Steve Kelly of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign poses for members of the media with a copy of the independent report into the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster (Reuters)
Steve Kelly of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign with a copy of the independent report into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster (Reuters)

The families of the 96 people who died in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster have finally won their 23-year battle for justice after the independent report exonerated Liverpool fans of any responsibility for the tragedy.

After the report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP) was released to the families of the victims who died on 15 April, 1989, Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "profoundly sorry" at the "double injustice" of what happened that day and for the subsequent cover-up.

The report, which followed two years of scrutiny by the HIP of more than 450,000 pages of documents from 80 organisations, revealed that police and ambulance services altered statements in a bid to pass the blame for what happened onto "drunken Liverpool fans".

The previously unseen documents also revealed who was behind The Sun's controversial - and later widely refuted - 'The Truth' version of events, in which it claimed that Liverpool fans pickpocketed victims as they lay dead and attacked police officers who were trying to give victims the kiss of life.

Before the report was released to the public, Maria Eagle, the shadow transport secretary who represents the Liverpool constituency of Garston and Halewood, told the Daily Telegraph she believed the papers would reveal the workings of a "black propaganda unit" in the police and beyond.

"I hope to see some documents, internal documents from the South Yorkshire Police, about the way in which they behaved, particularly the way in which they interacted with certain tabloid newspapers," she said.

IB Times UK look at the people who tried to smear the Liverpool fans for 23 years and how their attempts were eventually foiled.

David Cameron said he was
David Cameron said he was "profoundly sorry" for the failures that caused the Hillsborough disaster (Reuters)

South Yorkshire Police

Lord Justice Taylor's report into the tragedy said a failing of police control was primarily to blame for the deaths, as well as Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and Sheffield City Council for inadequate ground safety.

The HIP report found that 164 police statements were significantly amended and 116 explicitly negative comments about the policing operation were removed altogether.

Officers were also revealed to have carried out police national computer checks on those who had died in an attempt "to impugn the reputations of the deceased".

The reports, which were eventually made public, said of South Yorkshire Police (SYP): "It is evident from the disclosed documents that from the outset SYP sought to establish a case emphasising exceptional levels of drunkenness and aggression among Liverpool fans, alleging that many arrived at the stadium late, without tickets and determined to force entry."

SYP did apologise to those who died that day and the chain of events that followed it.

Chief constable David Crompton said: "The police lost control. In the immediate aftermath senior officers sought to change the record of events.

"Disgraceful lies were told which blamed the Liverpool fans for the disaster.

"I am profoundly sorry for the way the force failed and I am doubly sorry for the injustice that followed."

Irvine Patnick MP

South Yorkshire Police also had a hand - along with Whites News Agency and Sheffield Hallam MP Irvine Patnick - in the smear campaign which followed in the media, including The Sun's 'The Truth' headline.

During his speech in the House of Commons, Cameron said that the owner of the Sun newspaper, News International, had helped the HIP with the inquiries.

He went on to reveal: "The source for these despicable untruths was a Sheffield news agency reporting conversations with South Yorkshire police and Irvine Patnick, the then MP for Sheffield Hallam."

Whites News Agency said: "Several reporters from this agency had some involvement in covering the Hillsborough tragedy and the aftermath.

"In common with many other journalists, reporters from this agency spoke to the then Sheffield Hallam MP Irvine Patnick. A senior reporter, who has since died, and with long-standing police connections, also spoke to senior officers.

"As a result, as a responsible and reputable agency, we did report the allegations to all the national newspapers and media outlets.

"The agency had no control over how the allegations were presented and were shocked by the way the story was presented by The Sun. Other newspapers reported the allegations in a different way."

Kelvin MacKenzie and The Sun

Former Sun newspaper editor Kelvin MacKenzie (Reuters)
Mea culpa: Former Sun newspaper editor Kelvin MacKenzie (Reuters)

The former editor of The Sun was responsible for running the story full of unfounded claims and writing the headline, 'The Truth', which led to a Merseyside boycott of the paper that exists to this day.

He offered his "profuse apologies to the people of Liverpool" for the first time for running the story and headline.

"It has taken more than two decades, 400,000 documents [sic] and a two-year inquiry to discover to my horror that it would have been far more accurate had I written the headline 'The Lies' rather than 'The Truth'."

MacKenzie repeated the claim that he was "totally misled" by Whites News Agency, Patnick and a "senior police officer".

Trevor Hicks, chairman of the Hillsborough families support group said the apology from MacKenzie was too little, too late.

"He's lowlife - a clever lowlife, but a lowlife," said Hicks.

Norman Bettison

Families are now calling for the resignation of Sir Norman Bettison, the chief constable of West Yorkshire Police, over his role in the disaster and the "strenuous attempts" he made to deflect blame on to innocent Liverpool fans.

Hicks said of Bettison: "If he is anything of a man he will stand down and scurry up a drainpipe somewhere."