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UK government to release Hillsborough disaster papers

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LONDON (Reuters) -- The British government said on Monday it was committed to releasing all the papers relating to the 1989 Hillsborough soccer stadium disaster in which 96 Liverpool fans were killed in a crush.

However, the Home Office said it wanted the release of the files to be handled by an independent panel set up two years ago by the previous government to handle disclosure, frustrating those seeking immediate public access.

The event was a watershed for English soccer, coming at the end of a decade in which the game had been increasingly disfigured by hooliganism and leading to an era of all-seater stadiums which has helped to improve safety for fans.

Relatives of those who died in the stadium in the northern city of Sheffield have been pressing for details of what South Yorkshire Police told then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher when she visited the scene of the tragedy in April 1989.

Her press secretary Bernard Ingham caused great offence when he later blamed the tragedy on a "tanked-up mob". The Sun newspaper has also long been scorned in Liverpool after it published a report blaming fans.

Parliament will debate the issue later on Monday and is expected to approve a non-binding but symbolic call for the release of all relevant papers, uncensored and unredacted.

The Home Office said it broadly supported the call.

"All papers had previously been shared with the Hillsborough Independent Panel," a government spokesman said.

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"The government is happy for all the papers, including Cabinet papers, to be released as soon as the panel so decides, in consultation with the families," he added.

"We expect them to be shared with the Hillsborough families first and then to the wider public."

The Liverpool fans were killed on overcrowded terracing at the Leppings Lane end of the Hillsborough stadium at an FA Cup semi-final on April 15, 1989.

The match was abandoned after a few minutes when fans tried to scale fencing to escape the overcrowding and officials finally became aware of the deadly crush behind the goal defended by Liverpool's Bruce Grobbelaar.

The independent panel, headed by Bishop of Liverpool James Jones, is scrutinising 40,000 documents connected to the Hillsborough disaster and will report next Spring.

Pat Joynes, whose son Nicholas was one of the 96 fans who died, hopes that Monday's debate will lead to all documents on the disaster being released in full.

"We've met the panel several times and they're really strong and they say that there will hopefully be no redaction," she told the BBC.

"If there is any redaction, to me this is a waste of time."