LONDON (Reuters) -The British government pledged there would be no repeat of injustices suffered by families of the 97 victims of the 1989 Hillsborough crush but rejected calls for a new law in the wake of failings which followed the country's worst stadium disaster.
The Liverpool fans, many of them young, died in an overcrowded, fenced-in enclosure at the Hillsborough soccer ground in Sheffield, northern England, at an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest on a sunny spring afternoon.
For years, families of those who were killed campaigned for justice, refusing to accept the deaths were accidental after the police initially blamed the tragedy on the supporters themselves.
Former Prime Minister David Cameron apologised in 2012, and an inquest in 2016 concluded the fans were unlawfully killed and that police were to blame, had told lies and staged a cover-up of "industrial proportions" to hide their mistakes.
The following year a government-commissioned report by James Jones, the former Bishop of Liverpool, called for a charter for bereaved families to be created to prevent those affected by a major public disaster having to go through the same experiences.
On Wednesday, the government finally issued its response to that review, saying it was "deeply sorry" for the delay. It said it had now signed the "Hillsborough Charter", but stopped short of committing to new legislation compelling public authorities with a legal duty to tell the truth.
"The Hillsborough families have suffered multiple injustices, the loss of 97 lives, the blaming of the fans and the unforgivable institutional defensiveness by public bodies," Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told parliament. "I am profoundly sorry for what they have been through."
"And I want to repeat that apology today, and thank the Hillsborough families for their tenacity, patience and courage."
The new charter will ensure better support for bereaved families in disasters. By doing so, the government said it also "reaffirmed its commitment to a culture of honesty and transparency in public service" and said a duty of candour for the police would be required by law.
But those campaigning for a "Hillsborough Law" said the measures fell "way short" of their demands and did not have the families' support.
"To wait six years for a government to respond to a report about a disaster that took place 34 years ago speaks volumes," said Elkan Abrahamson, director of Hillsborough Law Now. "It merely provides for a meaningless code of conduct for the police which does not add to what already exists."
(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Sarah Young and Christina Fincher)