THE independent panel trawling through previously-hidden Hillsborough documents will examine what happened after 3.15pm on the day of the disaster for the first time.
Many bereaved families and survivors believe their loved ones were still alive after the cut-off time imposed by Sheffield coroner Dr Stefan Popper in the initial 1991 inquest – and could have been saved, had they been given proper medical assistance.
A doctor – Ed Walker – came forward in 1997 to say some victims were still breathing after 4pm.
Justice chiefs confirmed that the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which has been studying secret papers since being convened by the government a year ago, will “analyse all documents” relating to the 1989 tragedy.
Campaign groups today labelled the breakthrough “a giant step forward” to finally seeking justice for the 96 Reds fans killed on the Leppings Lane terrace.
The exclusion of post-3.15pm evidence had until now prevented any meaningful inquiry into the emergency response.
Margaret Aspinall, spokeswoman for the Hillsborough Family Support Group, lost her son James, 18, that day.
She said: “From the very start at the first inquest, the 3.15pm cut-off time affected everybody. We kept asking them to look at it, but they wouldn’t budge.
“Now, they’ve promised to scrutinise every document, which is absolutely great news.
“Hopefully, we’ll finally get to the real truth of what happened at Hillsborough.”
The long-awaited announcement was revealed to Anne Williams, whose 15-year-old son, Kevin, died at the stadium after 3.15pm.
The For Justice group chair met with panel director Kenneth Sutton and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt in London last month.
Tory MP Hunt reiterated an apology made in June last year, after suggesting hooliganism had been a cause at Hillsborough.
Mrs Williams said: “It took me quite a while to actually take in that they had admitted that to us.
“We kept asking each other on the way home, ‘Did they really say that?’, because for so long that door had been getting slammed in our faces.
“We have so much evidence that Kevin was alive after that time, and maybe now we can start to get some answers as to why 44 ambulances were blockaded outside the stadium and our kids didn’t get the life-saving treatment they needed.
“Jeremy Hunt was clearly shocked at what we were saying to him and he let us say our piece .
“I just told him how we are sick of being told lies and having lies told about us. The system has been so cruel to us – we’ve never been able to mourn properly. I didn’t go out to take the Government on – I just want the truth to come out about my little boy.”
Mrs Williams said: “The meeting was very amicable and Mr Hunt seemed very genuine in his apology for his hurtful and damaging remarks. "He told me, 'I entered politics to solve problems, not make them worse as I fear I have done here'. He asked me what I wanted and I told him I want a new inquest into Kevin's death as we know he did not die from traumatic asphyxia.
"He asked lots of questions about Kevin, the pathologists and the West Midlands Police (who conducted the inquiry into the South Yorkshire Police's conduct) – he wouldn't commit himself to a new inquest, though, saying he would wait for and support the Independent Panel's findings.
"I told him all the evidence was in my book, which he had in front of him. He asked me to wait till the panel's report before submitting my evidence to the Attorney General, I am seeking legal advice on this."
Also attending the meeting were Hillsborough survivors Dean Harris and Christopher Whittle, along with Barry Thompson, who organised the March For Justice when a 40,000-strong petition calling for a fresh criminal investigation was delivered to Downing Street, in June, 2009.
Mr Harris, a 38-year-old police officer from South Wales, said: “I felt it was important to come down and support Anne Williams, because it is vital that her dossier of evidence is properly looked at.
“Her strength and persistence is an inspiration to everyone still suffering because of Hillsborough."
The Hillsborough Independent Panel’s verdict is expected in 2012.
A spokesperson for the Hillsborough Independent Panel said: “Under its terms of reference, published over a year ago, the Hillsborough Independent Panel has a wide remit to record and analyse all documents relating to the context, circumstances and consequences of the Hillsborough tragedy and its aftermath.
“This includes all aspects of the events on the day and the investigations that followed including the Home Office Inquiry, the inquests, the Stuart-Smith Scrutiny and the private prosecution.”
* A FUNDRAISING evening for Anne Williams’s For Justice campaign is being held at the Dockers Club, Townsend Lane, Anfield, on Friday, March 25, at 7pm.
Panel to consider evidence from after 3.15
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