JUSTICE must follow the verdicts of unlawful killing in the Hillsborough disaster inquests, the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, has said.
The 96 Liverpool fans who died in 1989 were unlawfully killed, the jury at the inquest concluded on Tuesday.
“The families have always said that they seek truth and justice, and the inquests have worked longer than any in British legal history to uncover the truth. Now justice must follow,” Bishop Bayes said.
But what form that justice should take was a question for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) not a bishop, he added.
The jurors decided, on a 7-2 majority verdict, that the police officer commanding the scene at Hillsborough, Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, breached his duty of care to the fans who died as a result of “gross negligence”.
It was his decision to open an exit gate outside the Leppings Lane stand that led to thousands of Liverpool supporters’ flooding into the already packed terraces, causing the fatal crush.
The inquest also heard evidence of how senior South Yorkshire Police officers had conspired to cover up the force’s part in the disaster, doctoring witness statements and falsely pinning the blame on the fans.
The CPS has said that it is co-operating with police investigations into both failures, which caused the deaths and the cover-up afterwards.
On Wednesday, the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire Police, former priest and Church Times contributor Dr Alan Billings, suspended the force’s chief constable, David Crompton. Some of the victims’ families had earlier demanded that he resign in response to the inquest verdicts and the police cover up.
Dr Billings said that Mr Crompton had been suspended in part because of the way the force’s lawyers handled the inquest and because of an “erosion in confidence”.
Accepts findings; David Crompton speaks to reporters outside South Yorkshire Police headquarters, in Sheffield, on Tuesday Credit: pa
Accepts findings; David Crompton speaks to reporters outside South Yorkshire Police headquarters, in Sheffield, on Tuesday
In 1989, just a few hours after the crush Dr Billings had gone to the stadium with other local clergy and social workers to minister to the bereaved.
Bishop Bayes would not be drawn on whether Mr Duckenfield and others should be charged, saying only that it was not his decision.
“In one sense, justice has been done today, because people have seen where responsibility lies, but the road to the execution of justice might not necessarily be over. We need to follow that road to the end.”
Regardless of what happens next, though, the inquest verdicts provide real comfort and closure for both the families of those killed and the wider city of Liverpool, Bishop Bayes said.
“The accusations at the time that Liverpool’s fans contributed to this tragedy have finally been proven to be false.”
He also paid tribute to his predecessor as Bishop, the Rt Revd James Jones, who chaired the Hillsborough Independent Panel which led to the quashing of the original inquests and, ultimately this week’s verdicts.
“He was invited to do that because he was greatly respected in the city. I revere what he did, and I know the city remembers him very fondly.”
When asked to comment, Bishop Jones said that he had been advised not to speak with the media because he continued to have a role in the process.
The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, wrote in his blog that Bishop Jones understood not just the anger of the families, but also the need for truth that led to reconciliation.
Survivor: a young man sits on the side of the pitch after the disaster at HillsboroughCredit: pa
Survivor: a young man sits on the side of the pitch after the disaster at Hillsborough
Bishop Baines, who was born in Liverpool and whose brother attended the fateful match in 1989, also wrote that Yorkshire and Merseyside shared a mutual respect when it came to the “game of football that should always bring competitive pleasure, but never bring death and humiliation”.
“The police and others now deemed to be in some way responsible for the tragedy must address their personal and collective response. This will not be easy for them.”
Bishop Bayes said: “The final report of the Panel was given to the families in our cathedral, and I think it was a sign for all the city that Christian Churches are there for them to uncover truth.”
The Church would continue to support the grieving families, even if the verdict would bring about a measure of closure, he said.
“We are there for them pastorally to remember the lives of their loved ones, and today we are there for them to rejoice.”
The Bishop of Brechin, Dr Nigel Peyton, who was at Hillsborough on the day of the tragedy as a Nottingham Forest supporter, said: “I watched in dismay as the disaster unfolded. It was chaotic, simply awful. On a beautiful spring day, bodies of crushed Liverpool supporters from the overcrowded terracing began to litter the pitch.
“Nobody who was there could not be affected by it. There was a sense of helplessness — we were watching in slow-motion this tragedy unfolding.”
At last: relatives of those who died celebrate after the verdict is deliveredCredit: pa
At last: relatives of those who died celebrate after the verdict is delivered
He said that he was relieved for the families of the dead, and the city of Liverpool, that the true culprits had been identified. “Blaming the victims showed callous disregard for the truth and a complete moral failure.
“I had always felt that the ground was not particularly safe. Charges could be brought against individuals for their various failures, but also the ambulance service and Sheffield Wednesday.”
He recalled a letter he wrote to the Church Times the week after the disaster. That Sunday, he had conducted three baptisms: “That of course expressed Christian hope,” he wrote, “but it was damned hard, and not without tears.”
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool, the Most Revd Malcolm McMahon, said: “I hope that the acknowledgment that those who died were unlawfully killed will bring comfort to the survivors and the families of the 96. May they rest in peace, to be for ever remembered in the hearts and minds of the people of Liverpool.”