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Hillsborough deaths ruled 'accidental'

SHEFFIELD, England -- The jury in the inquest into the Hillsborough stadium disaster returned a verdict Thursday of accidental death for the 95 soccer fans crushed to death in the stands there two years ago.

Relatives of the victims were dismayed at the outcome, expecting instead a verdict of 'unlawful killing' or at least a noncommital open verdict. There were reports of distressed relatives throwing punches at police in Sheffield after the ruling was announced.

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Joan McBrian acted as legal representative during the proceedings for her son John, one of the victims.

'I feel we have not had justice today,' she said. 'It was no accident. It was a crime. The opening of Gate C to allow people in in that way -- that was a criminal act.'

The April 15, 1989 incident, at an FA Cup semifinal match between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool at Sheffield's Hillsborough stadium, occurred when police opened a gate to allow a mass of fans to surge through a tunnel and onto the Leppings Lane standing-room terrace.

The stand, which was fenced in to prevent spectators reaching the field, could not hold all of the people who got in.

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The jury, which deliberated for 13 hours before bringing its 9-2 verdict, decided it was reasonable for police to open the gate to relieve the crush of fans outside.

Coroner Stefan Popper had instructed the jury that for it to reach a verdict of unlawful killing, it would have to identify reckless conduct by an individual.

Earlier in the inquest, which lasted 80 days and heard 200 witnesses, Popper told the jury it was 'easy to say' police made the wrong decision in opening the gate. 'But you can't do that because you don't actually know what would have happened if the gates had not been opened. '

The inquest was delayed for a year to await the findings of the Taylor Commission into safety at sports grounds. The Taylor report resulted in new laws abolishing standing-room terraces at sports and leisure facilities.

The inquest was also delayed while the Department of Public Prosecution decided whether to bring charges against the police, which it eventually decided against.

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