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Hillsborough: FA Could Face Manslaughter Charges

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On the anniversary of the release of the Hillsborough Independent Panel's findings, two new developments have come to light: one regarding truth, the other regarding justice.

Michael Regan

So much has happened in the year since the Hillsborough Independent Panel released its report that fully exonerated 96 Liverpool fans of responsibility in their own deaths. The truth of what had happened, as reported by the victims' friends and families for more than two decades, was finally out there for all to see. The original inquests were quashed in December, and new inquests have been scheduled for March 2014. After so many years of inaction by officials, the pursuit of justice seems to be moving more quickly than ever (although never quickly enough).

On the anniversary of the report's release, two new developments have come to light. The first is not exactly shocking, as it confirms what was already known: that statements given by fans to the police were altered. Previously, the HIP found that 164 statements had been amended or otherwise altered in some way, and now the Independent Police Complaints Commission has found an additional 74 statements may have been altered.

"We want to hear people's experiences of that process," said Deborah Glas, deputy chair for the IPCC. "We have already had a number of people contact us with concerns that their statements were amended and we have no doubt there are others who have not contacted us.

"We have recovered West Midlands policy books that have never been seen by previous inquiries. We have recovered pocket notebooks from officers who were on duty on the day of the match. We are in the process of interviewing all the surviving officers whose accounts were amended."

The other development is the confirmation that the FA, amongst others including the South Yorkshire police, could be charged with "gross negligence manslaughter" under laws that existed at the time of the disaster.

"We are exploring all liability, both public and individual," said Jon Stoddart, the man leading the new criminal investigation into the disaster, in an interview with The Guardian. "We are looking at unlawful killing; who is responsible for the deaths. Those 96 people went to Hillsborough to watch a football match and didn't return home. We want to know what happened, how it happened and why, and who is responsible.

"Obviously we are looking at the command and control [of the 54,000 crowd at Hillsborough by South Yorkshire police] on 15 April. But clearly it is about more than just command and control and what happened with the emergency services' response. It is about the safety of the stadium, certification, the planning and preparation, the engineering and design that went into the Leppings Lane end [where the 96 people died]."

The FA's culpability in the disaster revolves around using Hillsborough as an FA Cup semi-final venue in spite of the ground's regular failure to meet safety standards. That the FA could be charged with manslaughter is certainly a far cry from it actually happening, but as with every other development in the quest for justice, it's one small step closer.

The whole Guardian piece is worth reading in its entirety, but worth noting is the sheer scale of the investigation: 171 members on the investigation team, including 50 active police officers, and a budget of £9.6 million. This may not be a huge comfort knowing that the Hillsborough Justice Campaign managed to do what they did on much less, but if time is money then the resources available to the investigation team should increase the odds that it does not take a further twenty years to find justice.