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Apr 25, 2013

New Hillsborough inquests next year

New inquests into the deaths of the 96 Liverpool fans killed in the Hillsborough disaster will take place early next year, it has been confirmed.

Lord Justice John Goldring said he would announce next week where the inquests would be held. Some relatives want them to take place in London, but others would prefer them to be closer to Liverpool.

Goldring told a pre-inquest hearing in London that he would not wait for the outcomes of two ongoing investigations into the policing of the disaster, which happened when Liverpool played Nottingham Forest in the 1989 FA Cup semi-finals.

He will act as coroner at the new inquests and chaired Thursday's hearing in London, which was shown at Liverpool Crown Court on a live video link.

He said: "I don't think it would be sensible, or indeed be a kindness to anyone, to set an unrealistic date as to when they [the inquests] start. I will simply say they will start in early 2014."

The Hillsborough Family Support Group (HFSG) wants inquests to be held in the capital, but the Hillsborough Justice Campaign (HJC) would prefer them to be in the north-west of England.

Michael Mansfield QC, representing the 71 families in the HFSG, told the judge the inquests should be held in London, as an impartial part of the country, and should start no later than January.

But Pete Weatherby QC, who represents around 17 families in the HJC, said his clients wanted the inquests nearer Liverpool. He said: "The families I represent are vehemently against the inquests being held more than 200 miles from their homes."

A panel of three High Court judges quashed the original inquest verdicts of accidental death in December after an application by the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve.

That followed the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report into the disaster, published in September, which exonerated fans of blame and highlighted the extent to which the police and emergency services had attempted to cover up their culpability.

The report also produced new medical evidence that raised major questions about the original 1991 inquests, conducted in Sheffield by coroner Stefan Popper.

Popper did not consider any evidence collected after 3.15pm on the day of the tragedy, ruling that none of the victims could have been saved after that time.

But the independent report established that 41 of those who died in the disaster might have been saved, and campaign groups have long maintained that Popper's accidental death verdicts prevented a proper investigation into the events at Hillsborough.

In making his decision to quash the original inquest verdicts in December, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Igor Judge, said there had been "deliberate misinformation surrounding the disaster".

Meanwhile, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), has confirmed its investigation into police behaviour during and after Hillsborough is moving into the "criminal and misconduct investigation" phase.

The UK's police watchdog said in October that it would carry out a two-year investigation into the role played by officers on the day of the tragedy and in the subsequent cover-up.

A second investigation, focusing on possible criminal behaviour, was set up in December and is being headed up by former Durham chief constable Jon Stoddart.

The panel's report revealed that 164 police statements were altered, 116 of them to remove or change negative comments about the policing of the match.

The IPCC deputy chair Deborah Glass said on Thursday that the first phase of the investigation was almost complete.

She said it was "the biggest criminal and misconduct investigation ever conducted into the police in England and Wales".

"I said that it would be conducted in phases with the first, focusing on laying the foundations, likely to take several months," she explained.

"That foundation work is almost complete and we are now moving fully into the criminal and misconduct investigation phase."