Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, Labour)
I welcome the Home Secretary’s opening speech, the personal attention that I know she has given to this extremely important issue, and the stance she has taken. I agree with her and join her in respect of the apology that is owed to the families for the 23 years they have waited and been denied both truth and justice and also in recognising the deep distress caused by the disturbing facts found in the Hillsborough independent panel report, which shocked the country and this House.
What was set out in its pages was a shocking failure to keep people safe. They were failures that spanned nearly three decades: the failure to improve the safety of the ground in the years before Hillsborough; the failure to learn from previous crowd problems; the failure to organise crowd safety before the match; the failure to deliver crowd safety during the match; the failure to close the tunnel once the gate was opened; the failure to help fans in the crush speedily; the failure to be honest about what happened and to investigate what happened; a failure to get to the truth; and a failure to provide justice. That is a long list of failures, which have caused untold sorrow and anguish, and which underpin the tragic death of 96 people.
A long list, too, of untruths have now finally been exposed: the untruths about the fans, about late arrivals at the match, about drinking, and about the actions of the emergency services. There is also a story of injustice: an inquest that failed to give every family a truthful account of how and why their loved one died; a failure to hold anyone to account, either through the criminal courts or through disciplinary procedures; a systematic cover-up; and a campaign of misinformation that maligned innocent people.
As the Prime Minister said on the day the report was published, Hillsborough was
“one of the greatest peacetime tragedies of the last century”.—[Hansard, 12 September 2012; Vol. 550, c. 283.]
Ninety-six people died but it could have avoided. That alone should have made it even more important to get to the truth and justice, and it makes it even more sobering and shocking that there has been a failure to do so for 23 years. All the institutions that are supposed to pursue truth and justice—that are supposed to provide checks and balances in a democracy—failed to do so over Hillsborough: the police; the courts; the police watchdogs; the justice system; the press; and democratic institutions. They all failed to deliver truth or justice for 23 years.
It is therefore with humility that we must all pay tribute to the families of the 96 victims, who fought for 23 years for the truth and are still fighting now for justice, because without the efforts of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, the Hillsborough Justice Campaign
and Hope for Hillsborough the truth would have remained hidden. They kept fighting when others would have given up, they kept calling for the truth to come out when others turned their backs and they kept standing when others fell. We must pay tribute to all of them, and we must also pay tribute to the Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Rev. James Jones, and his team of experts for setting out in black and white what the evidence shows.
I pay tribute to the Liverpool Echo, which has kept the campaign going for so long, and may I pay tribute to the local MPs, who have fought so hard to support the families? I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham, whose work in government led to the setting up of the Hillsborough panel and who has continued to pursue this issue from the Opposition Benches. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) and for Halton (Derek Twigg), and to all the other Merseyside MPs who have been so determined in standing up for their constituents; I know that many from across the Back Benches and the Front Benches will be speaking in the debate, but some will not be able to speak from the Front Bench today, including my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson, whose constituents were also affected on that day.
I welcome the words from the Home Secretary today because I believe that there is agreement right across this House about the importance of both action and accountability. Although the Hillsborough panel was set up before the election, she and the Prime Minister have supported it since and they have supported its conclusions. We are keen to work with the Government on the next steps, because disclosure and truth are not enough—the families have made it clear that they need justice. The panel’s report refers to the following quote:
“The whole point of justice consists precisely in our providing for others through humanity what we provide for our own family through affection.”
That journey is not over. So today we have the opportunity to debate and reflect on the details of the panel’s report, and the Home Secretary set out powerfully this afternoon some of the most important conclusions it reached.
I also want to make some points about the next steps, and how we make sure that the system does not fail again and that truth and justice are delivered now. Today, the three next steps have been announced. We heard about the Attorney-General’s welcome decision that he will be applying for fresh inquests into the deaths of the 96; the Director of Public Prosecutions’ decision to review the evidence with a view to criminal prosecutions; and the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s investigation into police conduct surrounding Hillsborough, which could cover both criminal and disciplinary issues. As I understand it, the Home Secretary has today told us that if the DPP decides that a criminal investigation will be pursued, a special investigative team will be established to take that forward.