What next for the Hillsborough families?

Published 30 September 2012 | Authored by: John Shea

Following the recent publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report into the Hillsborough disaster, the Hillsborough Family Support Group ("HFSG") are now considering escalating their quest for justice by pursuing three possible legal avenues.

The three legal avenues that the HFSG are looking to pursue are considered in more detail in my article 'The legal opinions for the Hillsborough families' here however the following is a brief summary:

A Fresh Public Inquest

One of the HFSG's primary objectives has always been to overturn the original verdict of accidental death and to replace it with a verdict of unlawful killing.

In order for the original verdict to be quashed and a fresh inquest held, the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, will need to apply to the High Court for a fresh inquiry on the basis that "it is necessary or desirable in the interests of justice that another inquest should be held." (Section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988). The decision to order a new inquest is, therefore, to be determined by the High Court and "the discovery of new facts or evidence" is a factor the Court will consider when making its decision.

The Attorney General has confirmed that he is now considering "whether there is sufficient evidence to support an application to the High Court to quash the original inquest and start a new inquest process." Whilst the families' lawyer, Michael Mansfield QC, feels that it should not "take the Attorney General any longer than four to six weeks to make a decision," the Attorney General warns that the process "will inevitably take some time."

Criminal Prosecutions

In light of the new findings within the report, the HFSG hope that the Director of Public Prosecutions ("DPP"), Keir Starmer QC, will consider whether the new evidence disclosed within the report could lead to potential criminal offences.

Any charges brought following the report could include manslaughter, by way of gross negligence, attempts to pervert the course of justice and misconduct in public office. Action could potentially be taken against police officers for their actions on the day and for the subsequent doctoring of statements as well as authorities such as The Football Association, Sheffield City Council and Sheffield Wednesday Football Club for allowing the FA Cup semi-final to go ahead despite apparent safety concerns over the Hillsborough ground.

The Crown Prosecution Service via the DPP will ultimately consider whether there is enough evidence to justify any criminal charges.

Civil Proceedings

Numerous civil cases were brought following the disaster for damages on behalf of the bereaved and the injured as well as by police officers who were present on the day. Claims were mainly brought for psychological injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Michael Mansfield QC believes that the civil actions may "need to be revisited as they were based on false information". As a result of the fresh evidence disclosed within the report, "the conclusion reached by the Courts remains open to question" (Chapter 7 Paragraph 2.7.31 Hillsborough Independent Panel Report) and so it is possible that the families may seek to bring fresh claims on the basis of this fresh evidence.

Comment

The Hillsborough Independent Panel's report is clearly a significant step in the HFSG's ongoing pursuit for accountability following the disaster. However, it is evident that there are many legal hurdles for the HFSG to overcome before justice can ultimately be realised.

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About the Author

John Shea

John Shea

John is a senior associate in the Sports Business Group at Lewis Silkin specialising in contentious, regulatory and disciplinary issues for clubs, agencies, governing bodies and athletes

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Comments (1)

  • David Winnie

    04 October 2012 at 09:40 | #

    It is difficult to see against whom criminal proceedings will be taken. Supt Murray was acquitted and is now dead. Chief Supt Duckenfield was not convicted at his trial in 2000 as the jury could not reach a verdict, but he was told by the judge that he would not face another trial. I cannot see that any further action can be taken against him without the same being an abuse of process.

    As to civil proceedings, those which were brought by bereaved have been deter;mined and compensation has been paid on the basis that the deceased lost his or her life. The fact that that life might have been saved had a more immediate response been made by the emergency services should not affect the total quantum of damages, although it might affect the contribution payable by joint tortfeasors.

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