Key events in the Hillsborough campaign

It was a sunny spring day when 24,000 Liverpool fans travelled to Sheffield for the 1989 FA Cup semi-final. But 96 men, women and children never returned. This is the story of their families' 27-year struggle to find out how and why they died.

15 April 1989

'Open the gates'

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The key moments that led to the crushing of 96 football fans at the Hillsborough stadium

Crowd congestion, a lack of turnstiles and a fatal decision: The key moments that led to the crushing of 96 football fans at the Hillsborough stadium.

Twenty minutes before kick-off, a large crowd of Liverpool supporters builds up outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles. Unable to control the crowd, a senior police officer requests that a gate be opened to relieve the pressure. At 2:52pm, match commander Ch Supt David Duckenfield gives the order to “open the gates”, allowing about 2,000 fans to enter already-packed pens. A severe crush follows, resulting in the deaths of 96 people, with hundreds more injured - 20 seriously.

How the Hillsborough disaster happened

19 April 1989

What the papers said

Hillsborough Inquests

Newspaper reports of the Hillsborough disaster

Newspaper reports attacking Liverpool fans for Hillsborough Disaster

In the days that followed, fans who watched their friends die found themselves blamed for the disaster on the front pages of national newspapers.

As the disaster unfolded, Ch Supt Duckenfield told key people a gate had been "forced" by Liverpool fans, a claim reinforced in briefings to media sources. Some newspapers pointed the finger at "drunk and ticketless" supporters, claiming a "crazed surge" had "literally killed themselves and others to be at the game". Four days later, The Sun printed its now infamous "The Truth" front page alleging that Liverpool fans had "urinated on police officers" and "picked the pockets of the dead".

April 1989

Police statements altered

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Sgt William Crawford talks about his statement being altered

In the aftermath of the disaster, police accounts of what happened were amended, in some cases to remove criticism of senior officers.

In contrast to their professional training, police officers at Hillsborough were told not to record the day's events in their pocket books but to set down their “recollections”. In an “unprecedented process of review and alteration”, they were then edited by the force’s lawyers before submission to the official inquiry. The HIP report identified 164 statements marked for substantial amendments, 116 to remove comments “unfavourable to police”. Sgt William Crawford's statement was one of them.

BBC News: Sergeant’s criticism removed from statement

4 August 1989

The Taylor Inquiry

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The Taylor Inquiry said police failure to control the crowd was the main cause of the disaster

Lord Justice Taylor was appointed to lead a judicial inquiry. He concluded that the main reason for the disaster was "the failure of police control".

Lord Taylor's report was highly critical of South Yorkshire Police. He condemned the testimony of senior officers and said fans' behaviour played no part in the disaster. The failure to close off the tunnel was "a blunder of the first magnitude", Match commander David Duckenfield had "failed to take effective control" and his force had tried to shift the blame onto Liverpool supporters. His final report condemned the treatment of football supporters and recommended a move to all-seater stadia.

Interim report by Lord Justice Taylor

30 Aug 1990

Decision not to prosecute

PA / David Giles

Despair of fan at Hillsborough. Copyright Press Association / David Giles

Despite the Taylor Report, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) said there was "no evidence to justify criminal proceedings".

The DPP was advised that, while SYP were considered most responsible for the disaster, the legal case for manslaughter or any criminal offence could not be established against "against any officer or any other person" . Nor could he justify bringing criminal charges against Sheffield Wednesday FC, Sheffield City Council and stadium safety engineers Eastwoods. It was a major blow for the families who had hoped that someone would be held accountable.

28 March 1991

Anger over inquests

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Inquests record a verdict of accidental death after the coroner imposes a 3.15pm cut-off

The original inquests proved controversial for two reasons: the 3.15pm "cut-off" and the accidental death verdict on all the deceased.

The hearings at Sheffield Town Hall began with “mini inquests” into the deaths of the then 95 victims. When they resumed, coroner Dr Stefan Popper ruled out any evidence relating to fans' deaths beyond 3.15pm because, by this time, “the damage was done”. This highly controversial decision was "strongly disputed" by bereaved families. The jury eventually returned a majority verdict of "accidental death". Relatives were so unhappy many refused to collect their loved ones' death certificates.

Hillsborough Independent Panel: The 3.15pm "cut-off"

1992 - 2012

A mother's fight for truth

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Anne Williams campaigned for new inquests after her son Kevin died at Hillsborough

Liverpool housewife and mum Anne Williams took on the British legal system to find out what happened to her son Kevin.

Anne Williams was convinced 15-year-old Kevin was alive after 3.15pm on the day he died. Incensed by the inquest verdict, she set out to find out the truth. She traced people who tried to help him, including a special constable who recalled Kevin saying the word "mum" at 4pm. In a 20-year campaign for fresh inquests, she earned praise for her fierce determination. One MP said: "Her relentless pursuit of justice for her son personified the unyielding bond of a mother's love for her child."

Hope for Hillsborough (For Justice)

5 December 1996

TV drama makes new claims

Rex Features

Still from ITV Hillsborough drama documentary. Copyright Rex Features

Hillsborough, a controversial drama-documentary by acclaimed Liverpool writer Jimmy McGovern, revealed new evidence relating to the disaster.

It took a TV drama-documentary to raise new questions on the Hillsborough disaster. Jimmy McGovern's programme presented evidence that some of the 96 were alive after 3.15pm. Researchers also tracked down Roger Houldsworth, the stadium's video technician who said it should have been “obvious” to police that pens 3 and 4 were “very, very full” when gate C was opened. He also claimed that two video tapes were stolen from the club’s control room on the night of the disaster.

The Guardian: The power of truth by Jimmy McGovern

16 February 2000

Private prosecution

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A private prosecution fails to find two senior officers responsible for the tragedy

In a bid to hold someone criminally responsible for the deaths of the 96, the Hillsborough Families Support Group began a private prosecution.

Match commander David Duckenfield and his deputy Bernard Murray were charged with manslaughter and misconduct in public office. The prosecution argued that the fatal crush was "foreseeable" hence the defendants were "grossly negligent". Mr Duckenfield's counsel blamed the deaths on a minority of fans for causing crushing at the turnstiles. The jury acquitted Mr Murray and, after failing to reach a verdict on Mr Duckenfield, was told by the judge he should not face a retrial.

Daily Telegraph: Duckenfield will not face retrial

15 April 2009

A turning point

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The heckling of a government minister at a Hillsborough service proves a turning point

At the 20th Hillsborough memorial at Anfield, Andy Burnham MP, then a government minister, was heckled by fans. It was a key moment in the campaign.

Mr Burnham was addressing the crowd when he was interrupted by chants demanding "justice for the 96". The anger of fans prompted the MP to join calls for any information held relevant to the tragedy to be made public. The tide was turning. A 140,000-signature petition forced a Commons debate which led to the full disclosure of 300,000 documents held by public bodies on Hillsborough. By January 2010, the Hillsborough Independent Panel had been appointed to review previously unseen evidence.

'I vowed to find out the truth' by Andy Burnham MP

12 September 2012

A 'day of truth'

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The Hillsborough Independent Panel report is seen by many as the "day of truth"

Thousands gathered in Liverpool to hear the final report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP). It was seen by many as the "day of truth".

The panel's report was damning. Police and ambulance services had made "strenuous attempts to deflect the blame onto innocent fans". And it blamed senior officers for opening exit gates without thinking about what would happen. It also confirmed that 164 police statements were altered, 116 “to remove comments unfavourable to police." The panel also revealed that 41 fans could potentially have been saved. David Cameron said he was "profoundly sorry" for the injustice families had faced.

HIP: The main findingsBBC News: Hillsborough report: Key findings

19 December 2012

Verdicts quashed

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Hillsborough campaigners celebrate after the High Court quashes the original accidental death verdicts

The quashing of the accidental death verdicts had been anticipated for more than 20 years. When it came, the court was filled with tears and applause.

With hope in their hearts, Hillsborough families packed into the High Court to hear the ruling. In dismissing the original verdicts, Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge also ordered new inquests after the HIP report said 41 of those who died might have been saved. The new evidence undermined the coroner's summing-up and the report revealed "serious flaws" in the inquest. The home secretary also announced a new police inquiry into the disaster. Outside court, Trevor Hicks said it was "a huge step".

BBC News: Hillsborough inquest verdicts quashed

18 April 2013

The death of Anne Williams

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Anne williams2 getty 16x16

Anne Williams with her brother Danny at the High Court

Liverpool lowers its flags in silent tribute to the courage and conviction of campaigner Anne Williams who died from cancer at the age of 60.

The families' joy at the quashing of the original inquests was tempered by the death of Anne Williams. She never believed her son Kevin, and 94 others, were dead by 3.15pm on the day of the disaster and campaigned for 20 years to have the verdicts overturned. She celebrated outside the High Court knowing she wouldn't live to see the inquests she had fought for finally begin. "Her passing is a painful reminder of the families' long and arduous fight for justice", said Liverpool MP Steve Rotheram.

Hillsborough justice campaigner Anne Williams dies at 60

I knew what they were doing. I thought: 'They're wearing me down. But I'll wear them down before they wear me down'. And I've actually done it.

Anne Williams, Hillsborough campaigner

31 March 2014

New inquests begin

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David duckenfield 16x9

David Duckenfield

The new Hillsborough inquests opened in Warrington and lasted for two years - the longest inquests in UK legal history.

The inquests began with a series of emotional pen portraits of those who died read by families and friends. The jury then heard detailed evidence on stadium safety and design, police planning, the experiences of fans and officers and the emergency response. In a memorable week in the witness box, match commander David Duckenfield accepted that his failure to order the closure of the tunnel caused the deaths and apologised for the lie he told on the day saying "fans had forced a gate".

BBC News: What the police chief knew

26 April 2016

Unlawfully killed


Families react as the Hillsborough inquest jury concludes fans were unlawfully killed.

Families celebrate the outcome of the Hillsborough Inquests

Scenes of relief and joy as the inquests jury vindicates the families who campaigned to find out the truth about the Hillsborough disaster.

The news had been a long time coming. After hearing two years of evidence, the Hillsborough Inquests jury concluded that 96 football fans who died in the 1989 disaster were unlawfully killed. Families who have campaigned for 27 years for the truth hugged each other and punched the air as they emerged from court. The jury said the behaviour of Liverpool fans played no part in the deaths - blaming instead police failures, stadium design faults, and a delayed response by the ambulance service.

BBC News: Hillsborough fans unlawfully killed, says jury