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Justice at last for Hillsborough families

Justice at last for Hillsborough families

In April 2016, the jury at the new inquests into the UK’s 1989 Hillsborough football stadium disaster determined that the 96 Liverpool fans who died that day were unlawfully killed.

It found they had been victims of gross negligence by police and ambulance staff who failed to manage the inescapable crush of people into a standing-only area of the stadium.

This negligence directly caused the deaths of 96 men, women and children and the injury and trauma of thousands of others.

Throughout the subsequent investigations and inquiries, those who died and survived were vilified publicly amid police allegations of drunkenness, violence, criminal and abusive behaviour.

The 27-year journey towards this decision, which radically overturned an initial verdict of ‘accidental death’,was significantly informed by the work of Professor of Criminology Phil Scraton from Queen’s University of Belfast, who is a distinguished visitor at the University of Auckland this week.

Professor Scraton’s in-depth research into the context, circumstances and aftermath of the disaster includes the publication of his much-acclaimed book Hillsborough: The Truth, two influential reports published in 1990 and 1995 and numerous academic articles.

His critical analysis of the investigations, inquiries and inquests into the controversial deaths was instrumental in the British Home Secretary establishing the Hillsborough Independent Panel to review hundreds of thousands of documents held by over 80 organisations.

In 2010, he was appointed to the Panel to head its research, based at Queen's, and was the primary author of its 395-page report, whose key findings he presented to over 300 bereaved family members at Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral in September 2013.

The Report, alongside the on-line archive of all disclosed documents, resulted in a 'double apology' to the families and survivors from the Prime Minister and Government ministers and a new criminal investigation.

It also led to an Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation, the quashing of the 96 'accidental death' inquest verdicts, the ordering of new inquests and a review of emergency planning across the UK.

Combining documentary analysis and qualitative research with families and survivors, Professor Scraton’s work has been publicly recognised an exemplar of methodological innovation, policy relevance and public engagement.

In 2014, an ESPN/BBC documentary based on his work was nominated for an EMMY award and two weeks ago in his home town, he was awarded a rare honour, the Freedom of the City of Liverpool.


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