FA chairman issues 'full apology'

  • Last Updated: September 13 2012, 20:41 BST

Football Association chairman David Bernstein has offered "a full and unreserved apology" to all those affected by the Hillsborough disaster - but campaigning MP Andy Burnham believes the FA still have serious questions to answer.

The shadow health secretary questioned how the FA had allowed the FA Cup semi-final 23 years ago to be played in a ground without a valid safety certificate, and said negligence was to blame.

An initial FA statement on Thursday morning did not contain an apology but, following calls from Hillsborough families, four hours later Bernstein made "a full and unreserved apology".

It came after the Hillsborough Independent Panel report showed the ground was unsafe and did not have a valid safety certificate at the time of the match on April 15 1989. It also revealed a police cover-up had taken place which had intended to shift blame for the disaster, which claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans, to the victims themselves.

Burnham, an Everton fan who did much to have the inquiry into the disaster reopened when he was a member of the Labour Cabinet in 2009, told Sky News: "The FA need to ask themselves some serious questions.

"The main one is why did they allow a semi-final to be played at a ground without a valid safety certificate?

"I don't think there's an answer that people can accept because I think it was because of negligence of people's safety.

"Why were supporters allowed to go into those unsafe conditions and did the FA know of those other near misses at other semi-finals such as 1981 Wolves v Spurs and 1987 involving Leeds?

"I remember going to Hillsborough the year before and having one of the most distressing experiences of my life. All of these things were known about Hillsborough, how did nobody in football act upon them?"

Hillsborough families welcomed the FA's apology to all those affected by the disaster - but said it should have been made years ago.

Margaret Aspinall of the Hillsborough families support group said the FA apology was long overdue.

She said: "We welcome the apology but the one thing that makes me angry is that we have had to wait for this report to come out before we get all the apologies that should have been made a long time ago.

"The FA did have a role in what happened so it's right we should hear from them."

Bernstein commended the work of the panel in compiling the report and expressed sympathy for the families.

He said in a statement: "We are deeply sorry this tragedy occurred at a venue the FA selected.

"This fixture was played in the FA's own competition, and on behalf of the Football Association I offer a full and unreserved apology and express sincere condolences to all of the families of those who lost their lives and to everyone connected to the City of Liverpool and Liverpool Football Club."

He added: "This should never have happened. Nobody should lose their lives when setting out to attend a football match and it is a matter of extreme regret and sadness that it has taken so long for these findings to be published and the truth to be told.

"For 23 years the families have suffered unbearable pain and we have profound sympathy for them.

"I would like to commend the professional work of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, while also recognising the tireless commitment shown by so many people in maintaining the fight for justice, particularly the family support groups."

Bernstein said the FA had co-operated fully with the panel and had released all the documents that had been requested.

"I would also like to make clear that we will of course fully cooperate with any further inquiry," said Bernstein

"The FA and English football has changed immeasurably, and learnt many lessons in the last 23 years. Through advancements in safety and investment in facilities English football is now a much safer, more welcoming environment for supporters."

Meanwhile, A former Conservative MP named as one of the sources behind The Sun's controversial coverage of the Hillsborough tragedy said he was "deeply and sincerely sorry" for the part he played in the scandal.

Sir Irvine Patnick said he had been given "wholly inaccurate" information by some members of the police and was "appalled" at the extent of the cover-up surrounding the disaster.

Sir Norman Bettison, the most senior serving police officer who was involved with South Yorkshire Police's discredited Hillsborough operation, has said he has "nothing to hide".

Bettison, now the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, has faced calls to quit.

In a statement he insisted the behaviour of some fans in the stadium made the job of the police "harder than it needed to be". He also defended his role in the aftermath, saying: "I never altered a statement nor asked for one to be altered."