kop. The Memorial bench remains at Spion Kop Lodge.
In 2014, the FA decided all FA Cup, Premier League, Football League and Football Conference matches played between 11–14 April, would kick-off seven minutes later than originally scheduled with a six-minute delay and a one-minute silence tribute.
In 1999 Anfield was packed with a crowd of around 10,000 people ten years after the disaster. A candle was lit for each of the 96 victims. The clock at the Kop End stood still at 3:06 pm, the time that the referee had blown his whistle in 1989 and a minute's silence was held, the start signalled by match referee from that day, Ray Lewis. A service led by the Right Reverend James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, was attended by past and present Liverpool players, including Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman and Alan Hansen. According to the BBC report: "The names of the victims were read from the memorial book and floral tributes were laid at a plaque bearing their names." A gospel choir performed and the ceremony ended with a rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone". The anniversary was also marked by a minute's silence at the weekend's league games and FA Cup semi-finals.
In 2009, on the 20th anniversary of the disaster, Liverpool's request that their Champions League quarter-finals return leg, scheduled for 15 April, be played the day before was granted.
The event was remembered with a ceremony at Anfield attended by over 28,000 people. The Kop, Centenary and Main Stands were opened to the public before part of the Anfield Road End was opened to supporters. The memorial service, led by the Bishop of Liverpool began at 14:45 BST and a two-minute silence (observed across Liverpool and in Sheffield and Nottingham, including public transport coming to a stand-still) was held at the time of the disaster twenty years earlier, 15:06 BST. Sports Minister Andy Burnham addressed the crowd but was heckled by supporters chanting "Justice for the 96". The ceremony was attended by survivors of the disaster, families of victims and the Liverpool team, with goalkeeper Pepe Reina leading the team and management staff onto the pitch. Team captain Steven Gerrard and vice-captain Jamie Carragher handed the freedom of the city to the families of all the victims. Candles were lit for each of the 96 people who died. Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool's manager at the time of the disaster, read a passage from the Bible, "Lamentations of Jeremiah". The Liverpool manager, Rafael Benítez, set 96 balloons free. The ceremony ended with 96 rings of church bells across the city and a rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone".
Other services took place at the same time, including at Liverpool's Anglican and Catholic Cathedrals. After the two minutes' silence, bells on civic buildings rang out throughout Merseyside.
A song was released to mark the 20th anniversary, entitled "Fields of Anfield Road" which peaked at No. 14 in the UK charts.
Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United players showed respect by wearing black armbands during their Champions League matches on 14 and 15 April.
On 14 May, more than 20,000 people packed Anfield for a match held in memory of the victims. The Liverpool Legends, comprising ex-Liverpool footballers beat the All Stars, captained by actor Ricky Tomlinson, 3–1. The event also raised cash for the Marina Dalglish Appeal which was contributed towards a radiotherapy centre at University Hospital in Aintree.
With the imminent release of police documents relating to events on 15 April 1989, the Hillsborough Family Support Group launched Project 96, a fundraising initiative on 1 August 2009. At least 96 current and former Liverpool footballers are being lined up to raise £96,000 by auctioning a limited edition (of 96) signed photographs.
On 11 April 2009 Liverpool fans sang "You'll Never Walk Alone" as a tribute to the upcoming anniversary of the disaster before the home game against Blackburn Rovers (which ended in Liverpool winning 4–0) and was followed by former Liverpool player, Stephen Warnock presenting a memorial wreath to the Kop showing the figure 96 in red flowers.
The Hillsborough disaster touched not only Liverpool, but clubs in England and around the world. Supporters of Everton, Liverpool's traditional local rivals, were affected, many of them having lost friends and family. Supporters laid down flowers and blue and white scarves to show respect for the dead and unity with fellow Merseysiders.
On 19 April 1989, the Wednesday after the disaster, the European Cup semi-final tie between A.C. Milan and Real Madrid was played. The referee blew his whistle two minutes into the game to stop play and hold a minute's silence for those who lost their lives at Hillsborough. Halfway through the minute's silence, the A.C. Milan fans sang Liverpool's "You'll Never Walk Alone" as a sign of respect. In April 1989, Bradford City and Lincoln City held a friendly match to benefit the victims of Hillsborough. The occasion was the first in which the two teams had met since the 1985 Bradford City stadium fire that had claimed 56 lives at Valley Parade.
On 30 April 1989 a match organised by Celtic F.C. was played at Celtic Park, Glasgow between the home club and Liverpool, the proceeds going to the Hillsborough fund. Liverpool won the match by four goals to nil.
As a result of the disaster, Liverpool's scheduled fixture against Arsenal was delayed from 23 April until the end of the season and eventually decided the league title. At this fixture, Arsenal players brought flowers onto the pitch and presented them to the Liverpool fans around the stadium before the game commenced.
During a 2011 debate in the House of Commons, the Labour MP for Liverpool Walton, Steve Rotheram, read out a list of the victims and, as a result, the names were entered into Hansard.
Initial media coverage – spurred by what Phil Scraton calls in Hillsborough: The Truth the Heysel factor" and "hooligan hysteria" – began to shift the blame onto the behaviour of the Liverpool fans at the stadium, making it a public order issue. As well as The Sun's 19 April 1989 "The Truth" article (see below) other newspapers published similar allegations; the Daily Star headline on the same day reported "Dead fans robbed by drunk thugs"; the Daily Mail accused the Liverpool fans of being "drunk and violent and their actions were vile", and The Daily Express ran a story alleging that "Police saw 'sick spectacle of pilfering from the dying'." Peter McKay in the Evening Standard wrote that the "catastrophe was caused first and foremost by violent enthusiasm for soccer and in this case the tribal passions of Liverpool supporters [who] literally killed themselves and others to be at the game" and published a front page headline "Police attack 'vile' fans" on 18 April 1989, in which police sources blamed the behaviour of a section of Liverpool fans for the disaster.
In regional newspapers, the Liverpool Daily Post wrote in an article titled "I Blame the Yobs" that "The gatecrashers wreaked their fatal havoc ... Their uncontrolled fanaticism and mass hysteria ... literally squeezed the life out of men, women and children ... yobbism at its most base ... Scouse killed Scouse for no better reason than 22 men were kicking a ball"; the Manchester Evening News wrote that the "Anfield Army charged on to the terrace behind the goal – many without tickets", and the Yorkshire Post wrote that the "trampling crush" had been started by "thousands of fans" who were "latecomers ... forc[ing] their way into the ground". The Sheffield Star published similar allegations to The Sun, running the headline "Fans in Drunken Attacks on Police".
Many of the more serious allegations – such as stealing from the dead and assault of police officers and rescue workers – appeared on 18 April, although several evening newspapers published on 15 April 1989 also gave inaccurate reporting of the disaster, as these newspapers went to press before the full extent or circumstances of the disaster had been confirmed or even reported. This included the Wolverhampton-based Express & Star, which reported that the match had been cancelled as a result of a "pitch invasion in which many fans were injured". This article was presumably published before there were any reports that people had been killed. These media reports and others were examined during the 2012 Hillsborough Independent Panel report.
On 19 April, four days after the disaster, Kelvin MacKenzie, editor of The Sun, ordered "The Truth" as the front page headline, followed by three sub-headlines: "Some fans picked pockets of victims", "Some fans urinated on the brave cops" and "Some fans beat up PC giving kiss of life". Mackenzie reportedly spent two hours deciding on which headline to run; his original instinct being for "You Scum" before eventually deciding on "The Truth".
The information was provided to the newspaper by Whites News Agency in Sheffield; the newspaper cited claims by police inspector Gordon Sykes, that Liverpool fans had pickpocketed the dead, as well as other claims by unnamed police officers and local Conservative MP Irvine Patnick. The Daily Express also carried Patnick's version, under the headline "Police Accuse Drunken Fans" which gave Patnick's views, saying he had told Margaret Thatcher, while escorting her on a tour of the ground after the disaster, of the "mayhem caused by drunks" and that policemen told him they were "hampered, harassed, punched and kicked".
The story accompanying The Sun headlines claimed "drunken Liverpool fans viciously attacked rescue workers as they tried to revive victims" and "police officers, firemen and ambulance crew were punched, kicked and urinated upon". A quotation, attributed to an unnamed policeman, claimed a partially unclothed dead girl had been verbally abused, and that Liverpool fans were "openly urinating on us and the bodies of the dead". In fact many Liverpool fans helped security personnel stretcher away victims and gave first aid to the injured. The Guardian later wrote that "The claim that supporters higher up the Leppings Lane terrace had urinated on police pulling bodies out of the crush appeared to have roots in the fact that those who were dying or sustaining serious injuries suffered compression asphyxia and many involuntarily urinated, vomited and emptied their bowels as they were crushed."
In their history of The Sun, Peter Chippendale and Chris Horrie wrote:
As MacKenzie's layout was seen by more and more people, a collective shudder ran through the office (but) MacKenzie's dominance was so total there was nobody left in the organisation who could rein him in except Murdoch. (Everyone in the office) seemed paralysed — "looking like rabbits in the headlights" — as one hack described them. The error staring them in the face was too glaring. It obviously wasn't a silly mistake; nor was it a simple oversight. Nobody really had any comment on it—they just took one look and went away shaking their heads in wonder at the enormity of it. It was a 'classic smear'.
After The Sun's report, the newspaper was boycotted by most newsagents in Liverpool and many readers cancelled their orders and refused to buy it from newsagents; and from then afterwards many in Liverpool refer to The Sun newspaper as The Scum. The Hillsborough Justice Campaign organised a less successful national boycott that had some impact on the paper's sales nationally.
MacKenzie explained his actions in 1993. Talking to a House of Commons National Heritage Select Committee, he said: "I regret Hillsborough. It was a fundamental mistake. The mistake was I believed what an MP said. It was a Tory MP. If he had not said it and the Chief Superintendent had not agreed with it, we would not have gone with it." MacKenzie retracted the apology in November 2006, saying he apologised because the newspaper's owner, Rupert Murdoch, had ordered him to do so, stating: "I was not sorry then and I'm not sorry now". MacKenzie refused to apologise when appearing on the BBC's topical Question Time on 11 January 2007.
The Sun apologised for its treatment of the Hillsborough disaster "without reservation" in a full page opinion piece on 7 July 2004, saying it had "committed the most terrible mistake in its history" by publishing it. The apology angered some Liverpudlians further. The Liverpool Echo called the apology, "shabby" and "an attempt, once again, to exploit the Hillsborough dead".
James Murdoch made a full apology for The Sun's coverage when he appeared at a hearing of the House of Commons Select Committee dealing with the News International phone hacking scandal in 2012.
On 12 September 2012, after the publication of the report exonerating the Liverpool fans, MacKenzie issued the following statement:
Today I offer my profuse apologies to the people of Liverpool for that headline. I too was totally misled. Twenty-three years ago I was handed a piece of copy from a reputable news agency in Sheffield, in which a senior police officer and a senior local MP were making serious allegations against fans in the stadium. I had absolutely no reason to believe that these authority figures would lie and deceive over such a disaster. As the prime minister has made clear, these allegations were wholly untrue and were part of a concerted plot by police officers to discredit the supporters thereby shifting the blame for the tragedy from themselves. It has taken more than two decades, 400,000 documents and a two-year inquiry to discover to my horror that it would have been far more accurate had I written the headline The Lies rather than The Truth. I published in good faith and I am sorry that it was so wrong.
In 2011, Trevor Hicks, chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, rejected MacKenzie's apology as "too little, too late", calling him "lowlife, clever lowlife, but lowlife". A press conference held by families of the victims also banned all Sun reporters from entering, with a sign on the door reading "NO ENTRY TO SUN JOURNALISTS". Sales of The Sun remain poor in Merseyside and a boycott is still practised. In 2004, its average circulation in Liverpool was 12,000 copies a day.
Following the April 2016 verdict of unlawful killing, the Sun and the first print edition of the Times (both owned by News International), did not cover the stories on their front pages, with the Sun relegating the story to pages 8 and 9. An apology appeared on page 10, reiterating previous statements that the 1989 headline had been an error of judgement.
The coverage was widely condemned on social media, with Twitter users saying that this reflected "Murdoch's view on Hillsborough", which was a "smear", which "now daren't speak its name". On the night of the verdict coverage, more than 124,000 tweets used the term The Sun
However, on Sky News, the Sun's Political Editor Tom Newton Dunn defended this decision, saying "I don't think it should all be about the Sun – it was not us who committed Hillsborough." Trevor Kavanagh, the political editor at the time of the Hillsborough disaster, said that he was "not sorry at all" about the reporting and supported his former boss Kelvin MacKenzie, claiming that "we were clearly misled about the events and the authorities, including the police, actively concealed the truth".
In February 2017, Liverpool F.C. issued a ban on The Sun journalists from entering their grounds in response to the coverage of Hillsborough by the newspaper.
The journalist Edward Pearce was criticised for writing a controversial article in the aftermath of the disaster, at a time when a number of victims' funerals were taking place. His article in The Sunday Times on 23 April 1989, included the text:
"For the second time in half a decade a large body of Liverpool supporters has killed people ... the shrine in the Anfield goalmouth, the cursing of the police, all the theatricals, come sweetly to a city which is already the world capital of self-pity. There are soapy politicians to make a pet of Liverpool, and Liverpool itself is always standing by to make a pet of itself. 'Why us? Why are we treated like animals?' To which the plain answer is that a good and sufficient minority of you behave like animals."
Pearce went on reflect that if South Yorkshire Police bore any responsibility, it was "for not realising what brutes they had to handle."
Professor Phil Scraton described Pearce's comments as amongst the "most bigoted and factually inaccurate" published in the wake of the disaster. A number of complaints were made to the Press Council concerning the article, but the Council ruled that it was unable to adjudicate on comment pieces, though the Council noted that tragedy or disaster is not an occasion for writers to exercise gratuitous provocation.
Coverage of the 2016 inquest
On 27 April 2016, Times staffers in the sports department expressed their outrage over the paper's decision to cover the 26 April inquest, which ruled that the 96 dead were unlawfully killed, only on an inside spread and the sports pages, with some in the newspaper claiming there was a "mutiny" in the sports department. The Times later tweeted that "We made a mistake with the front page of our first edition, and we fixed it for our second edition."
The Times was the only major UK newspaper not to give the story front-page coverage other than fellow News UK-owned Sun. Gary Lineker described the incident as "disgusting as it is unsurprising", and David Walsh, chief sports writer at the Sunday Times, said it was a "shocking misjudgment" to not include this story on the front page. However, insiders dismissed any suggestion that a visit by News UK owner Rupert Murdoch to the Times newsroom on the day of the verdict had anything to do with the editorial decision.
The November 2002 edition of the men's lifestyle magazine FHM in Australia was swiftly withdrawn from sale soon after its publication, and a public apology made in the Australian and British editions, because it contained jokes mocking the disaster. As a result, Emap Australia, who owned FHM at the time, pledged to make a donation to the families of the victims. Although the original apology was not printed in the magazine as it was not considered "serious enough", its Australian editor, Geoff Campbell, released a statement: "We deeply regret the photograph captions published in the November issue of the Australian edition of FHM, accompanying an article about the Hillsborough disaster of 1989. The right course of action is to withdraw this edition from sale – which we will be doing. We have been in contact with the Hillsborough Family Support Group and the Hillsborough Justice Campaign to express our deep regret and sincere apologies." The British edition disassociated itself from the controversy, stating: "FHM Australia has its own editorial team and these captions were written and published without consultation with the UK edition, or any other edition of FHM."
The vice-chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, Philip Hammond, said he wanted all football fans to boycott the magazine, saying, "I am going to write to every fanzine in the country – including Liverpool F.C.'s – telling them to ban FHM. People are very upset by it. I think there will be a real boycott." He added it would be like making jokes about the 2002 Bali bombings, in which eight fewer Australians were killed. The publication was finally discontinued in 2016, for unrelated reasons.
Boris Johnson, then-editor of The Spectator, was criticised for an editorial which appeared in the magazine on 16 October 2004 following the death of British hostage Kenneth John "Ken" Bigley in Iraq, in which it was claimed that the response to Bigley's killing was fuelled by the fact he was from Liverpool, and went on to criticise the "drunken" fans at Hillsborough and call on them to accept responsibility for their "role" in the disaster:
The extreme reaction to Mr Bigley's murder is fed by the fact that he was a Liverpudlian. Liverpool is a handsome city with a tribal sense of community. A combination of economic misfortune — its docks were, fundamentally, on the wrong side of England when Britain entered what is now the European Union — and an excessive predilection for welfarism have created a peculiar, and deeply unattractive, psyche among many Liverpudlians. They see themselves whenever possible as victims, and resent their victim status; yet at the same time they wallow in it. Part of this flawed psychological state is that they cannot accept that they might have made any contribution to their misfortunes, but seek rather to blame someone else for it, thereby deepening their sense of shared tribal grievance against the rest of society. The deaths of more than 50 Liverpool football supporters at Hillsborough in 1989 was undeniably a greater tragedy than the single death, however horrible, of Mr Bigley; but that is no excuse for Liverpool's failure to acknowledge, even to this day, the part played in the disaster by drunken fans at the back of the crowd who mindlessly tried to fight their way into the ground that Saturday afternoon. The police became a convenient scapegoat, and the Sun newspaper a whipping-boy for daring, albeit in a tasteless fashion, to hint at the wider causes of the incident.
Although Johnson did not make these comments, journalist Simon Heffer alleged he wrote the first draft of the article "at Mr Johnson's request", and offered to apologise for its publication after it attracted "a furore in the city [of Liverpool]". Johnson apologised at the time of the article, travelling to Liverpool to do so, and again following the publication of the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel in 2012; however, Johnson's apology was rejected by Margaret Aspinall, chairperson of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, whose son James, 18, died in the disaster:
What he has got to understand is that we were speaking the truth for 23 years and apologies have only started to come today from them because of yesterday. It's too little, too late. It's fine to apologise afterwards. They just don't want their names in any more sleaze. No, his apology doesn't mean a thing to me.
The Spectator's comments – incorrectly attributed to Boris Johnson – were widely circulated following the April 2016 verdict by the Hillsborough inquest's second hearing proving unlawful killing of the 96 dead at Hillsborough.
In November 2007, the BBC soap opera EastEnders caused controversy when the character Minty Peterson (played by Cliff Parisi) made a reference to the disaster. During the episode car mechanic Minty said: "Five years out of Europe because of Heysel, because they penned you lot in to stop you fighting on the pitch and then what did we end up with? Hillsborough." This prompted 380 complaints and the BBC apologised, saying that the character was simply reminding another character, former football hooligan Jase Dyer, that the actions of hooligans led to the fencing-in of football fans. Ofcom also received 177 complaints.
Liverpool goalkeeper Charles Itandje was accused of having shown disrespect towards the Hillsborough victims during the 2009 remembrance ceremony, as he was spotted on camera "smiling and nudging" team-mate Damien Plessis. He was suspended from the club for a fortnight and many fans felt he should not play for the club again. He was omitted from the first team squad and never played for the club in any capacity again.
On 28 June 2010, following England's departure from the World Cup competition in South Africa, the UK's Culture and Sport Secretary Jeremy Hunt praised the England fans for their behaviour during the competition, saying "I mean, not a single arrest for a football-related offence, and the terrible problems that we had in Heysel and Hillsborough in the 1980s seem now to be behind us." He later apologised and said "I know that fan unrest played no part in the terrible events of April 1989 and I apologise to Liverpool fans and the families of those killed and injured in the Hillsborough disaster if my comments caused any offence." Margaret Aspinall, chairperson of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, asked for a face to face meeting with Hunt before deciding if she would accept the apology.
Fans of rival football clubs such as Manchester United have been known to mention the Hillsborough disaster at fixtures to upset Liverpool fans. Following the findings of the Independent Panel in September 2012, Alex Ferguson and two Manchester United fan groups called for an end to the "sick chants". Leeds United chairman Ken Bates endorsed this call in the club programme and stated, "Leeds have suffered at times with reference to Galatasaray; some of our so-called fans have also been guilty as well, particularly in relation to Munich." This is a reference to the deaths of eight Manchester United players in the Munich air disaster of 1958.
In October 2011, Sir Oliver Popplewell, who chaired the public inquiry into the 1985 Bradford City stadium fire at Valley Parade that killed 56 people, called on the families of the Hillsborough victims to look at the "quiet dignity and great courage relatives in the West Yorkshire city had shown in the years following the tragedy". He said: "The citizens of Bradford behaved with quiet dignity and great courage. They did not harbour conspiracy theories. They did not seek endless further inquiries. They buried their dead, comforted the bereaved and succoured the injured. They organised a sensible compensation scheme and moved on. Is there, perhaps, a lesson there for the Hillsborough campaigners?"
Popplewell was criticised for the comments, including a rebuke from a survivor of the Bradford fire. Labour MP Steve Rotheram, commented: "How insensitive does somebody have to be to write that load of drivel?"
A formal complaint was made against David Crompton, South Yorkshire's chief constable, over internal emails relating to the Hillsborough disaster. In 2013 Crompton sent an email in which he said the families' "version of certain events has become 'the truth' even though it isn't". In September, David Crompton had emailed the force's assistant chief constable Andy Holt and head of media Mark Thompson on 8 September, just four days before the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report was published. The email came to light as the result of a Freedom of Information request. South Yorkshire's police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright has appointed chief constable Simon Parr of Cambridgeshire Constabulary to head the investigation. Wright said: "The request has been submitted by a firm of solicitors in Liverpool acting on behalf of a number of individuals affected by the event."
In March 2016 Crompton announced that he would retire in November. On 26 April 2016, after the inquest jury delivered a verdict affirming all the charges against the police, Crompton "unequivocally accepted" the verdicts, including unlawful killing, said that the police operation at the stadium on the day of the disaster had been "catastrophically wrong", and apologised unreservedly. Following continued criticism of Crompton in the wake of the unlawful killing verdict, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Billings suspended Crompton from duty on 27 April.
In June 2014, an unnamed 24-year-old British civil servant was sacked for posting offensive comments about the disaster on Wikipedia.
In 2009, nearly twenty years to the day after the disaster, Steven Cohen, a presenter on Fox Soccer Channel and Sirius satellite radio in the United States (an Englishman and Chelsea fan), stated on his radio show that Liverpool fans "without tickets" were the "root cause" and "perpetrators" of the disaster. A boycott of advertisers by American Liverpool fans eventually brought about an apology from him. Despite this he was replaced as presenter of Fox Football Fone-in. His actions were disowned by Chelsea Football Club and he no longer works as a broadcaster.
In 1996, Sir Bernard Ingham, former press secretary to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, caused controversy with his comments about the disaster. In a letter addressed to a victim's parent, Ingham wrote that the disaster was caused by "tanked up yobs". In another letter written to a Liverpool supporter, also written in 1996, Ingham remarked that people should "shut up about Hillsborough". On the day of the inquest verdict, Ingham refused to apologise or respond to the previous comments he made, telling a reporter, "I have nothing to say." There have since been calls to have Ingham stripped of his knighthood.
A television drama film, based on the disaster and subsequent events, titled simply Hillsborough, was produced by Granada Television. It was highly praised and won the BAFTA Award for Best Single Drama in 1997. Christopher Eccleston, Ricky Tomlinson and Mark Womack were among the leading actors appearing in the film. It was aired for the first time in 1996, and has been aired four times since then, in 1998, 2009, in September 2012 on the weekend following the release of the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, and again on 1 May 2016 on ITV.
The American sports network ESPN, as part of its 30 for 30 series of sports films (under a new "Soccer Stories" subdivision), aired the documentary Hillsborough as a co-production with the BBC. Directed by Daniel Gordon, the 2-hour film chronicles the disaster, the investigations, and their lingering effects; it also included interviews with survivors, victims' relatives, police officers and investigators. Hillsborough aired the first time on 15 April 2014, the 25th anniversary of the disaster. The documentary was unable to be shown in Great Britain upon initial release due to the 2012 High Court inquest still being in progress. The documentary includes previously unreleased security camera footage from the stadium on the day of the disaster. However, after the inquest verdict the BBC aired the documentary on 8 May 2016, with additional footage from the inquest and its final verdict.
Two British stage plays also dealt with the disaster with different view points:Jonathan Harvey's Guiding Star showed a father coming to terms with what had happened some years later.
Lance Nielsen wrote Waiting For Hillsborough about two Liverpool families waiting for news of their missing loved ones on the day, which leads to discussion of football safety and the culture of blame. Nielsen's play won him an award at the 1999 Liverpool Arts and Entertainment awards and was highly praised by the Liverpool press.