Clive Betts (Sheffield South East, Labour)
It is important that we get to the truth—the families have waited for far too long. I support the calls for a new inquest; clearly, the 3.15 pm cut-off was arbitrary and wrong. I do not believe that that inquest should
take place in Sheffield, and I think that the Government ought to fund the cost of it. I support the further investigations by the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the Director of Public Prosecutions. I think what they will do is concentrate on the key issues: the failure of police control and monitoring on the day, which is what Lord Justice Taylor found many years ago; the subsequent evidence coming out of the panel that there was an attempt at a cover-up, including changes to statements; and whether, as a result of those issues, criminal prosecutions or charges of misconduct should follow.
I support the comment of my hon. Friend Angela Smith that although the police actions on the day were at the heart of this problem, the South Yorkshire police force is now a different organisation with a different culture. It is important that, as local Members, we support it in trying to maintain the trust and confidence of local people in its day-to-day policing activities. As she mentioned, Sheffield Wednesday football club is also a new organisation with new ownership.
I agree with Steve Rotheram that there were failings, and he rightly identifies them and the panel draws people’s attention to them. However, Lord Justice Taylor also dealt with the issue of breakdown between police and club, and paragraph 166 of the interim report stated:
“What is clear, however, is that de facto the police at Hillsborough had accepted responsibility for control of the pens at the Leppings Lane end.”
That is the key issue—the control and responsibility were with the police and they failed absolutely on the day.
In terms of Sheffield city council, I am pleased that the panel found absolutely no new evidence or information that had not been available to Lord Justice Taylor. As leader of the council at the time, I made it clear to all its officers that they were expected to co-operate thoroughly with Taylor’s investigations and inquiries, and to provide all evidence and information—clearly, they did that. Again, as has been identified, including by Taylor, there were failures by the advisory panel and as a result of the non-issuing of a safety certificate. I shall discuss that in a moment.
We must place all this in the context of what football what like at the time. As a football fan, I went to every away ground. I had been to all 92 clubs—to every ground in the country—at one point. My hon. Friend Ian Lavery said that he had been at an incident at Sheffield Wednesday where there had been crushing and nobody seemed to act. I went to many grounds where there was crushing and problems, and so did other football fans. That was accepted as commonplace at the time; it was accepted that that was what happened at football matches. Of course it is wrong that that should have been the case, but that is what happened. Lord Justice Taylor said:
“there have been many other occasions when overcrowding has led, at various grounds round the country, to a genuine apprehension of impending disaster through crushing, averted only by good fortune… So, although the operational errors on
This was a problem of football generally.
Of course I am devastated that the disaster happened at my football club, but I do not believe it was down to a number of individuals believing the ground to be unsafe and carrying on regardless. The horrible truth is that Hillsborough was generally regarded as a safe ground, which was why it was selected, although it proved not to have been so in the event. Of course there should have been a safety certificate—there is no excuse for the failure to provide it—but the evidence was that one was being prepared, which would actually have justified the arrangements of the ground as they were.
One of the fundamental problems that Taylor’s report identified was that although the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 and the green guide, which clubs, local authorities and the police were meant to follow, required an overall capacity for a ground, there was no mandatory requirement for individual parts of the ground to have a special capacity limit—that simply was not a requirement. Furthermore, even if there was a capacity for individual parts of the ground, there was no requirement—this was a crucial problem at Hillsborough—to have mechanisms, electronic or otherwise, to count people into each individual pen. I went to football grounds all around the country and I found that, generally speaking, people went through a turnstile at one end of the ground and there was no counting mechanism for any individual part of that end.