Hillsborough family injustices will never be repeated – government

Hillborough disaster pitch ambulance
The government says no family should suffer the same injustices as those who lost loved ones at Hillsborough (Image: Hillsborough Inquests)

The government has signed a Hillsborough Charter, promising no family will suffer the same injustices as those involved in the 1989 disaster, and apologised for a delay in doing so.

It comes more than six years after it was recommended in a report into the experiences of the bereaved families.

The 1989 Hillsborough disaster resulted in the deaths of 97 Liverpool fans during an FA Cup semi-final.

However, the government stopped short of introducing a “Hillsborough Law”.

The legislation was called for by campaigners and would have introduced a statutory “duty of candour” on public servants during all forms of investigations and inquiries.

In signing the charter, the government says it will introduce a duty for police officers to uphold the highest standards, but not for public servants.

It added the delay in signing had “taken too long, compounding the agony of the Hillsborough families and survivors”.

Ninety-seven Liverpool fans died as a result of the disaster on 15 April 1989
Ninety-seven Liverpool fans died as a result of the disaster on 15 April 1989

 

In the days that followed the Hillsborough disaster, police officers were told to put the blame on “drunken, ticketless Liverpool supporters” – when in fact their deaths were caused by a series of failures by police, the ambulance service, and defects in the stadium.

The government added that the new duty of candour on police officers would be required by law in England and Wales, and aimed to promote a culture of openness, honesty and transparency.

Chief constables must ensure their officers act with openness, and speak up on behalf of victims, building on existing requirements for individual officers to cooperate with official investigations and inquiries.

‘Profoundly sorry’

The Right Reverend James Jones made these recommendations in his 2017 report titled The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power, and he was with some of the families as they saw the government response in a report earlier.

The former Bishop of Liverpool has previously said “a change in attitude” was needed to ensure the “pain and suffering” of the families – who spent decades fighting for justice – was not repeated.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the Commons he was “profoundly sorry” for what the Hillsborough families had been through.

He said: “The Hillsborough families have suffered multiple injustices: The loss of 97 lives, the blaming of the fans and the unforgiveable institutional defensiveness by public bodies.

“I am profoundly sorry for what they have been through.” Mr Sunak said he hoped to meet the families in the new year.

‘Unflinching determination’

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk says the families of the 97 “deserve the thanks of our nation”.

Also speaking in the Commons, he said: “I was deeply moved to hear of their experiences and by the dignity with which they shared them.

“But perhaps even more affecting was their unflinching determination to make sense of the senseless, and bring about change for others. That is the true mark of compassion.”

Elkan Abrahamson, director of Hillsborough Law Now, said: “To wait six years for a government to respond to a report about a disaster that took place 34 years ago speaks volumes.

“To deliver that response on a day when all eyes are on a former prime minister giving evidence to the Covid Inquiry only seeks to increase the cynicism felt amongst Hillsborough families and the thousands of others who would benefit from a change in the law.”

He called for the full reintroduction of the Public Authority (Accountability) Bill, which was introduced by Labour MP for Leigh and now Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, but fell when the 2017 general election was called.

Mr Abrahamson said the government must make a duty of candour enforceable and ensure “a level playing field between public authorities and those affected by disasters and wrongdoing at inquests and inquiries”.

Presentational grey line

Analysis

Judith Moritz, BBC North of England Correspondent

The time it’s taken for the government to respond to the bishop’s report has become as much a focal point for campaigners as the content of the response itself.

Theresa May was still home secretary when she commissioned the report back in 2016, and six years – and seven home secretaries – have gone by since it was published.

The government knew it couldn’t avoid confronting this, and it’s striking that it’s accepted that the delay has compounded the Hillsborough families’ agony.

Given that the very purpose of the bishop’s report was to prevent further suffering, it might be seen as something of an own goal.

Campaigners for a Hillsborough Law will doubtless say that the government response falls short of the legislation they’ve envisaged.

They’ve pushed for a full “duty of candour” on all public servants – meaning that they’d be forced to be frank about their failings, when appearing at inquests and inquiries.

The government says that the police will be held to account on this front, via different legislation.

But some Hillsborough families have told me they want to see that duty extended to everyone who works in the public sector.

Inquests into the deaths of the victims found they were accidental, but families and survivors fought a 27-year campaign to prove their relatives and the supporters around them were not to blame.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel report was published in 2012, and the original verdicts were quashed, with new hearings ordered.

Fresh inquests followed and, in 2016, a jury concluded the victims were unlawfully killed and found the supporters did not contribute to their deaths.

The families who lost loved ones as a result of the Hillsborough disaster were the first to read the government’s latest response, which was released early on Wednesday morning.

It was not made available to the wider public until 12:00 GMT.

In it, the government committed to Bishop Jones’ first recommendation – the Hillsborough Charter – which has been signed by Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden.

Bishop Jones, who chaired the Hillsborough Inquiry, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the government’s response was a “milestone” for the families.

Bishop James Jones
The Right Reverend James Jones was with some families as they read the government’s latest pledge

 

He said: “One of the things that I’ve said is that grief is a journey without destination.

“There are milestones along the way and, of course, the panel report and the inquest and unlawful killing [ruling] were very significant milestones for the families, and today will also be such a milestone for them.”

Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said: “The law has failed the Hillsborough families and countless other groups affected by tragedy.

“Ensuring that no grieving family is forced to suffer the same indignity would be a fitting legacy for their decades of tireless effort.”

He said the “belated response” was “a move in the right direction”, but was not the Hillsborough Law campaigners had been asking for.

“A Hillsborough Law in full would ensure that ordinary people have a fair chance at getting the justice they deserve,” he said.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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