Hillsborough coroner vows inquests will begin on time

The coroner leading fresh inquests into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster assured relatives of the 96 victims on Monday that they will start on schedule in March.

Lord Justice John Goldring told a crowded pre-inquest hearing in London that the inquests would begin on March 31 in the northwest English town of Warrington despite a huge volume of material requiring consideration.

"I certainly remain committed to that date (March 31) and it is partly for that reason that I have sought ... to drive those investigations forward as much as I can," he said.

He added: "We will start when I've said we will start."

The hearing had heard that the materials involved in the inquest were "unprecedented in terms of scale and complexity".

The hearing was also told that jurors are likely to be taken to Hillsborough when the inquests begin, while the BBC has agreed to release previously unseen footage from the disaster.

A lawyer representing 21 victims' families said that handheld footage filmed by police at Hillsborough may have been edited, according to an expert who viewed the images.

He asked for an audiovisual expert to be allowed to give evidence at the inquest.

The tragedy at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield, northern England, in April 1989, remains the worst sporting disaster in British history.

The 96 victims, all Liverpool fans, were killed in a crush caused by huge overcrowding on a standing terrace before an FA Cup semi-final between their team and Nottingham Forest.

In December last year, the High Court in London quashed the original coroner's verdicts and called for fresh inquests to be held, while police also launched a new investigation.

That move followed the publication of a damning independent report in September 2012 that concluded that 41 of those who died would have had the "potential to survive" if they had received medical treatment more quickly.

In English law, inquests are held to examine sudden or unexplained deaths. They set out to determine the place and time of death as well as how the deceased came by their death, but do not apportion blame.

The report also alleged that the local police force, South Yorkshire Police, tried to cover up what had happened on the day of the tragedy, prompting an apology from Prime Minister David Cameron.

An investigation into the police handing of the disaster has had more than 500 responses to a fresh appeal for witnesses.

The probe has already unearthed evidence that South Yorkshire Police altered statements submitted by officers on the day of the disaster.