After the almost ecstatic reception amongst those closest to the suffering of what will hopefully be the ‘final’ report on the Hillsborough Disaster, the wheels have started to roll forward towards some kind of just settlement.
The first requirement: the overturning of the Coroner’s original blanket verdict that all ninety six dead football fans had suffered an ‘accidental death’ has been achieved at the High Court. So what’s next?
There will be another inquest, that’s for sure. But there is considerable debate, both within and without the Hillsborough bereaved, about the exact details of how it goes forward. The Lord Chief Justice who quashed the original verdict must send the cases back to the Coroner. But which Coroner?
Would it be wise to revert the cases back to the same Coroner’s court which originally found the ‘accidental death’ verdicts? Probably, not. There is another Coroner’s court in Yorkshire, based in Doncaster, which may well have to be the recipient.
Then the cases will almost certainly be referred back by the Doncaster Coroner to the Chief Coroner in London (such are the unwieldy processes of the law) who will either hold the new inquest or ask a high court judge to act as Coroner in the Hillsborough case.
An inquest doesn’t necessarily require a jury (and as far as I know none of the original Hillsborough inquests were held before juries) but, given the current circumstances, surely it will require twelve just men and women to make this judgement?
The Chief Coroner or the judge will also have to decide where the new inquest should be held (and therefore also the communities from which any jury will be drawn). The court will have to deliver ninety six separate verdicts too. Clearly for many of the Families, Liverpool would be by far the most convenient location. But it’s hardly a neutral ground, is it? Manchester as a relatively close alternative location has similar problems too, for opposite reasons.
Of course the inquest can be held at the High Court in London, and one significant advantage of that is the fact that it is apparently the only such court which has the facilities to provide full internet coverage of the entire proceedings to interested parties which means it will be easy for many of the Families to follow the whole case on a daily basis without leaving home. Like a Cup Final, it would also be played on a neutral ground.
The original verdicts of ‘accidental death’ could be sustained, of course, at a new inquest though god help us if they are. Much more likely, there will be a verdict of ‘unlawful killing’ or ‘death by misadventure’. And, from a jury guided by the judge, there could be a ‘narrative verdict’ which will also point the finger at those mainly responsible: ie ‘unlawful killing, caused by those responsible for overall safety….’ etc.
The very earliest date for the new inquest is June/July this year, but I understand that’s looking increasingly unlikely. Whenever – and wherever – it is held, if the verdict points the finger of responsibility at public organisations (and individuals within them), it will trigger a whole series of civil actions from the bereaved centred upon ‘misconduct in public office’.
Finally, there may be criminal cases to prosecute. The poorly funded IPCC is already getting beefed up for the task of conducting inquiries into police conduct at Hillsborough, which may involve both the primary force – the South Yorkshire Police – and the West Midlands Police who originally conducted an inquiry into South Yorkshire’s handling of the match.
There’s a long road yet to travel from Leppings Lane to justice.
THIS WEEK’S ARTICLES:
PROZONE: THE FUTURE GAME – ANALYSING FOOTBALL’S DEVELOPMENTAL TRENDS
ROGAN TAYLOR: THE FA’S SECRET WEAPON – A BIG JAR OF TREACLE
KEIR RADNEDGE: A NEW ROUND OF MUDSLINGING
ROGAN TAYLOR: THE LONG ROAD FROM LEPPINGS LANE
Dr Rogan Taylor is the Director of the Football Industry Group at the University of Liverpool. He is also a writer and broadcaster, with five football books and numerous radio and TV contributions. He has acted as a special adviser to The FA, The Premier League and Premier League Clubs.
The views of our regular columnists are independent, and as such do not represent those of Leaders in Football.