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article imageHope for families as new Hillsborough inquests start

By Paul Ellis (AFP)     Mar 31, 2014 in World

Fresh inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool football supporters in the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster began on Monday after the initial verdicts were quashed amid claims of a police cover-up.

Relatives of the dead, who have fought for two decades to overturn the original verdicts of accidental death, gathered at a purpose-built court near Warrington, east of Liverpool.

Some wore scarves in the red and white of Liverpool, while others carried photographs of their loved ones who were crushed to death on an overcrowded terrace at an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest in the stadium in Sheffield.

Fresh inquests were ordered after the original coroner's verdicts were quashed by the High Court in December 2012.

That came three months after an independent panel examining the disaster concluded that 41 of those who died would have had the "potential to survive" if they had received medical treatment more quickly.

Charlotte Hennessy, who was six when her father James died in the disaster, said as she arrived at the court that the families had waited a long time to learn more about what happened to their relatives on April 15, 1989.

Supporters hold scarves and shirts during a memorial service at Liverpool's Anfield ground on A...
Supporters hold scarves and shirts during a memorial service at Liverpool's Anfield ground on April 15, 2013 on the 24th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster
Paul Ellis, AFP/File

"It's been a long, long fight. Hopefully this is the beginning of the end," she said.

"It was a bit of an emotional wreck this weekend, I've not slept a wink. But this is the beginning now, hopefully it can be put right."

The inquests, held in the presence of a jury, could last more than nine months.

Lord Justice John Goldring, a Court of Appeal judge who is acting as coroner, will open the hearing with a statement to the court.

Relatives will then be invited to read out "pen portraits" of all the victims over the next month.

The hearing will then break for several weeks for lawyers to sift through new pathological evidence into how each of the 96 died.

Jurors are expected to hear evidence on issues such as stadium safety, the management of the crowd and the response of the emergency services.

Police rescue soccer fans at Hillsborough stadium on April 15  1989 when 96 fans were crushed to dea...
Police rescue soccer fans at Hillsborough stadium on April 15, 1989 when 96 fans were crushed to death and hundreds injured after support railings collapsed during a match between Liverpool and Nottingham forest
, AFP/File

The court will also be shown at least an hour of previously unseen BBC television footage of the disaster unfolding that has only recently been discovered.

- 'Justice on its way' -

Inquests seek to examine the circumstances in which the deceased came by their deaths but do not apportion blame.

Two new investigations into the disaster are also running -- a criminal inquiry and a probe by the police watchdog, which said last week it had interviewed 13 retired or serving police officers on suspicion of offences including manslaughter and perverting the course of justice.

Donna Miller holds a picture of her brother Paul Carlile  whom she lost in the 1989 Hillsborough dis...
Donna Miller holds a picture of her brother Paul Carlile, whom she lost in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, near the High Court in central London, on December 19, 2012
Carl Court, AFP/File

No one has yet been charged with a criminal offence.

Andy Burnham, a lawmaker from the opposition Labour Party who has played a leading role in the families' campaign, said they finally had hope of justice being done.

He told Sky News from the court: "Twenty-five years. The families have waited all that time for justice and I think finally it is on its way.

"This is a momentous day for them. Most people thought we'd never see it, but we have and the reason we have seen it is because of their dignity, their courage. They never gave in."

Burnham said that only in the last few weeks had some of the families found out "basic things" about what happened to their relatives that day.

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