Minister apologises for Hillsborough comment

Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt arrives at the 10 Downing Street official residence of Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron in London May 12, 2010. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

LONDON (Reuters) - A government minister apologised on Monday after he appeared to suggest that crowd trouble was a cause of the 1989 Hillsborough soccer stadium disaster in which 96 Liverpool fans were killed.

“I know that fan unrest played no part in the terrible events of April 1989 and I apologise to Liverpool fans and the families of those killed and injured in the Hillsborough disaster if my comments caused any offence,” Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement.

Hunt had referred to Hillsborough and the 1985 Heysel Stadium disaster in the same sentence when praising the behaviour of England fans at the World Cup in South Africa.

Hunt had told Sky News that he was “incredibly encouraged” by the way England’s once notorious fans had conducted themselves.

“I mean, not a single arrest for a football-related offence, and the terrible problems that we had in Heysel and Hillsborough in the 1980s seem now to be behind us,” he added in an interview.

Ninety-six Liverpool fans were crushed to death on the Leppings Lane terrace at the Hillsborough soccer stadium in Sheffield during an FA Cup semi-final in 1989.

The tragedy led to changes in British stadium design, with clubs moving to all-seater stadia to prevent a repeat.

Four years earlier, rioting Liverpool fans had caused the deaths of 39 Juventus fans at the Heysel stadium in Brussels before the European Cup final.