Police and emergency services made “strenuous attempts” to deflect the blame for the Hillsborough disaster onto innocent fans, newly published documents about the tragedy revealed today.
The disclosures were made by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which has been overseeing the release of thousands of official documents relating to Britain’s deadliest sporting disaster.
Ninety six Liverpool supporters died in a crush at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium on April 15, 1989, where their team were to meet Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final.
Introducing the report to the Hillsborough families at the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool, Bishop James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool and chairman of the panel, said: “For nearly a quarter of a century the families of the 96 and the survivors of Hillsborough have nursed an open wound waiting for answers to unresolved questions.
“It has been a frustrating and painful experience adding to their grief.
“In spite of all the investigations they have sensed that their search for truth and justice has been thwarted and that no-one has been held accountable.
“The documents disclosed to and analysed by the panel show that the tragedy should never have happened.
“There were clear operational failures in response to the disaster and in its aftermath their were strenuous attempts to deflect the blame onto the fans.
“The panel’s detailed report shows how vulnerable victims, survivors and their families are when transparency and accountability are compromised.
“My colleagues and I were from the start of our work impressed by the dignified determination of the families.”
He added: “The panel produces this report without any presumption of where it will lead. But it does so in the profound hope that greater transparency will bring to the families and to the wider public a greater understanding of the tragedy and its aftermath.
“For it is only with this transparency that the families and survivors, who have behaved with such dignity, can with some sense of truth and justice cherish the memory of their 96 loved ones.”
In its summary the panel said: “It is evident from analysis of the various investigations that from the outset South Yorkshire Police sought to deflect responsibility for the disaster on to Liverpool fans ... there is no evidence to support this view.”
The documents also reveal the “extent to which substantive amendments were made” to statements by South Yorkshire Police to remove or alter “unfavourable” comments about the policing of the match and the unfolding disaster.
The documents show, for the first time, that South Yorkshire Ambulance Service documents were “subject to the same process”, the panel said.
They went on to say the wrongful allegations about the fans’ behaviour later printed in some newspapers, particularly The Sun, originated from “a Sheffield press agency, senior SYP officers, an SYP Police Federation spokesperson and a local MP”.
The panel said the Police Federation, “supported informally by the SYP Chief Constable”, sought to develop and publicise a version of events derived in police officers’ allegations of drunkenness, ticketless fans and violence.
“The vast majority of fans on the pitch assisted in rescuing and evaluating the injured and the dead,” the panel said.
The panel said their report raises “profound concerns about the conduct and appropriateness of the inquests”.
The documents go on to reveal the original pathologists’ evidence of a single, unvarying pattern of death was “unsustainable”, the panel said.
The families have always disputed the accidental verdict which followed the inquest into the deaths.