On 15 April 1989 the fans were crushed to death after police opened an exit gate, allowing Liverpool supporters to surge into fenced-in pens on a terrace at the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield, northern England.
Following the longest-running inquest in English legal history, jurors concluded that policing decisions “caused or contributed" to the deaths and amounted to "gross negligence".
Relatives of the victims have fought a 27-year campaign to find out what happened during the disaster. They rejected an initial inquest ruling that said the deaths were accidental.
After the jury presented its findings Tuesday, victims relatives linked hands above their heads and sang the Liverpool Football Club anthem You'll Never Walk Alone and chanted "Justice for the 96".
“It was far more than I expected,” said Christopher Devonside, the father of one of the victims. “And I am so pleased that people from Liverpool and other cities have achieved the results of the hard work, we had this [inquiry] in excess of 300 days and I’ve attended every session, and I never thought in my wildest dreams that we would get this decision.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron reacted to the inquest, saying it paid tribute to the "extraordinary courage" of the victims' families in their "long search for the truth".
South Yorkshire Police Chief Constable David Crompton said the force misinterpreted the way the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough should have been approached.
"The force failed the victims and failed their families,” he said.
"I want to apologise unreservedly to the families and all those affected. The Hillsborough disaster changed the way in which major sporting events are policed and very many lessons have been learnt."
Improvements in training, communications and technology mean that the same situation could not be repeated, Crompton claimed.
"We will now take time to carefully reflect on the implications of the verdicts."
The Crown Prosecution Service, England's state prosecutors, said it would consider whether to bring criminal charges.