Police and emergency services made "strenuous attempts" to deflect the blame for the Hillsborough disaster onto innocent fans, newly released documents have revealed.
Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs that the Hillsborough inquiry findings were "deeply distressing" and apologised for the failures of police and government.
He said the panel had found the safety of the crowds at Hillsborough had been "compromised at every level" and that 164 statements were "significantly amended" by police, including the removal of 116 negative comments about the leadership of the police, to push the blame for the tragedy onto the fans.
Police looked into the records of the deceased to check for previous criminal activity, and blood alcohol levels were taken from all of the victims, including dead children, for "no good reason". No abnormal amounts of drinking were found.
The panel's report said that the attempt of the inquest to draw a link between blood alcohol and late arrival was "fundamentally flawed" and that alcohol consumption was "unremarkable and not exceptional for a social or leisure occasion".
David Crompton, chief constable of South Yorkshire Police, said he was "shocked" by the report's findings, adding that the force's actions were "unacceptable".
"I think that if people are shown to have acted criminally then they should face prosecution," he said.
Cameron said the report had found no evidence that the government tried to conceal the truth about events.
He said the new evidence raised "must be examined", and the Attorney General would be considering it as quickly as possible.
THE KEY FINDINGS
- The Liverpool fans 'were not the cause of the disaster'.
- Police emphasised exceptional, aggressive and un-anticipated crowd behaviour: large numbers of ticketless, drunk and obstinate fans involved in concerted action, even 'conspiracy', to enter the stadium.
- South Yorkshire Police made 'significant' amendments to 116 of the 164 to remove or alter "unfavourable" comments about policing
- The vast majority of fans on the pitch assisted in rescuing and evaluating the injured and the dead - reports of them stealing from victims were 'false and sensationalised'.
- All the dead bodies had their blood alcohol levels tested, including the children.
- Police performed National Computer checks on those with a non-zero alcohol level in attempts to 'impugn the reputations of the deceased'
- Many of the dead could have been saved: Post-mortem reports found 28 of those who died did not have obstruction of blood circulation and 31 had evidence of heart and lungs continuing to function after the crush.
The 96 Liverpool supporters died in a crush at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough stadium on April 15 1989 where their team were to meet Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final.
Introducing the report to the Hillsborough families at the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool, Bishop James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool and chairman of the panel, said: "For nearly a quarter of a century the families of the 96 and the survivors of Hillsborough have nursed an open wound waiting for answers to unresolved questions.
"It has been a frustrating and painful experience adding to their grief.
"In spite of all the investigations they have sensed that their search for truth and justice has been thwarted and that no-one has been held accountable.
"The documents disclosed to and analysed by the panel show that the tragedy should never have happened.
"There were clear operational failures in response to the disaster and in its aftermath their were strenuous attempts to deflect the blame onto the fans.
"The panel's detailed report shows how vulnerable victims, survivors and their families are when transparency and accountability are compromised.
The report found that wrongful allegations about the fans' behaviour later printed in some newspapers, particularly The Sun, originated from "a Sheffield press agency, senior South Yorkshire Police officers, an South Yorkshire Police Federation spokesperson and a local MP".
The panel said the Police Federation, "supported informally by the SYP Chief Constable", sought to develop and publicise a version of events derived in police officers' allegations of drunkenness, ticketless fans and violence.
"The vast majority of fans on the pitch assisted in rescuing and evaluating the injured and the dead," the panel said.
The "monumental" findings of the independent panel have been heralded by the families, who spontaneously stood up to applaud them in Liverpool cathedral.
Steve Rotheram, Labour MP for Liverpool Walton, swapped his Leppings Lane ticket for a seat in the stands 15 minutes before kick off.
He told The Huffington Post UK the families would need time to digest the 400 page report, which has looked at 450,000 documents, before planning their next move.
"Today is a day for finding out the truth, and tomorrow will be about justice. What we do next is the $64,000 question."
The families of the Hillsborough dead dispute the findings of an inquest into the deaths, which ruled that the victims were all dead, or brain dead, by 3.15pm and which subsequently recorded a verdict of accidental death.
Rotheram said: "Many of the families have never even collected the death certificates, because the inquest recorded them as 'accidental death', not 'unlawful killing'.
"We know we are seeing what was an orchestrated campaign from parts of the police, the government and even the press to cover up and slander the people who were killed.
"I hope that those who were responsible that day will finally apologise. They have never apologised. They know that they were culpable."
The original inquest- relying on the advice of pathologists - was led to believe that the victims were unconsciousness within seconds and death within a few minutes, and the coroner asserted that beyond 3.15pm that no victims could have been saved.
But post-mortem reports found 28 people did not have obstruction of blood circulation and 31 had evidence of heart and lungs continuing to function after the crush.
Those individuals could potentially have survived, had they received medical attention.
The report also found that the "deficiencies of the Hillsborough ground were well known", that turnstiles could not cope with the volume of fans, that ground capacity had been over-calculated, that crush barriers were unsafe and that no lessons had been learnt about a crush at the exact same match the year before.
The Independent reported that evidence of junior police officers was "systematically distorted", with the testimony of one constable entirely deleted after he suggested police were "a bit thin on the ground" and had a poor supply of radios.
PC Martin McLoughlin described in his statement how "we had great difficulty in finding out what happened and what was happening and for too long a time we were basically working in the dark."
A report into the disaster by Lord Justice Taylor, published in 1990, found that the main reason for the disaster was a failure of "police control" but the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was insufficient evidence to bring a prosecution.
The victims' families say it is an injustice that no individual or organisation has been held fully accountable for the disaster.
They believe a major incident plan was never initiated by South Yorkshire Police and fans in the Leppings Lane end were denied emergency medical attention.
People in Liverpool observed two minutes of silence as a mark of respect for the 96 victims.
The city also staged a vigil to show support for the victims' families following the disclosure of the Hillsborough documents.
Speaking on Wednesday evening, Labour MP Andy Burnham, who helped set up the inquiry, said he was "struggling to comprehend how parliament and government to let an injustice on the scale stand for so long."
"I can only say sorry to the families, and to you all, that we've had to wait this long and that you didn't do more to help when we could," he told those attending the vigil.
He added: "From what I knew already and from what I have learned today I will never be able to accept or allow a verdict of accidental death to remain on the death certificates.
"We need a new inquest, a new verdict and only then can we say we have put right one of the greatest injustices in our country's history in the 20th century."
The two-minute silence took place at 3.06pm - the time the FA Cup semi-final was abandoned - as the bells at Liverpool Town Hall and other civic buildings ring out 96 times.
Flags at council properties will be flown at half mast throughout the day.
Fans from football clubs across the spectrum tweeted their solidarity with Liverpool, saying it was a time to lay club loyalties aside. #JusticeForThe96 was a trending topic across Twitter.
The families are being advised by two of Britain's best known lawyers, Michael Mansfield QC and Lord Falconer.
It is expected the families will meet in the coming days to decide what action to take, if any, following the disclosures.
Sheffield Wednesday, the home team of the ground where the tragedy occurred, have issued an official apology. It said the club had "worked closely with the panel and the other donating organisations to ensure that, in line with the ethos of maximum disclosure, we have been totally transparent."
"Chairman Milan Mandaric and the current board of directors have adopted a policy of complete compliance with the requests of the Hillsborough Independent Panel and on behalf of the club would like to offer our sincere condolences and an apology to all the families who have suffered as a consequence of the tragic events of 15 April, 1989.
"We can only hope that the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report goes some way to providing the closure sought by all those involved.
"The thoughts of everyone at Sheffield Wednesday FC remain with the 96 Liverpool supporters who lost their lives, their families, and the wider Liverpool community who have all been affected so deeply by the disaster of 23 years ago."
Liverpool City Council called it "a major milestone for the families of the 96, and the whole of the city.
"The families and the people of Liverpool have waited a long time for the truth. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of the 96."
- David Cameron's Full Statement To The Commons On The Bishop Of Liverpool's Inquiry
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- Families Of 96 Killed See Released Documents, Believe Police Cover-Up
- Kelvin MacKenzie, Former Sun Editor, Apologises To Liverpool For 'That Headline'
- Why Hillsborough Still Matters (BLOG)
- Never Walking Alone on the Road to Justice (BLOG)