LONDON (AP) -Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard condemned the authorities for covering up the truth about the Hillsborough stadium disaster for 23 years after the wrongdoing and mistakes that led to the death of 96 fans was revealed on Wednesday.
Secret papers exposed a sophisticated attempt by police to shift the blame onto Liverpool fans by instructing officers to change statements and insinuating that many were drunken, and had histories of violence or criminality.
"For 23 years they have fought for truth and justice on behalf of the victims and survivors of this terrible tragedy and all Liverpool supporters," Gerrard said. "Victims and survivors suffered not just on April 15, 1989 in Sheffield, but for over two decades afterwards with the shameful slandering of their actions by people who abused their position and power."
Gerrard's 10-year-old cousin Jon-Paul Gilhooley was the youngest fatality at the FA Cup semifinal against Nottingham Forest, with most victims crushed and suffocated in a standing-room-only section at Sheffield Wednesday's stadium.
A government-appointed panel that reviewed the papers found that injured fans were denied medical treatment that could have saved their lives. Panel member Dr. Bill Kirkup said 41 fans had the "potential to survive."
"Speaking as someone whose family directly suffered, I know the pain and hurt will remain," Gerrard said. "However, I hope that today's report helps bring some comfort, now that everyone knows what happened on that day."
The club itself issued a statement thanking the panel for a report that determined its fans were "fully exonerated of all blame."
"Liverpool fans were not just innocent on that terrible day but that there was reprehensible and hurtful misrepresentation of the truth," Liverpool said.
The Premier League club has long been angered that "The Sun" newspaper published a front page headline "The Truth" after the disaster with a story claiming fans had urinated on police officers resuscitating the dying and stolen from the dead.
The top-selling tabloid apologized on Wednesday for its inaccurate story, and Liverpool chairman Tom Werner said that now "the world has heard the real truth."
"We hope that today's findings will give some comfort to the families and survivors and go some way to addressing some of the key questions that have hung over the Hillsborough tragedy for the last 23 years," said Werner, who was part of the Fenway Sports Group which buy the club in 2010.
Kenny Dalglish, who managed Liverpool on the fateful day, said the report was a "very positive outcome."
On Twitter, Dalgish wrote: "23 yrs waiting for the truth next step justice."
Campaigners hope Britain's High Court will overturn the verdict from the original inquest hearing, which ruled in 1991 that the deaths were accidental.
Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris