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UK police unveil reforms decades after Hillsborough disaster

UK police chiefs on Tuesday apologised to the victims of the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster as they unveiled plans for “essential reform”, including measures to prevent evidence being lost or destroyed.

Ninety-seven Liverpool fans lost their lives in a crush at the stadium in Sheffield, northern England, with police chiefs admitting on Tuesday that “policing got it badly wrong”.

“Policing has profoundly failed those bereaved by the Hillsborough disaster over many years and we are sorry that the service got it so wrong,” said Andy Marsh,  CEO of the College of Policing. 

“Police failures were the main cause of the tragedy and have continued to blight the lives of family members ever since.”  

Marsh accepted that “the bereaved were often treated insensitively”.

The comments came as the National Police Chiefs Council and the College of Policing published a joint response to a 2017 government-commissioned report published by former Liverpool Bishop James Jones.

Reforms following the report include all police forces in England and Wales signing up to a charter that states  they “must acknowledge when mistakes have been made and must not seek to defend the indefensible”. 

Police chiefs have also agreed on a new code of practice on retaining information, with many records surrounding the Hillsborough disaster either lost or destroyed.

“I am deeply sorry for the tragic loss of life, and for the pain and suffering that the families of the 97 victims experienced on that day and in the many years that have followed,” said National Police Chiefs Council Chair Martin Hewitt.

“Police chiefs today are committed to responding to major incidents with openness and with compassion for the families involved,” he added.

The Hillsborough disaster remains Britain’s worst sporting tragedy and was caused during a crowd surge at one end of Sheffield Wednesday’s ground hosting Liverpool supporters.

A 2016 inquest came after years of campaigning by victims’ families and found police errors in opening an exit gate before kick-off caused the fatal crush at the FA Cup semi-final tie.

Police initially claimed supporters had stormed the gate.

But South Yorkshire Police admitted after the hearing they got match policing “catastrophically wrong”.

Match commander David Duckenfield was tried twice for gross negligence manslaughter. A jury failed to reach a verdict in the first and he was cleared in a second trial in 2019.

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