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Hillsborough documents to be disclosed

Documents relating to the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989, in which 96 Liverpool fans died, will be made available to the general public after a debate by British MPs.

• Rewind to 1989: Hillsborough Disaster

The tragedy saw 95 supporters killed on April 15, 1989 when fans attending the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest were crushed into pens at the Leppings Lane end of Sheffield Wednesday's stadium, and one more victim died after a three-year coma in 1992.

While an investigation into the disaster was undertaken by Lord Justice Taylor, it focused mainly on the design of football grounds and the actions of the police, but many of the victims' families - led by the Hillsborough Family Support Group - want to see more information made available.

The British government introduced a website to allow people to suggest subjects for parliamentary debate this year and one e-petition garnered the signatures of more than 139,000 people who want to see documents relating to the disaster published.

Home Secretary Theresa May has already revealed that the government's position is a "commitment to full transparency about the Hillsborough disaster through full public disclosure" and, addressing a sombre House of Commons she said she was ''sorry'' for the anxiety caused to the families of the victims by the way the Government responded to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request seeking the release of official papers.

However those seeking immediate public access were frustrated as May said all government documents - including cabinet minutes - had now been handed over to the independent panel set up by the former Labour government to review the papers for public release.

Once the panel had completed its work, all the documents would be made public, she said, with only ''minimal redactions'' covering details such as the names of junior officials and private information relating to the victims.

''As Home Secretary, I will do everything in my power to ensure that the families and the public get the truth,'' she said. ''No government papers will be withheld from the panel, no attempts to suppress publication will be made, no stone will be left unturned. The principle underlying the process is that of maximum possible disclosure and disclosure to the families first and then to the wider public.''

May also acknowledged that the way the Government had handled the request had caused distress among the victims' families.

''The Government's position has absolutely nothing to do with attempting to suppress the release of these papers or to somehow hide the truth. And I am sorry that the way the Government responded to the FoI request caused anxiety among the families and concern on Merseyside and beyond,'' she said.

She stressed the papers were being passed to the panel completely uncensored and that it would be for the panel to decide what was finally published.

''We want to see full disclosure to the panel of all documents relating to Hillsborough, including cabinet minutes. Those documents should be uncensored and unredacted,'' she said. ''The Government is not seeking to avoid publication of cabinet minutes or any other papers from Hillsborough. The cabinet papers on Hillsborough can be published, the Government will do nothing to prevent the panel publishing them, or indeed publishing whatever they so decide.''

Opening the debate, Labour's Steve Rotheram, a former lord mayor of Liverpool, attacked the ''smears'' and ''establishment cover-up'' which led to fans initially being blamed for the disaster.

He said Prime Minister David Cameron had delivered a Commons apology to the victims of Bloody Sunday in Londonderry and called on him to do the same for those affected by Hillsborough.

''I call on the Prime Minister to make a statement in this House and apologise for the mistakes that were made and the mishandling of this whole tragedy on behalf of a previous government,'' he said.

The families particularly want to see the minutes of a meeting between the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher and South Yorkshire Police, which they believe was the source of ''scurrilous'' newspaper reports that the fans were to blame.

''Misdirection, obfuscation and damn lies were all used as smokescreens to deflect attention away from the guilty,'' Mr Rotheram said.

He concluded by reading out the names of the victims, telling MPs: ''It doesn't matter how long it takes, we will never stop fighting for justice for the 96.''


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