Updated: Tuesday, 01 April 2014 03:50 | By Agence France-Presse

Jury picked as Hillsborough inquests start

Hundreds of relatives of the 96 Liverpool football supporters who died in the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster filled a courtroom on Monday for the start of fresh inquests into their deaths.


Jury picked as Hillsborough inquests start

Donna Miller (L), whose brother Paul Carlile died in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, holds a picture of her late brother at a specially commissioned Coroner's Court in Warrington, northwest England, on March 31, 2014 - by Paul Ellis

Emotions ran high as families, who have fought for two decades to overturn the original verdicts of accidental death, and dozens of lawyers, gathered in a purpose-built court on a business park outside Warrington, east of Liverpool.

Some relatives wore scarves in the red and white of Liverpool, while others carried photographs of their loved ones who were crushed to death on an overcrowded terrace at an FA Cup semi-final match against Nottingham Forest.

A potential jury of 11, plus a pool of reserves, was selected and warned that the hearings could take up to 12 months, as they work through a wealth of new evidence brought to light about Britain's worst sporting disaster.

Charlotte Hennessy, who was six when her father James died in the disaster, said the families had waited a long time to learn more about what happened to their relatives on April 15, 1989 at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground.

"It's been a long, long fight. Hopefully this is the beginning of the end," she said outside the court.

"I was a bit of an emotional wreck this weekend, I've not slept a wink. But this is the beginning now, hopefully it can be put right."

New inquests were ordered after the original coroner's verdicts were quashed by the High Court in December 2012 amid claims of a police cover-up.

That came three months after an independent panel examining the disaster concluded that 41 of those who died would have had the "potential to survive" if they had received medical treatment more quickly.

- New pathological evidence -

Lord Justice John Goldring, a Court of Appeal judge who is acting as coroner, asked whether the jurors, drawn from the local area, were Liverpool, Forest or Wednesday supporters.

They were also asked whether they knew anyone on a list of witnesses, and were told not to speak to anyone about the case or discuss it on social media.

"It is absolutely fundamental that you must put out of your minds anything you may have heard or read about Hillsborough. Do not do any research into Hillsborough, whether on the Internet or in any other way," Goldring said.

Goldring will open the marathon hearings with a statement to the court on Tuesday.

Relatives will then be invited to read out "pen portraits" of the victims over the next month.

The hearing will then break for several weeks for lawyers to examine new pathological evidence into how each of the 96 died.

Jurors are expected to hear evidence on issues such as stadium safety, the management of the crowd and the emergency services' response.

The court will also be shown at least an hour of previously unseen BBC television footage of the disaster that has only recently been discovered.

- 'Justice on its way' -

Inquests seek to examine the circumstances in which the deceased came by their deaths but do not apportion blame.

Two new investigations into the disaster are also running -- a criminal inquiry and a probe by the police watchdog, which said last week it had identified 13 retired or serving police officers and questioned 11 on suspicion of offences including manslaughter and perverting the course of justice.

No one has yet been charged with a criminal offence.

Andy Burnham, an opposition Labour lawmaker who has played a leading role in the families' campaign, said they finally had hope of justice being done.

"Twenty-five years. The families have waited all that time for justice and I think finally it is on its way," he told Sky News from the court.

Campaigner Trevor Hicks, who lost his daughters Sarah, 19, and Victoria, 15, said it had been "a long day".

"Coming here, there's trepidation, anticipation and almost excitement, although that's not the right word, it's a real mixed bag of emotions," he added.

"At last, we're getting on with it."

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