John Pugh (Southport, Liberal Democrat)
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, praise the panel for its work and express my profound respect for the Hillsborough families.
Despite successive reports, it is unlikely that everyone will agree on every detail of the awful events of
When the story was told, people saw different things and offered different explanations, and obviously some had a different agenda other than simply to get the facts out in the open. The South Yorkshire police, for example, were aware from the start that potential civil and criminal liability was an issue, and they got the lawyers in. What shocked me most reading the report was the tampering with the evidence of their own officers and their apparent complicity with misrepresentation in the media. The tampering was of a very formal kind; we have heard some horrific examples, but it was more institutional than that. They drew explicitly and openly on an unclear distinction that they made between opinion and fact, and then eliminated, with the knowledge of the West Midlands police and the assistance of their lawyers, a stream of inconvenient statements they had had from their own officers, including the plentiful references to
“panic”, “chaos” and “disorganisation”. They were all eliminated as “just opinion”. They even changed evidence of “non-existent” radio communication to “hard to hear” radio communication. In other words, they engaged in an organised rewrite or editing of history. It was a clear institutional strategy. Admittedly, officers signed the amended scripts, but it would have been hard to insist on the re-inclusion of items that criticised their superiors and police performance, once they had been eliminated higher up—not exactly a smart career move.
I do not believe that the world is peopled by saints and sinners—as we have all learned, there are many shades of grey—and I dare say that some in South Yorkshire police thought they were doing the right thing. Many of us have met a lot of people involved on that day. I think, for example, of Norman Bettison, then chief constable for Merseyside, with whom many of us are acquainted in other contexts. Everyone needs a fair hearing, and there has to be a huge moral gulf between someone putting a good gloss on their own actions and those of their police force, and incriminating others, particularly those who can no longer defend themselves. That has to be reflected in any subsequent judgment.
Let us consider this: it took very little time for South Yorkshire police’s version of events to be established, broadcast and embedded in the public mind; it took 23 years for the families to do the same, and without their efforts the truth would be lost to history. As my hon. Friend John Hemming said, that tells us something about this country. It tells us that there is a huge inequality, not of wealth, but of power—power to get a fair press, power to get information, power to get justice—and that raises big questions for Parliament. In this case, Parliament has been the last resort of the powerless, but we cannot be content with a world in which power is so badly and unequally distributed.
Liverpool people have a reputation for being stroppy—I do not know why—and for looking askance at the world. We do not need to go back many generations in any Liverpool family to come across an engrained vein of grim Irish or Welsh fatalism and the belief that the world is not a fair place. The Hillsborough families have shown that that is not something we need put up with.