British PM apologizes for 1989 soccer stadium tragedy

British Prime Minister David Cameron says he is "profoundly sorry" for the "double injustice" of the Hillsborough stadium disaster that killed 96 soccer fans 23 years ago.

New report says police tried to blame fans who were crushed, suffocated

Police, stewards and supporters tend to wounded soccer supporters on the field at Hillsborough Stadium, in Sheffield on April 15, 1989. (Associated Press)

British Prime Minister David Cameron says he is "profoundly sorry" for the "double injustice" of the Hillsborough stadium disaster that killed 96 soccer fans 23 years ago.

Speaking to members of parliament Wednesday, Cameron said newly released documents on the 1989 tragedy and a report by the Hillsborough independent panel, formed three years ago, were "deeply distressing."

"With the weight of the new evidence in the report it's right for me today as prime minister to make a proper apology to the families of the 96," he said. "On behalf of the government, and indeed of our country, I am profoundly sorry that this double injustice has been left uncorrected for so long."

Cameron said the report showed police had failed to do enough and then tried to blame the Liverpool fans.

The previously undisclosed documents show police tried to blame fans to cover up mistakes that contributed to the deaths of those who were crushed at the stadium in Sheffield, England on April 15, 1989.

Police blamed victims, sullied reputations 

Cameron said the previously undisclosed papers detail sophisticated attempts by police to turn the blame for the disaster onto the victims and to sully their reputations by insinuating that many were drunken, and had histories of violence or criminality.

"New evidence that we are presented with today makes clear that these families have suffered a double injustice," Cameron told the House of Commons. "The injustice of the appalling events, the failure of the state to protect their loved ones and the indefensible wait to get to the truth, and the injustice of the denigration of the deceased -- that they were somehow at fault for their own deaths."

Cameron said Britain had been shamed by its failure for more than 20 years to disclose the errors that helped lead to the deaths of Liverpool fans, most of whom were crushed and suffocated in a standing-room-only section.

He said a government-appointed panel confirmed failures by police led directly led to the disaster and that some injured fans were denied medical treatment.

Police officers herded around 2,000 Liverpool fans into caged-in enclosures that were already full during a semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. No individual or organization has ever faced charges in connection with the disaster.

The relatives of those crushed to death in the country's worst sports disaster were finally granted access to 400,000 pages detailing the disaster and its aftermath on Wenesday and reacted as they gathered at Liverpool's Anglican cathedral.

Advocates have long insisted that mistakes by police directly contributed to the stadium deaths and that other errors by emergency workers meant some of the injured were denied medical treatment.

"This is what the families and the fans have been fighting for 23 years. Without the truth, you cannot grieve and where there is deceit, you get no justice," said Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James was killed.

The 96 fans died when they were crushed and suffocated in a standing-room-only section of the stadium during a major soccer match, an FA Cup semifinal against Nottingham Forest.

An inquest jury ruled in 1991 that the deaths were accidental, but the local South Yorkshire Police were strongly criticized for their actions.

Tragedy led to all-seated soccer stadiums

The response to the disaster transformed the British sports world, bringing the introduction of all-seated soccer stadiums. That also helped clubs drive out the remnants of hooliganism that had long tainted British soccer and heralded a shift in the demographics of sports fans, as improved stadium safety meant more families and women attended matches.

After an era in which English football clubs were banned from participating in pan-European competitions as a result of fan violence, the changes to stadiums instilled a new confidence in British sport. That sense of pride was reflected this summer in London’s hugely successful — and trouble-free — hosting of the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

No individual or organization has ever faced charges in connection with the Hillsborough disaster, but the families believe the newly disclosed papers could help them hold accountable those who were culpable.

The relatives of those killed and injured plan to meet in the coming days to discuss whether any legal action should be taken. British Attorney-General Dominic Grieve has said he would review the evidence to determine whether a new inquest should be held in light of the disclosures.

FIFA, the governing body for world football, says between 1971 and 2011, at least 1,500 people died and about 6,000 were injured in 60 major incidents at sports events.