Harrowing images taken by The Star at the Hillsborough disaster have been handed to police working to uncover the truth about what happened.
Files of photographic prints and negatives stored in The Star’s archives for more than two decades were handed over yesterday to officers involved with Operation Resolve – the criminal investigation into the causes of the disaster at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough Stadium, which saw 96 football fans crushed to death.
Information collected by the team will be assessed by the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether criminal prosecutions should be brought.
It will also be used by the coroner overseeing new inquests into the deaths of the 96 Liverpool Football Club fans after ‘accidental death’ verdicts recorded at the original hearing were quashed.
A spokesman for Operation Resolve said: “In preparing for the inquest, the coroner has requested chronological documentation for each of the 96 deceased showing their exact movements from the day of the disaster.
“This involves our team of investigators researching thousands of still images and reviewing hours of video tape and cctv footage to put together these timelines.
“We also hope this process will be able to answer many of the families questions about what happened to their love ones.
“We are grateful to The Star for making their images and negatives available to us and assisting us with this crucial piece of work.”
The publication of an independent panel’s report on all the Hillsborough files and documents kept by organisations since the disaster laid bare a cover-up, where South Yorkshire Police statements were altered in a bid to divert blame away from the force.
James Mitchinson, The Star editor, agreed for The Star photographs captured on the day to be scanned in at Greater Manchester Police’s forensic imaging unit as part of Operation Resolve.
He said: “As the new editor of The Star I am absolutely committed to doing all I can to help with the Hillsborough Inquiry.
“This city has lived with the disaster since 1989. It is important that we bring the story to a full, proper and just conclusion.
“It is important to the people of Sheffield, but absolutely crucial to the people of Merseyside.
“We have to believe that the people investigating that fateful day will leave no stone unturned in getting to the truth, and whomever is called upon to help should do so without hesitation. I am one of those people.”
Running alongside Operation Resolve is the biggest ever investigation into possible police misconduct in British history.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission is looking into why police statements were altered and who, if anyone, gave the order for the truth to be distorted in the wake of the disaster, when fans were falsely accused of storming a gate at Hillsborough to get inside the ground ahead of an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on Saturday, April 15, 1989.
With agony etched on their faces, fans pressed against metal caging with the weight of thousands of supporters crushing them to death were captured by Star photographers on the day of the worst football disaster ever known.
Stored away, with the majority never having been published before, the haunting images record a day of carnage on a scale never seen before - a day on which the lives of 96 fans were lost and thousands more were affected for ever.
The Star’s photographic files show fans it was too late to save laid on the Hillsborough turf - some with jackets covering their faces - while all around them police, medics and other supporters give emergency first aid in a desperate bid to help the other casualties of the crush.
Supporters using billboards as make-shift stretchers were captured, along with scenes showing distraught fans consoling each other as chaos unfolded all around them.
One moving picture shows one lone fan with his hands in the air praying.
Another shows a terrified young boy being cradled in the arms of another fan after being rescued from the horror on the terraces.
Other survivors were captured with broken limbs.
But the most harrowing images - and those which will for ever haunt those at the stadium that fateful fay - are the terrified faces of fans at the front of the crush, fighting for breath and not knowing if they were going to live or die.
Police officers will spend the next few weeks analysing each and every image taken on the day to help them piece together the final movements of 96 men, women and children who went to a football game but never came home.