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September 24, 2017

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PM David Cameron apologizes for '89 Hillsborough Stadium disaster

LIVERPOOL, England -- British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday he was "profoundly sorry" for failures and cover-ups in the wake of the 1989 Hillsborough soccer disaster in which 96 spectators died after a crowd crush in the stadium.

Attempts by the police to defect the blame for Britain's worst sporting disaster onto Liverpool fans to cover up their own flawed response and the dangers of an outdated stadium amounted to a "double injustice," he said.

The victims died in an overcrowded fenced-in enclosure at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, northern England, a tragedy that changed the face of English soccer and ushered in a new era of modern, all-seated venues.

Britain was shocked by harrowing images of young fans crushed against metal fences, bodies lying on the pitch and spectators using wooden advertising hoardings as makeshift stretchers on a warm spring afternoon.

The Conservative Party leader spoke after the release of an independent panel's investigation into the deaths that said police had sought to blame the Liverpool fans, portraying them as aggressive, drunk and ticketless and bent on packing into the already crowded stadium.

Speaking in parliament, Cameron called the disaster "one of the greatest peacetime tragedies of the last century" and acknowledged that the report would be harrowing for relatives of the deceased.

"It was wrong that the families have had to wait for so long — and fight so hard — just to get to the truth," he said. "And it was wrong that the police changed the records of what happened and tried to blame the fans.

"On behalf of the government, and indeed our country, I am profoundly sorry for this double injustice that has been left uncorrected for so long."

Three relatives of the victims fainted when they heard that the panel put forward evidence of a cover-up, apparently vindicating their 23-year campaign to find "Justice for the 96."

"There were two disasters at Hillsborough — one on the day and one afterwards," said Trevor Hicks, who lost two daughters in the disaster. "There was a contrived, manipulated, vengeful and spiteful attempt to divert the blame."

The independent panel, set up in 2010 by the last Labour government to examine all the public paperwork relating to the tragedy, concluded that it could have been avoided, more lives could have been saved and the police response was flawed.

"There were clear operational failures in response to the disaster and in its aftermath there were strenuous attempts to deflect the blame onto the fans," it said.

Senior police edited their officers' witness statements from the day to paint them in a less damaging light, the report said. South Yorkshire Police removed negative comments from 116 out of 164 police statements.

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