UK to release Hillsborough disaster papers

Updated: 2011-10-18 10:28


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LONDON - The British government said on Monday it was committed to disclosing the full facts behind the 1989 Hillsborough football stadium disaster in which 96 Liverpool fans were killed in a crush, an incident that changed English soccer forever.

However, the Home Secretary (interior minister) Theresa May made clear the release of all official files would first be handed to an independent panel set up two years ago to handle disclosure out of "dignity and respect" for the families concerned.

"Let me say here and now, in this House and on the record ... I will do everything in my power to ensure the families and the public get the truth," she told lawmakers in a late-night debate in parliament.

"No government papers will be withheld from the panel, no attempts to suppress publication will be made, no stone will be left unturned," May said, adding that all government documents - including cabinet minutes - would be made available with "minimal redactions".

She said all papers would be completely uncensored and that it would be for the panel to judge what was finally published.    

"The principle underlying the process is that of maximum possible disclosure and disclosure to the families first and then to the wider public."

The tragic event was a watershed for English soccer, coming at the end of a decade in which the game had been increasingly disfigured by hooliganism and leading to an era of all-seater stadiums which has improved safety for fans.

Relatives of those who died in the stadium in the northern city of Sheffield have been pressing for details to be made public of what South Yorkshire Police told then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher when she visited the scene of the tragedy in April 1989.

Her press secretary Bernard Ingham caused great offence when he later blamed the tragedy on a "tanked-up mob". The Sun newspaper has also long been scorned in Liverpool after it published a report blaming fans for the disaster.

May said there may have to be minor redactions, covering the names of some junior civil servants and the details of the victims' confidential medical files.

But she insisted that had "absolutely nothing to do with attempting to suppress the release of these papers or to somehow hide the truth."

The Liverpool fans were killed on overcrowded terracing at the Leppings Lane end of the Hillsborough stadium at an FA Cup semi-final on April 15, 1989.

The match was abandoned after a few minutes when fans tried to scale fencing to escape the overcrowding and officials finally became aware of the deadly crush behind the goal defended by Liverpool's Bruce Grobbelaar.

The independent panel, headed by Bishop of Liverpool James Jones, is scrutinising 40,000 documents connected to the Hillsborough disaster and will report next Spring.

Pat Joynes, whose son Nicholas was one of the 96 fans who died, hopes that Monday's debate will lead to all documents on the disaster being published in full.

"We've met the panel several times and they're really strong and they say that there will hopefully be no redaction," she told the BBC.

"If there is any redaction, to me this is a waste of time."