LONDON (Reuters) - British prosecutors are to consider whether criminal charges should be brought against 23 suspects over the 1989 Hillsborough soccer stadium disaster in which 96 fans died, the police watchdog said on Thursday.
The Liverpool supporters died in a crush in an overcrowded, fenced-in enclosure at the Hillsborough ground in Sheffield, northern England, at an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest. It remains Britain's worst sporting disaster.
Last April, following a two-year inquest, a jury concluded that police who at first blamed the tragedy on drunken fans were responsible for the deaths, had told lies and staged a cover-up to hide their catastrophic mistakes.
Jurors had been told that to return verdicts of "unlawful killing" they would have to be sure that David Duckenfield, the police commander in charge at the match, was responsible for "manslaughter by gross negligence". They ruled the deaths were indeed unlawful.
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The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said Britain's Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had been handed evidence files from two investigation teams into the cause of the tragedy and alleged subsequent attempts to hide the truth.
The CPS said it would consider charges including gross negligence manslaughter, perverting the course of justice and misconduct in public office against the 23 unnamed suspects.
"We will now assess these in order to determine whether we have sufficient material on which to make charging decisions," said Sue Hemming, Head of the CPS Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division.
Victims' relatives, who campaigned for decades to overturn original conclusions that the deaths were accidental, had demanded criminal charges should be brought against those involved in the failures on the day and the conspiracy to keep them quiet.
Andy Burnham, the former home affairs spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, said after the inquest there had been complicity between police, politicians and newspapers in a cover-up that went "right to the top".
"These criminal investigations into the circumstances surrounding the Hillsborough disaster are the largest investigations into alleged police wrongdoing ever undertaken in England and Wales," IPCC deputy chairman Rachel Cerfontyne said on Thursday.
(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison)