LONDON // British prosecutors charged six people on Wednesday in the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster where 96 football fans were crushed to death.
Four former senior policemen were among those charged.
Prosecutors said there was “sufficient evidence to charge six individuals with criminal offences” including manslaughter by negligence, perverting the course of justice and misconduct in public office.
Those charged include the police commander on the day, David Duckenfield, who is accused of gross negligence manslaughter. The former chief of South Yorkshire Police, Norman Bettision, is charged with misconduct in public office for lying about the disaster and its aftermath.
Barry Devonside, whose 18-year-old son Christopher died in the tragedy, was with other relatives when the charges were announced.
“Everybody applauded when it was announced that the most senior police officer on that particular day will have charges presented to him,” he said.
The disaster left a deep scar on Liverpool and Britain as a whole, leading to a decades-long struggle by relatives of victims to hold those in authority to account.
Fans were crushed to death against fences inside the ground in Sheffield, northern England, as supporters poured in for an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on April 15, 1989.
Of those who died, 78 were aged 30 or younger and 38 were children or teenagers.
“Criminal proceedings have now commenced and the defendants have a right to a fair trial,” said Sue Hemming, the head prosecutor for special crime and counter terror.
The tragedy at the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield unfolded when more than 2,000 Liverpool football fans flooded into a standing-room section behind a goal, with the 54,000-capacity stadium already nearly full for the match against Nottingham Forest. The victims were crushed against metal anti-riot fences or trampled underfoot. Many suffocated in the crush.
At the time, hooliganism was common, and there were immediate attempts to defend the police operation and assign blame to the Liverpool fans. A false narrative circulated that blamed ticketless and rowdy Liverpool fans — a narrative that their families have challenged for decades.
The original inquest recorded verdicts of accidental death. But the families challenged it and campaigned for a new inquiry. They succeeded in getting the verdicts overturned in 2012 after a far-reaching inquiry that examined previously secret documents and exposed wrongdoing and mistakes by police.
Some 23 suspects, including individuals and organisations, had faced the possibility of charges.
The Hillsborough disaster prompted a sweeping modernisation of stadiums across England. Top division stadiums were largely transformed into all-seater venues, with fences around the pitches torn down.
“All we want is accountability, nothing more and nothing less,” said Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son, James, died in the disaster.
Campaigner Trevor Hicks, who lost daughters Sarah, 19, and Vicki, 15, said the charges served as a warning to authorities across the country.
"This is a success for society at large, it sends out a message of accountability," he said, making reference to the Grenfell Tower fire in London this month, which left 79 people presumed dead.
“Families will come after you if you don’t do your jobs properly,” he added.
Prime minister Theresa May called Wednesday a “day of really mixed emotions” for the families of the fans who died, but said that justice is moving forward “after so many years of waiting”.
* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse