(CNN) After more than two years, a British inquest into the 1989 Hillsborough soccer stadium tragedy in which 96 men, women and children died, has delivered its verdicts on a series of key questions. It is the longest case heard by a jury in British legal history.
The jury’s findings include:
— The 96 Liverpool fans who died in the Hillsborough disaster were unlawfully killed, jurors concluded by a 7-2 majority.
— Match commander Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield’s actions amounted to “gross negligence” due to breach of his duty of care to fans.
— Police planning errors caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed on the day of the disaster.
— The 96 victims were killed due to crushing following the admission of a large number of fans through an exit gate.
— Fan behavior did not cause or contribute to the tragedy.
— Both the police and the ambulance service caused or contributed to the loss of life by error or omission after the crush had begun to develop
— The UK Crown Prosecution Service will now consider criminal charges.
— Individual inquest into the 96 show times of death between 14.57 and 16.50
— Relatives of victims sing Liverpool Football Club anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as they emerge from court in Warrington after verdicts delivered.
— Club hails inquest findings as “a landmark day for all affected by the Hillsborough tragedy.”
Pete Weatherby, a lawyer representing some of the bereaved families, told a Hillsborough Justice Campaign news conference: “The jury has vindicated the long, long journey of the families to obtain justice and make those responsible for the disaster accountable.”
Mr Weatherby said there had been “concerted attempts to cover up” what happened and paid tribute to the “dignity and tenacity” of the families in their battle for justice.
“The disaster was entirely avoidable and caused by catastrophic human failure,” he said, focusing on what he called “a catastrophic policing failure by South Yorkshire Police.”
Mr Weatherby said the families had been forced to endure “lies by senior officers and vile abuse in parts of the media” in the years after the tragedy in what he said was “a culture of denial writ large.”
Barry Devonside, who lost his 18-year-old son Chris at Hillsborough, told the news conference: “South Yorkshire Police and senior officers tried to deflect the blame onto the supporters.
“That campaign to deny the truth came to an end with the conclusions of the inquest.”
Mr Devonside thanked the jurors for their “remarkable commitment.”
Stephen Wright, the brother of Graham Wright, who was 17 when he died in the disaster, said: “Our loved ones could have lived but for the gross failings of the police.”
David Crompton, the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, said in a statement after the inquest verdicts were delivered that the force had got the policing of the match “catastrophically wrong.”
He said: “I want to make it absolutely clear that we unequivocally accept the verdict of unlawful killing and the wider findings reached by the jury in the Hillsborough inquests.
“On 15th April 1989, South Yorkshire Police got the policing of the FA Cup semifinal at Hillsborough catastrophically wrong.
“The force failed the victims and failed their families. Today, as I have said before, I want to apologize unreservedly to the families and all those affected.”
He added that the force “will now take time to carefully reflect on the implications of the verdicts.”
In a statement, Liverpool FC chief executive officer Ian Ayre said: “After 27 long years the true verdict has finally been delivered, confirming what the families always believed — their loved ones were unlawfully killed.
‘The English disease’
But football itself was very different back then. It was scarred by hooliganism, with a minority of fans prone to drunkenness, organized violence and pitch invasions. In the prevailing attitude, all fans were painted with that brush. Across Europe, football hooliganism had become known as the “English disease.”
Four years before Hillsborough, 39 fans had been killed in a stadium stampede at a European Cup final between Liverpool and Italian club Juventus.
Football grounds were also different. In the 1980s, the amount of seating was often limited, with many supporters instead standing on tiered concrete steps known as terraces.
Because of the problem of hooliganism, fences were constructed around these terraces, splitting them into individual pens and keeping fans corralled inside from the sides and the front.
On top of that, most stadiums were old and decrepit, not in any shape to be holding the number of people that they did.
“The condition of the stadiums… we took it for granted,” says Phil Scraton, researcher and author of the book Hillsborough: The Truth. “We would cheer when people were handed down who fainted [on the terraces], and they were handed down to the front and passed over to the ambulance people. We cheered — it was just part of the way it was.”