Chapter 9: The generic hearing, Judicial Review and continuing controversies

Conclusion: what is added to public understanding

  • The Coroner decided against relying on the Taylor Inquiry to meet the requirements of the generic stage of the inquests. As the disclosed documents show, the hearings became adversarial as SYP attempted to use the proceedings to respond to criticisms in Lord Justice Taylor's Interim Report.
  • The Coroner anticipated that SYP would attribute responsibility for the disaster to 'drunkenness and disobedience' and 'ticketless' fans while also proposing that failings by SWFC and its safety engineers and the 'nepotism' of Sheffield City Council were relevant factors.
  • The Coroner's file notes also indicate his acceptance, regardless of Lord Justice Taylor's findings, that the relationship between alcohol consumption, late arrivals and crowd behaviour could have contributed to the disaster. The reason for this assumption is not evident from the disclosed documents.
  • Exchanges between the lead investigating officer, Chief Constable Leslie Sharp, and the Coroner demonstrate strong differences of opinion regarding the status of the information gathered for the criminal investigation and the access to the information granted to SYP prior to completion of the inquests.
  • These differences were settled by Chief Constable Sharp's decision to release documents to SYP and the Force's agreement that they would be used only for disciplinary purposes and not in preparation for the inquests.
  • Confusion and controversy about the status and ownership of documents and statements gathered by the WMP investigation team reveal the problems associated with sharing evidence between interested parties and the privilege enjoyed by SYP in preparation for the generic stage of the inquests.
  • It is also evident that, in order to fulfil an expectation that the Coroner had all documents 'available' to him, he arranged for their delivery to his home for a few days even though he would not have the capacity to consider them thoroughly.
  • It is clear from the disclosed documents that the Coroner considered the mini-inquests had answered issues of relevance to each of the bereaved. The task of the generic hearing was to establish 'how' the 95 had died.
  • Having invited all interested parties to identify who they wanted to be called as witnesses at the generic stage, in the disclosed documents there is no explanation for the Coroner's final selection. 
  • There is a substantial amount of documentary evidence concerning the inadequacy of the inquest process. In subsequent Judicial Review proceedings the High Court recognised that the inquests were 'unorthodox' and failed to comply with the Coroners Rules. Yet the High Court rejected claims that there had been insufficiency of process.
  • Lord Justice Stuart-Smith raised concerns with the Coroner that families had been misled into believing that questions that remained unanswered at the mini-inquests would be addressed at the generic stage. The Coroner reassured him that, wherever relevant, this was achieved, although subsequent correspondence from families suggests otherwise.
  • While Lord Justice Stuart-Smith recognised the complexities and difficulties facing the Coroner, he considered that the generic hearing became 'out of control'. He suggested that it might have been more appropriate to have adopted the findings of the Taylor Inquiry than to have conducted a generic hearing.