The true extent of the cover-up of the official failures that caused the Hillsborough stadium disaster in 1989 has been revealed for the first time today.

Newly-published documents show that police and emergency services made "strenuous attempts" to deflect the blame for the disaster onto innocent fans.

The disclosures were made by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which has been overseeing the release of thousands of official documents relating to the disaster.

A total of 96 Liverpool supporters died in a crush at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough stadium on 15 April 15 1989, where their team were to meet Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final.

The report was given to the families of the victims by Bishop of Liverpool James Jones, who was also on the panel.

He said: "For nearly a quarter of a century the families of the 96 and the survivors of Hillsborough have nursed an open wound waiting for answers to unresolved questions.

"It has been a frustrating and painful experience adding to their grief.

"In spite of all the investigations they have sensed that their search for truth and justice has been thwarted and that no-one has been held accountable.

"The documents disclosed to and analysed by the panel show that the tragedy should never have happened.

"There were clear operational failures in response to the disaster and in its aftermath there were strenuous attempts to deflect the blame onto the fans."

The panel found evidence that South Yorkshire Police's submissions to the 1989 Taylor Inquiry, "emphasised exceptional, aggressive and un-anticipated crowd behaviour: large numbers of ticketless, drunk and obstinate fans involved in concerted action, even 'conspiracy', to enter the stadium".

The documents also reveal the "extent to which substantive amendments were made" to statements by South Yorkshire Police to remove or alter "unfavourable" comments about the policing of the match and the unfolding disaster.

The report found that 116 of the 164 police statements identified for "substantive amendment" were "amended to remove or alter comments unfavourable to SYP".

One police officer said he only accepted the changes because he was suffering from post-traumatic stress and that he considered it an injustice for statements to have been "doctored" to suit the management of South Yorkshire Police, the report found.

The documents show, for the first time, that South Yorkshire Ambulance Service documents were "subject to the same process", the panel said.

The panel went on to say the wrongful allegations about the fans' behaviour later printed in some newspapers, particularly The Sun, originated from "a Sheffield press agency, senior SYP officers, an SYP Police Federation spokesman and a local MP".

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Sun owner News International had co-operated with the report.

He added that the source for "these despicable untruths" was the agency reporting conversations with "police and Irvine Patnick, the then MP for Sheffield Hallam".

The panel said the Police Federation, "supported informally by the SYP Chief Constable", sought to develop and publicise a version of events derived in police officers' allegations of drunkenness, ticketless fans and violence.

"The vast majority of fans on the pitch assisted in rescuing and evaluating the injured and the dead," the panel said.

The documents disclosed to the panel also revealed that further attempts were made to "impugn the reputations of the deceased by carrying out Police National Computer checks on those with a non-zero alcohol level".

There is no record of these tests or their results in the medical notes of the survivors and in some there was "no apparent medical reason for the test".

The extent of this testing remains unknown, the report says.

The report also says "there was no evidence to support the proposition that alcohol played any part in the genesis of the disaster and it is regrettable that those in positions of responsibility created and promoted a portrayal of drunkenness as contributing to the occurrence of the disaster and the ensuing loss of life without substantiating the evidence".

The weight placed on alcohol levels in the coroner's summing up was "inappropriate and misleading", the panel found.

The panel found that access to cabinet documents revealed that in an exchange about her Government welcoming the Taylor Report, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher expressed her concern that the "broad thrust" of the report constituted a "devastating criticism of the police".

Families welcome panel's report

Chairwoman of the Hillsborough Families Support Group Margaret Aspinall said the 96 victims can finally rest in peace.

She added: "[The panel] have made our city proud today but most importantly they have made the 96 rest in peace for the first time in all those years."

Trevor Hicks, who lost two daughters in the disaster, vowed to press for criminal action against those involved, adding: "The truth is out today, justice starts tomorrow."

Mr Hicks said they felt "totally vindicated" after enduring years of accusations that they were being "vengeful, spiteful, looking for a scapegoat or looking for compensation".

He said: "All of this is a total load of rubbish. If today says one thing to the world, we are vindicated in our search for the truth."

Mr Hicks said the families gave the panel a standing ovation when it finished reporting its findings to them and that three people even fainted as the information came out.

Michael Mansfield QC, who is representing the families, said it was "perfectly obvious" from the report that "criminal liability - for which there is no time limit - is on the cards".

Kelvin MacKenzie, who was the editor of The Sun at the time of the tragedy and who wrote the headline The Truth, today offered his "profuse apologies to the people of Liverpool for that headline".

Mr MacKenzie added: "It has taken more than two decades, 400,000 documents and a two-year inquiry to discover to my horror that it would have far more accurate had I written the headline The Lies rather than The Truth.

"I published in good faith and I am sorry that it was so wrong."

Mr Hicks rejected Mr MacKenzie's apology as "too little, too late", calling him "lowlife, clever lowlife, but lowlife".

Cameron offers full apology

Mr Cameron said that the Hillsborough disaster was "one of the greatest peacetime tragedies of the last century".

The evidence uncovered by today's report was "deeply distressing" and raised "vital questions which must be examined", he said.

Announcing that the report will be debated in the House of Commons soon after MPs return from their conference break in October, Mr Cameron said: "The conclusions of this report will be harrowing for many of the families affected.

"Anyone who has lost a child knows the pain never leaves you.

"But to read a report years afterwards that says - and I quote - 'a swifter, more appropriate, better focused and properly equipped response had the potential to save more lives', can only add to the pain.

"With the weight of the new evidence in this peport, it is right for me today as prime minister to make a proper apology to the families of the 96 for all they have suffered over the past 23 years."

The chief constable of South Yorkshire Police said today that he was "profoundly sorry" for his force's actions in the aftermath of the disaster.

David Crompton said he had been "shocked" by the findings of the report and officers had made "grave errors".

He said: "In the immediate aftermath senior officers sought to change the record of events. Disgraceful lies were told which blamed the Liverpool fans for the disaster.

"I am profoundly sorry for the way the force failed on 15th April 1989 and I am doubly sorry for the injustice that followed and I apologise to the families of the 96 and Liverpool fans."