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  1. ITV Report

Time frame set for Hillsborough inquests

96 Liverpool fans died in the crush at Hillsborough. Photo: PA

The inquests into the deaths of 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster will begin by Monday March 31 next year, the coroner ruled today.

Lord Justice Goldring announced the date at a pre-inquest hearing in London.

He also ruled that the inquests, to be held at an as yet undecided venue in the north west of England, will have a jury.

The judge said he was confident that a satisfactory venue would be located in time for the start of the inquests.

"That will not be a reason not to begin on that date," he said.

Britain's worst sporting disaster happened at Sheffield's Hillsborough stadium on April 15 1989 during Liverpool's FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest as thousands of fans were crushed on the ground's Leppings Lane terrace.

The judge said there would be another pre-hearing - the third - on a date to be decided in October as the time of the inquests draws nearer.

"Obviously, we are going to have to timetable the hearing itself with care, particularly as we will have a jury, so time is not unlimited," he said.

He said earlier that he was exercising his discretion in favour of there being a jury, though it was also his view that it was mandatory to have one.

Christina Lambert QC, lead counsel to the inquests, had told him that a jury must be summoned, under the law, in a case where death occurred in police custody or where a police officer was executing his duty.

"We invite you to interpret that in a relatively broad way, that it is not about the direct infliction of injury, but because the case involved people being confined, and crushing injuries were caused."

The judge also ruled that Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights applies in the case. This imposes duties on the state, including the duty to protect lives.

And he agreed with Ms Lambert that there should be a wide scope to the inquests.

She explained that this should include such matters as design of the stadium, preparation for the semi-final, planning by police and other organisations, movement and distribution of fans, overcrowding at the turnstiles and the police response, including the critical decision to open the gate.

She said they should also look at the issue of the survivability of the victims if other emergency care had been available.

Last December, verdicts of accidental death from the original Hillsborough inquest in March 1991 were quashed.

The action was taken after the Hillsborough Independent Panel studied thousands of documents and reported that there had been a huge cover-up of what happened at Hillsborough and its aftermath.

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