Theresa May (Home Secretary; Maidenhead, Conservative)
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the matter of the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report.
The Hillsborough independent panel published its report on
Before I do so, however, I want to remind the House of some of the panel’s findings. First, it found that the safety of the crowd entering Hillsborough’s Leppings Lane terrace was “compromised at every level”. The capacity of the terrace had been significantly over-calculated, meaning that hundreds more tickets were sold than the area could safely accommodate. Crush barriers were lower than set out in safety rules. Their layout was also inadequate. The small number of turnstiles meant that delays were always likely at a capacity match. There were three times more people per turnstile at Leppings Lane than at the opposite end of the ground.
Previous instances of crushing had not been recognised or acted on. Lessons had not been learned. When the disaster happened, neither the police nor the ambulance service properly activated their major incident procedure, which meant that command and control roles were not properly filled. The panel found
“repeated evidence of failures in leadership and emergency response coordination”.
There was no systematic triage of casualties and a lack of basic equipment. None of this takes away from the heroic work of spectators and individual members of the emergency services who fought to save lives, but the panel is clear that a swifter, better-equipped and better-focused emergency response could have saved more people.
The original inquests heard that the victims of Hillsborough suffered traumatic asphyxia leading to unconsciousness within seconds and death within a few minutes, but the detailed medical analysis produced by the panel tells a different story. The panel considered that there was definite evidence in 41 cases, and possibly in a further 17 others, that those who died did so after having survived for a longer period. In these cases, their condition was potentially recoverable, and they might have survived had there been a more effective emergency response. It is difficult to imagine how the families of those who died must feel hearing that fact after 23 years.
The truth, however hard to bear, should not have taken so long to be told. The panel’s report shows that the coroner at the original inquest acted on the medical advice of pathologists and after seeking the views of colleagues, but it also shows very clearly that the structure
of the inquest and the imposition of a 3.15 pm cut-off of evidence meant that a false picture was presented and accepted as fact.
The panel’s report makes it clear that South Yorkshire police in the last couple of years have set an example in terms of the process of disclosure to the panel. However, its findings about South Yorkshire police in 1989 are stark. The panel’s report lays bare the reaction of the police in attempting to shift blame for the disaster on to the fans. Lord Justice Taylor’s report into Hillsborough found that the disaster’s main cause was
“the failure of police control”.
Inadequate crowd management and poor provision of turnstiles led to an unmanageable crush outside the ground. Taylor found that the police were right to respond by opening exit gate C but wrong to fail to consider where fans entering through that gate would go next. Most went straight ahead, down a tunnel marked “Standing”, into the already-full central pens. Failure to block that tunnel was, according to Lord Taylor’s report,
“a blunder of the first magnitude”.
The police, however, attempted to create a different story—one in which drunken Liverpool fans arrived in their thousands at the last minute and caused the disaster. Their late arrival, it was claimed, overwhelmed the police. Officers presented unfounded stories of vile behaviour to the press. The intention, according to the panel, was to
“develop and publicise a version of events that focused on…allegations of drunkenness, ticketlessness and violence”.
In seeking to make its case, South Yorkshire police went so far as to vet the written statements made by its officers. Once vetted, changes were made. The panel found that 164 statements were altered significantly. Of those, 116 were amended so as to remove content that was unfavourable to the police, including on its lack of leadership.