An independent report into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster says police made "strenuous attempts to deflect the blame" for the deaths in the stadium on to Liverpool fans.
And David Cameron, the British prime minister, said yesterday he was "profoundly sorry" for failures and cover-ups after 96 Liverpool supporters died after a crowd crush.
He was speaking as the report found police at the time had scrambled to blame innocent fans for Britain's worst sporting disaster to cover up their own flawed response.
The victims died in an overcrowded fenced-in enclosure at the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield, northern England, during the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Notttingham Forest.
The report, issued after a two-year investigation into the deaths, said police had sought to blame the Liverpool fans, portraying them as aggressive, drunk and ticketless and bent on packing into the already crowded stadium.
"The tragedy should never have happened," the report's authors said in a statement. "There were clear operational failures in response to the disaster and in its aftermath there were strenuous attempts to deflect the blame on to the fans."
Senior police edited their officers' witness statements from the day to paint them in a less damaging light, the report said. Their emergency response was flawed and badly organised. While inquiries found hooliganism played no part in the disaster, the police crowd management plan was preoccupied with preventing disorder, the report said.
The real danger at Hillsborough lay in the emergency services' poor planning and a stadium that failed to meet minimum safety standards, it added. Its capacity was overstated and previous crushes at Hillsborough had been ignored.
Speaking in parliament, Cameron said Liverpool fans "were not the cause of the disaster" and called Hillsborough "one of the greatest peacetime tragedies of the last century".
He acknowledged that the report would be harrowing for relatives of the deceased.
"It was wrong that the families have had to wait for so long - and fight so hard - just to get to the truth," he said. "And it was wrong that the police changed the records of what happened and tried to blame the fans.
"On behalf of the government, and indeed our country, I am profoundly sorry for this double injustice that has been left uncorrected for so long."
Campaigners have now called for the parties responsible for the disaster to be made accountable.
Sheila Coleman, a spokesman for the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, said: "Words are easy but of course the Hillsborough Justice Campaign welcomes the apologies. But we have had the truth, now it is time for justice," she said.
"Clearly people indulged in criminal activities by changing and altering statements and telling lies.
"If you or I did that we would be prosecuted - people cannot be above the law."
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