Graham Evans (Weaver Vale, Conservative)
I welcome this report, and I pay tribute to Andy Burnham and the hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram)and for Halton (Derek Twigg) for all they have done over many, many years. This tragic event has finally received the independent scrutiny it deserves, and I thank the Bishop of Liverpool for his forensic and exhaustive report, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General for their commitment to justice.
The report’s findings have confirmed what witnesses and the families of the victims have always maintained: the allegations of drunkenness, ticketlessness and violence were deliberately and maliciously spread by the police, the authorities and elements of the media. It is difficult, looking back now, to understand the culture and attitudes towards football fans in the 1970s and 1980s. As a Manchester United fan who attended matches during this period, I know that a small minority of people gave the beautiful game a bad reputation. The distrust with which football fans were viewed gave some individual members of the authorities a smokescreen behind which they could hide. The fans who visited that fateful day, who included the hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton and for Halton, were, it was implied, architects of their own demise.
I recall the days in 1989 when I visited Old Trafford and the hostile and somewhat aggressive attitude of the police that we encountered when we arrived at the ground for a game. I am amused when I think of the people I used to go there with and the positions they now occupy in modern society—perhaps we wish we had known then what we know now, as we might not have been so compliant. I also remember BBC Radio 5’s Alan Green mentioning that he went to a Sheffield United game a few days after the Hillsborough disaster and saw members of the South Yorkshire police laughing
and joking while they were looking after the crowd. He shared with his listeners his disbelief that police officers could be laughing and joking such a short time after that tragedy.
I am thankful that many of the contributing factors that led to the events on
The failures of the police, the stadium management and the other emergency services are clear. There is responsibility, and it was avoided through a systematic abuse of power. The report found that 164 statements were significantly amended and criticism of police actions was removed in 116 of them. Blame was deliberately placed on the victims. Vicious and wholly untrue allegations were passed to and published by the media. Those allegations, it has finally been revealed, were the reported conversation between South Yorkshire police and the then Member for Sheffield Hallam. The public, sections of the media and Parliament were deliberately misled. We have to ask why West Midlands police were used as an independent police force to investigate South Yorkshire police, given that a few years earlier, in the early 1980s, their serious crime squad had been investigated and found guilty of corruption. I hope and believe that some senior officers from that force will be held to account.
The conclusion of the coroner’s inquest and the practices used, once again, seemed to seek to deflect blame from the police on to the victims. The checking of children’s blood-alcohol levels served no purpose whatsoever, except to reinforce perceptions of lawless drunkenness. As a proud father who takes his children to football matches, I can only imagine the distress that this must have caused those families. The conclusion that by 3.15 pm no one could have been saved failed to take into account the individual circumstances of each victim’s death and sought to suggest a powerlessness on behalf of the authorities to reduce the death toll, as was well mentioned by my hon. Friend Stephen Mosley. We must wait for a new inquest before definitive conclusions can be made, but the report’s findings suggest that lives could and should have been saved, and that makes my blood run cold.
It has been a long, long fight for the truth to be made public, but I believe that justice will be done. I welcome the Attorney-General’s commitment, I welcome the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s decision to investigate wrongdoing by the police, and I welcome The Sun’s front page story, “The real truth”. We have an opportunity to do right by the families of the victims, the 96 themselves and all football fans, past, present and future.