The victims suffocated at an F.A. Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest after the police opened a gate in an effort to relieve congestion outside the stadium before the game. That resulted in fans outside flooding in, trampling some and crushing others against steel fencing. In addition to the 96 who died, who ranged in age from 10 to 67, more than 700 others were injured.
After the disaster, some senior law enforcement officials and members of the news media, particularly at The Sun, initially pointed fingers at the victims for abetting their own deaths, saying they had been drunk and unruly.
The decades-long struggle to find out what really happened on the day of the match dragged as the authorities sought to obfuscate and blame the fans for the disaster. The 1989 Taylor Inquiry, which looked into the tragedy right after it occurred, blamed a âfailure of police controlâ and found that the police had wrongly tried to shift blame onto the fans.
But a 1991 coronerâs inquest judged the deaths to be accidental, and no criminal charges were filed. Grieving families waged a lengthy campaign that eventually shifted the prevailing narrative in the case â which has raised issues of class, institutional accountability and justice â away from the behavior of the fans to the failure of law enforcement.
In 2012, an independent panel concluded that there had been an elaborate police cover-up, and a court overturned the finding that the deaths were accidental. (Among the revelations: A coroner had assigned an arbitrary time of death for 41 victims, some of whom had not yet died.) That prompted the new inquest, which began in 2014.
On Wednesday, families expressed relief at the prosecution serviceâs decision. Barry Devonside, whose 18-year-old son Christopher died in the tragedy, told Sky News that the families had applauded when they learned that âthe most senior police officer on that particular day will have charges presented to him.â
He added, âI was frightened, absolutely frightened, that we were going to be let down again.â
Speaking in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed the prosecutorsâ decision and lauded the âabsolutely exemplaryâ manner in which the families of the victims had campaigned.
âI know from working closely with the families when I was home secretary that this will be a day of mixed emotions for them,â Mrs. May said, referring to her previous role overseeing law enforcement. âI welcome the fact that charging decisions have been taken. I think that is an important step forward.â
Sue Hemming, the head of the prosecution serviceâs special crime and counterterrorism division, announced the charges after meeting with victimsâ families on Wednesday morning.
âCriminal proceedings have now commenced, and the defendants have a right to a fair trial,â she said. âIt is extremely important that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings.â
The tragedy changed how soccer is watched: Standing-only sections at stadiums that were vulnerable to overcrowding were replaced by seating areas at most venues in Britain, and fences around the field were removed.
Scrutiny has intensified in particular on Mr. Duckenfield, the match commander, who falsely claimed that spectators had opened the gate.
During an inquest into the tragedy, Mr. Duckenfield said that he âfrozeâ during the crucial moments when officers were confronted with the threat of crowding, and that he did not anticipate that his failure to close a tunnel leading to crowded pens would prove deadly.
Mr. Duckenfield faces the most serious charge: manslaughter by gross negligence in the deaths of 95 people. (The 96th victim, Anthony Bland, died nearly four years after the disaster, too late for Mr. Duckenfield to be charged under the law at the time.)
âWe will allege that David Duckenfieldâs failures to discharge his personal responsibility were extraordinarily bad and contributed substantially to the deaths of each of those 96 people who so tragically and unnecessarily lost their lives,â Ms. Hemming said. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
Mr. Mackrell, the former football club official, faces three charges of violating safety laws. Prosecutors say he failed to organize the use of admissions turnstiles; to make and maintain inspection records about spectator numbers; to âtake reasonable care,â as the stadiumâs safety officer, to prevent the gathering of âunduly large crowdsâ; and to make plans with the police âfor coping with exceptionally large numbers of spectators arriving at the ground.â
Mr. Metcalf, the former lawyer for the police, was charged with two counts of perverting the course of justice. Prosecutors say he âmade suggestions for alterations, deletions and amendmentsâ that misled the Taylor Inquiry.
Mr. Bettison, a former chief constable, was charged with four counts of misconduct in public office. He is accused of lying to the authorities about his role in the aftermath of the disaster and about the culpability of the fans.
Mr. Denton, a former chief police superintendent, and Mr. Foster, a former detective chief inspector, each face two charges of perverting the course of justice, both in connection with altering witness statements.
A lawyer for Mr. Duckenfield and Mr. Denton declined to comment, as did Mr. Metcalf. Representatives of the other men could not be immediately reached for comment.
In the days after the 1989 disaster, The Sun published an article blaming Liverpool fans for belligerent behavior, saying they had attacked the authorities and had even picked victimsâ pockets. The newspaperâs editor at the time, Kelvin MacKenzie, apologized more than 23 years later, but to this day, The Sun is reviled for its coverage of the tragedy, particularly by people in and around Liverpool.