Fresh Hillsborough inquests start

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The "very many individual human tragedies" of the Hillsborough disaster have been laid bare in an emotionally-charged opening to the fresh inquests into the deaths of the 96 football fans who died.

Relatives of the victims wept during powerful moments in the packed courtroom, from a roll call of the names of each of those who were killed to graphic accounts of the fatal crush at the FA Cup semi-final on April 15 1989.

Details of how the emergency services struggled to deal with the unfolding chaos were presented to the jury, including the use of a makeshift process that saw Polaroid photos of the faces of the dead pinned to a notice board for relatives to identify.

Jurors were told they will need to consider a number of questions including why the police officer in charge on the day, Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, claimed fans had forced their way through a gate at the stadium, minutes after he gave the order for it to be opened.

Making his opening statement, Lord Justice Goldring said: "The disaster is seared into the memories of the very many people affected by it, most notably of course the families of the 96 people who died."

The court heard 82 people were declared dead in the stadium, 12 were declared dead at hospital, one person died two days later and another, Tony Bland, died in 1993.

A father and son and four pairs of siblings were among the dead, and the youngest victim was 10 years old.

Lord Justice Goldring told the jury of seven women and four men: "Over the coming days you will hear much more detail about each of those who have died. The accounts which their relatives will give about their lives, their personalities, their hopes, their plans, will be extremely moving.

"There is no doubt that this one disaster encompasses very many individual human tragedies."

Describing how the tragedy unfolded, the coroner told the jury that Mr Duckenfield had only been promoted to his role on March 27, less than three weeks before the disaster.

He was given responsibility for the Liverpool-Nottingham Forest match over a more experienced officer despite his speciality being criminal investigations rather than public order.

Lord Justice Goldring told the jury: "Whether that was a sensible decision may be something for you to have to consider."

Harrowing details of how the crush in the Leppings Lane terraces escalated were laid out, with emergency services not immediately realising the scale of the catastrophe.

At first, at around 2.30pm, there was a crush near the turnstiles, Lord Justice Goldring said, that left some fans "winded and distressed".

Superintendent Roger Marshall, who was responsible for the Liverpool fans' section, was becoming "very worried" and in the following minutes requested three times that exit gates A, B and C should be opened to permit people to enter the ground to "ease the pressure", the coroner said.

Mr Duckenfield eventually decided to open the gates, although he chose not to delay kick off because he thought it was too late.

The jury was told he said: "If there is likely to be a serious injury or death I've no option but to open the gates. Open the gates."

In the five minutes that one of the three gates was opened, some 2,000 supporters entered the stadium, the court heard.

Later, at 3.15pm, Mr Duckenfield told the-then chief executive of the Football Association Graham Kelly that the gate had been forced open.

This claim was repeated in a radio interview by Mr Kelly, and then picked up by several media outlets.

The coroner said: "There is no question of Gate C having been forced.

"This early account resulted in some seriously inaccurate reporting of events. You will want to consider why chief superintendent Duckenfield said what he did."

Jurors were told that between 3pm and 3.20pm police and ambulance staff at the ground "began to appreciate the disaster which was unfolding".

"The events developed quickly. At first, many involved didn't understand they were facing a major disaster," he told the jury.

Outlining the events of the day, the coroner said: "Around the time of the kick-off, a terrible crush developed in two pens, within the standing terrace at the west end of the stadium - the Leppings Lane end. That's where the Liverpool fans were standing."

He went on: "The pressure in the pens built up. Many of those in the pens suffered terrible crushing injuries."

Explaining the role of the jury during the inquest, Lord Justice Goldring said jurors would have to consider "whether opportunities were lost which might have prevented the deaths or saved lives".

The court, set up in a specially fitted office building on the outskirts of Warrington, Cheshire, also heard details of an identification process that was put in place for the 88 dead bodies placed in the football club gymnasium.

Polaroid photographs were taken of the deceased and put on a board at the entrance to the ground from 9.30pm, the coroner said.

Those who recognised a person in the photos would then be shown the body, he added, and relatives found the identification process "agonising".

Some were asked about their loved ones' alcohol consumption and their behaviour on the day of the match, which has left some bereaved relatives angry "to this day", the court heard.

After showing jurors diagrams and photographs of the stadium, Lord Justice Goldring said Hillsborough had seen a previous crushing incident in 1981, in which 38 people were injured.

Four years later, capacity figures were set for two pens behind the goal, which some experts will tell the jury were "substantially too high", the coroner said.

Going through the history of the stadium, which was built in 1899 but has been through many changes since, Lord Justice Goldring told the jury about reports of crushing in 1988, one year before the disaster.

But authorities regarded the match as a success, the court heard, and modelled their plan for the 1989 fixture on the previous year.

Lord Justice Goldring said the jury will have to consider various questions, such as whether the order to open the gates should have been given, whether pens three and four were crowded at the time, and whether anything more should have been done to stop a dangerous situation developing.

But the coroner warned: "In answering those and other questions beware the wisdom of hindsight.

"Beware, too, of applying the standards of 2014 to events which happened in 1989. Consider the situation which faced the officers on the afternoon of April 15 1989."

The inquest was adjourned to tomorrow.

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