Lawyers at the inquests into the deaths of 96 people in the Hillsborough disaster, including two from St Helens, have expressed their “considerable regret” for a delay in providing pathology reports to the families of the deceased.
At a preliminary hearing on Thursday, counsel to the inquests Christina Lambert QC acknowledged that it was an “extremely difficult and tense time” for the families as the coroner, Lord Justice Goldring, was asked to delay part of the hearing, which are due to start on Monday.
Ninety-six people, including two from St Helens, Nicholas Joynes, 27 and David Hawley, 39, died in the 1989 disaster.
Judy Khan QC, representing 74 families, asked the coroner for a three week break so the families could consider the late pathology reports.
Ms Khan asked for this to take place after the opening statements from the coroner and the families, which are due to start next week after a jury has been selected.
The coroner agreed to allow a delay but said he wanted lawyers at the inquest to liaise on how long this should be.
He agreed that this will take place after his opening statement and after the background “pen portraits” of all the victims which are to be presented by the families after the coroner has finished his opening.
These are scheduled to be completed by April 29.
Ms Lambert said: “It is matter of considerable regret that we were not able to provide the families with the pathology reports earlier.
“We recognise fully this has placed an emotional burden on families at an extremely difficult and tense time for them.”
Making his ruling, the coroner said it was a difficult decision because he was having to juggle the interests of the families with the convenience of the jury in the inquest.
He said: “I understand the emotional commitment of the families to the start date and all that that involves.
“In the end, it seems to me I have to decide between the families and the convenience of the jury. I have decided that the families’ interests will prevail.”
Around 250 family members, lawyers and journalists gathered for Thursday’s hearing - the first at the inquest venue on a business park on the outskirts of Warrington.
A jury will be selected at the start of the inquests on Monday, nearly 25 years on from the disaster at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium.
Britain’s worst sporting disaster happened 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.
Verdicts of accidental death from the original Hillsborough inquest in March 1991 were quashed in December 2012.
The action was taken after the Hillsborough Independent Panel delivered its final report earlier in 2012.
The coroner was told that the BBC has recently found an hour of unseen footage of the disaster which is now being considered by the legal teams.
Pete Weatherby QC, representing 21 families, said: “There is at least an hour of it. It is within the stadium at relevant times.”
He said the BBC had previously said it had handed over everything it had but this footage had been recently found.
No further details of the footage was given in court.
The hearing was later adjourned after hearing legal argument around a range of issues including the “pen portrait” statements each family will present to the inquest about their loved ones who died in 1989.
Other aspects of the legal argument included the planned visit of the jury to the stadium in Sheffield and the disclosure of evidence to the various interested parties in the inquest.