The inquest is believed to have been the longest in that country's history, lasting more than 300 days, and held in a specially built courtroom. The terrible tragedy has been investigated several times over the years, and the verdict today finally and officially put the blame for the disaster largely on the local police and ambulance services.
The deaths were ruled accidental at the end of a 1991 inquest. But those verdicts were reversed by an independent panel review report in 2012, which concluded that a major cover-up on the part of police and others had taken place to avoid the blame for the events. The jury today decided that blunders by the police and EMS personnel had "caused or contributed" to the disaster, and that the victims had been "unlawfully killed."
The story has gripped the public over the years, and the inquest was finally held only after a major campaign was mounted by enraged families of the victims, who regard the verdict as a great victory. The jury ruled that the authorities were responsible for the unlawful killings, and more important, that fan behavior did not cause or contribute to the tragedy.
The chain of events occurred at the stadium after South Yorkshire Police Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield ordered an exit gate to be opened behind one of the goals, allowing 2,000 Liverpool fans to rush in to an area that was already jammed with spectators. According to the jury's findings, the police and ambulance services caused the deaths by an "error of omission," and the police caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that led to the deaths. They also found that the design and layout of the stadium was partially to blame as well, and named the consulting engineers for the stadium as partially responsible.
According to a very long and very detailed article in today's Telegraph, the jury stated,
"Police delayed calling a major incident so the appropriate emergency response was delayed.
"There was a lack of co-ordination, command and control which delayed or prevented appropriate responses."
On the role of former South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service (Symas), the jury said: "Symas officers at the scene failed to ascertain the nature of the problem at Leppings Lane. The failure to recognise and call a major incident led to delays in the responses to the emergency."Prosecutors will determine if criminal charges should be filed pertaining to the events of the disaster, or claims of a coverup in its aftermath. Those investigations should wrap up by the end of the year.
Families of the 96 are rightfully rejoicing, as their allegations and concerns have at last been vindicated after nearly three decades.
So why am I writing about this on a Masonic blog? Because it has long been alleged by the public and the press that Freemasons on the local police force helped to cover up the actions of their members. The jury did not address the alleged role of the fraternity in the actions of local authorities after the disaster, but evidence was introduced into the proceedings over the matter. It was not a part of their ultimate findings.
From an earlier version of the article that has since been rewritten:
The question of whether Freemason membership influenced decision-making over the Hillsborough disaster has been probed by the police watchdog.
Overall match commander Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield told the fresh inquests he had been a Freemason since 1975 and became head of his local lodge - a worshipful master - the year after the 1989 disaster.
He said he did not know if his promotion within South Yorkshire Police in the weeks before the tragedy was influenced by his membership of the so-called "secret society", but added: "I would hope not."
His predecessor Brian Mole, now dead, had also been a member of the same lodge, jurors were told.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), as part of its overall investigation into alleged criminality and misconduct, has examined concerns from the Hillsborough families over Freemason membership.
The United Grand Lodge of England has provided information including historical attendance records of meetings.
This has enabled investigators to assess whether there may be some correlation with individuals involved in decision-making around Hillsborough, according to the IPCC.
The hearings in Warrington also heard evidence from a police constable who said he had heard "a substantial meeting" of senior officers, including allegedly Mr Duckenfield, took place in the days after the disaster.
The officer said it was rumoured that most of the officers were Masons and it was said they were trying to blame Superintendent Roger Marshall for asking for the exit gate at Leppings Lane to be opened.
Coroner Sir John Goldring later warned the jury that there was "not a shred of evidence" that such a meeting ever took place or that all of those named were Freemasons.
He advised them to put the "gossip and hearsay" to one side.
Giving evidence, Mr Duckenfield said he was unaware if his boss, Chief Constable Peter Wright, was also a Freemason.
He said: "I can't say whether he was or he wasn't. What I am saying is within my knowledge in the whole of the Sheffield/Yorkshire area, and in my lodge, he certainly wasn't a Freemason, and it wasn't customary in those days, because a situation had arisen where it was unfashionable, or some people thought unacceptable, to be a Freemason in a senior police position."A similarly worded article DOES appear in The Mirror this afternoon. And naturally, the Daily Mail attempted to sensationalize the Masonic aspect of the story that clearly took up a very miniscule portion of the 300 day proceedings.
There is a long history of public distrust of members of law enforcement and the judiciary in the UK who are openly or privately members of the fraternity, and sadly, this case has been a hotbed for these kinds of rumors to flourish.
In 1997, the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, enacted a law requiring all police officers, judges, and magistrates who were Masons to publicly declare their membership. Only Freemasonry was singled out for this national register. At the time, it was disclosed that just 5% of judges in the UK were Masons, along with 6% of all magistrates. After 12 years, the law was rescinded after the European Union Court of Human Rights declared a similar requirement in Italy to be in violation of EU laws against discrimination. The UGLE threatened a lawsuit, and the law was dropped.
Despite his 12 year witch hunt, in a Guardian article in 2009, Straw was forced to admit,
[T]hat the 1997 report "made no finding of impropriety in the conduct of the judiciary arising from membership of individual members of the judiciary of the freemasons".Judges and magistrates are no longer required to publicly declare their membership. However, it is my understanding that a voluntary public register still exists for police officers who hold Masonic membership. It is unclear how many cops have complied with the somewhat fuzzy rule.
And a new move is underway in Wales to resurrect a required registry by an old accolade of Straw's.