With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the Hillsborough stadium disaster.
Ninety-six people lost their lives as a result of the Hillsborough disaster, which happened on 15 April 1989. That was more than eight years ago, but no one who saw the news reports on that dreadful Saturday will have forgotten those terrible events. For those who lost loved members of their family, the pain is ever present. Following Hillsborough, Members of the House were united in their determination to do all in their power to prevent anything like that ever happening again.
After the Hillsborough disaster, a number of inquiries and investigations took place. The most thorough and wide-ranging of those was the public inquiry led by the late Lord Taylor. The terms of reference of that inquiry encompassed not only inquiring into the disaster, but making recommendations about crowd control and safety at sports events.
Lord Taylor's inquiry took oral evidence from more than 170 witnesses at public hearings during May and June 1989 and considered many hours of video evidence from different sources. In his interim report in August 1989, Lord Taylor found that the disaster had a number of causes. He did not attribute all the blame to a single cause or person, but in paragraph 278 he made it clear that, in his view,
The main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control".
Lord Taylor made 43 recommendations in his interim report. His final report in January 1990 made a further 76 recommendations. The developments that have taken place since then in safety at football grounds and in the policing of football matches have been based largely on those recommendations. Football in this country has been transformed since the Taylor report. To a large extent, that is due to Lord Taylor's wide-ranging and soundly based conclusions.
The deaths that occurred on 15 April 1989 were also the subject of inquests conducted by the coroner of the western district of South Yorkshire. After examining the evidence, the jury at the coroner's inquest found in March 1991 that the cause of death of those who died at Hillsborough was accidental death. A further investigation was conducted by the West Midlands police, supervised by the Police Complaints Authority, to establish whether there were any grounds for criminal proceedings and to consider whether any police officer should be subject to disciplinary proceedings.
That investigation involved the taking of more than 5,000 statements and the scrutiny of all the material that had been examined previously by the Taylor inquiry. After that investigation, the evidence was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who concluded that no person should be subject to criminal proceedings.
The Police Complaints Authority decided that the chief superintendent and the superintendent in charge on the day should face disciplinary charges for neglect of duty. In the event, the chief superintendent retired due to ill health in advance of a ruling by a disciplinary tribunal. Under police discipline rules, a disciplinary hearing cannot proceed when a police officer retires before the hearing takes place. The Police Complaints Authority decided later that disciplinary proceedings against the superintendent should be withdrawn because the retirement of the chief superintendent meant that what, in effect, was a joint allegation of neglect of duty could not be heard fairly in the absence of the more senior officer.
Hon. Members will be familiar with the unhappiness of the families of those who died regarding the outcome of the inquest. They later applied for judicial review of the coroner's proceedings. In November 1993, the divisional court ruled that none of the matters raised in the judicial review proceedings justified intervention by that court in the verdict of the inquest jury.
The events surrounding the disaster have therefore been subject to investigation on several occasions. However, concerns have remained about whether the full facts have yet emerged. I have met relatives of the Hillsborough victims whose suffering is exacerbated by their belief that there are unresolved issues that should be investigated further.
Representations were made to my predecessor and have been made to me, to the Attorney-General and to the Director of Public Prosecutions. A Granada television programme in December last year dramatised the disaster and raised a number of issues that, in the view of the programme makers, represented new evidence. The programme prompted an Adjournment debate on 17 December 1996, which was led by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), and to which my predecessor, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), replied. I know how seriously my predecessor viewed the matter.
Since that programme, further material has been submitted on behalf of the Hillsborough families support group. Those representations have related in particular to video evidence of the disaster and to medical evidence about the time of death of the victims. My Department, the office of the Attorney-General and the Crown Prosecution Service have considered very carefully all the evidence that has been put forward in recent months. The Director of Public Prosecutions has taken the view that the material so far presented to her would not justify fresh criminal proceedings. The former Attorney-General, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), also took the view—again, on the basis of the material presented to him—that any application to the High Court for a new inquest would not have any realistic prospect of succeeding.
None the less, I am acutely conscious that the families of those who died at Hillsborough and many others, including hon Members, are very concerned that unresolved issues remain. I am determined to go as far as I can to ensure that no matter of significance is overlooked and that we do not reach a final conclusion without a full and independent examination of the evidence.
The Attorney-General, the Director of Public Prosecutions and I have therefore agreed that it is in the public interest to establish an independent scrutiny to ascertain whether there now exists any new evidence relating to the disaster which was not previously available.
We are appointing Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, a senior Lord Justice of the Court of Appeal, for that purpose. His full terms of reference are as follows:
To ascertain whether any evidence exists relating to the disaster at the Hillsborough Stadium on 15 April 1989 which was not available:
And in relation to (a) to advise whether any evidence not previously available is of such significance as to justify establishment by the Secretary of State for the Home Department of a further Public Inquiry: and in relation to (b) and (c) to draw to their attention any evidence not previously considered by them which may be relevant to their respective duties; and to advise whether there is any other action which should be taken in the public interest.I shall place a copy of those terms of reference in the Library.
We have asked Lord Justice Stuart-Smith to examine all the written and other evidence that has been submitted. He will also consider any further material that interested parties wish to submit to him. He will have two tasks. The first is to advise me whether any evidence not previously available is of such significance as to justify a further full public inquiry. His advice to me will be made available to the House, and will be made public. Secondly, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith will identify for the Attorney-General, the DPP and the chief constable of South Yorkshire police any evidence that might be relevant to their decisions that has not previously been considered.
I hope that this examination will enable us to establish conclusively whether material evidence about the causes of the Hillsborough disaster has been overlooked. I assure the House that, if it has, I will take whatever action is needed. We owe it to everyone who has been touched by the tragedy, but, above all, to the families of those who died to get to the bottom of the matter once and for all.
I thank the Home Secretary for his statement and for his personal courtesy in relation to it.
What happened at Hillsborough was a tragedy of almost unimaginable proportions. Thousands of people—young and old alike—went to a football game; 96 did not return and others were injured. Those realities have blighted the lives of thousands of people for ever. There remain hurt and loss from which, in varying degrees, those people may never recover, and we are all affected by their suffering.
We owe it to the families and friends of those who died, to members of the police force and the other emergency services and to all who believe in justice to ensure—in the Home Secretary's words—
that no matter of significance is overlooked and that we do not reach a final conclusion without a full and independent examination of the evidence.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on that. I welcome his announcement and will support Lord Justice Stuart-Smith in pursuing that important examination.
I have four specific questions to ask the Home Secretary about his statement. First, given the urgency involved—not least for those most affected by those terrible events; primarily the families, but also the police officers—what timetable does the right hon. Gentleman envisage, and can the House have his assurance that the process will begin immediately?
Secondly, the Home Secretary said that he would make Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's advice to him available to the House and the public. Will he also publish all the evidence considered by the lord justice on which that advice was based?
Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman has said that Lord Justice Stuart-Smith will consider any further material that interested parties wish to submit. Will such material be examinable in public and will those who may be affected by such material be given the opportunity respond to it before the lord justice reaches any conclusions?
Finally, given the sensitivity of this matter and the Home Secretary's constructive attitude, which I hope he feels that I have reciprocated, will he undertake to agree with his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that the House can debate this matter further when Lord Justice Stuart-Smith has concluded his investigation?
Positive responses by the right hon. Gentleman to those four questions will help to reassure the families that we are genuinely seeking to help.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks and for his courtesy. If it is not wholly inappropriate, I also congratulate him on his appointment as shadow Home Secretary. I am extremely grateful to him for his welcome for these proceedings. This is not and never has been a matter of party controversy. As I have said, I know how seriously my predecessor, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe, took this matter.
The right hon. Gentleman asked four questions, the first of which was on the timetable. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith has told me that, subject to a case that he is currently hearing in the Court of Appeal being concluded as soon as possible, he intends to do some work in respect of the new duties before the end of July, and to start his proceedings in September. We hope that the matter will be concluded and that he will be able to produce his report by the end of the year. However, the House will understand that that is a judgment which only Lord Justice Stuart-Smith can make in the light of all the representations that he receives.
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman asked whether, in addition to publishing the advice that I receive from Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, I will publish all the evidence that is considered by him. My answer to the right hon. Gentleman is provisional. I shall do my best to ensure that that is the case, but there may be good reasons—for example, in respect of criminal or disciplinary proceedings—why such evidence cannot be published at the same time as the advice is published. However, if evidence is to be unpublished, I shall make that clear at the time.
Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman asked whether there can be examination in public and whether the families and others would be able to make representations. The answer to the latter part of the question is yes. As the House would expect, the exact proceedings of the scrutiny are matters for Lord Justice Stuart-Smith to decide, and he will base his decision on his long experience as a senior member of the judiciary.
The fourth issue that the right hon. Gentleman raised was whether, when the advice is received, I would discuss with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House the matter of a debate. Of course I shall do that.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement. I also congratulate Granada Television and Jimmy McGovern, whose efforts have brought this matter back to the attention of the House. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the families who have fought for so long will have the opportunity of legal representation to enable them to present their cases, whether orally or in writing, to the Lord Justice? Will they receive some financial assistance to enable them to do that?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her remarks, and for her welcome for the statement. The costs of those who have to travel to appear before the scrutiny will be met by my Department. My hon. Friend asks about legal representation. That issue has not been raised by me during my discussions with the families. I understand that they already have legal representation. If a further issue arises, I shall, of course, consider it.
Is the Home Secretary aware that Liberal Democrat Members welcome this focused re-examination of the evidence, including recently found evidence, on these terrible events, which have been etched into the minds of all the people who saw the television coverage at the time and etched dreadfully into the lives of the people who lost family members; but will he confirm that it is very unlikely—and perhaps impossible—that police discipline proceedings could be reopened as a result of what might be found in the inquiry?
Does he recognise that the public find it difficult to understand how police discipline proceedings can be brought to a halt when retirement on health grounds takes place before the hearing has begun? Given that Lord Taylor's main recommendation was that, although there were many factors, the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control, that will leave questions in the public mind, which will pass beyond the inquiry into what can be done when conclusions are reached.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome for my statement. He asked me to say that further police discipline proceedings would be very unlikely. That is to anticipate the view that Lord Justice Stuart-Smith may or may not come to, and, with great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I shall not do that. He also invites me to make general comments on police discipline regulations. There may be an occasion to debate the generality of such regulations, but I do not believe that now is the time.
I say only that the police discipline regulations exist and have been approved from time to time by the House; they are statutory regulations. It is, of course, open to Secretaries of State and to the House to change them in the light of circumstances.
I am sure that the Home Secretary realises that the most tragic trauma of the event was suffered by the families of the Liverpool fans who attended the match, but it was also one of the most traumatic events in their history for the people of the Hillsborough area of Sheffield—the links that they have made and maintain with families in Liverpool bear witness to that. While he considers the evidence that, I believe, he is rightly having another look at, will Lord Justice Stuart-Smith consider in detail the lessons to be learned both for the communities living around big football stadiums and for the policing of football matches?
I accept entirely what my hon. Friend said: this tragedy went beyond the people directly affected who were supporters of Liverpool football club and traumatised the people living around Hillsborough and all the people in Sheffield and in south Yorkshire as well. We should not forget that, on that day, there were many individual acts of great courage by people from south Yorkshire, by people in the police, fire and ambulance services and by many other ordinary citizens.
My hon. Friend asked me whether wider lessons, including lessons about the policing of football matches, can be considered by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith in his scrutiny. The answer to that, I am afraid, is that we do not anticipate that they can be. The scrutiny will look at new evidence that has come forward since the earlier inquiries, to find out whether that evidence is sufficiently significant to trigger either a new public inquiry, ordered by myself, or action by the Attorney-General, the Director of Public Prosecutions or the chief officer of South Yorkshire police. I do not believe that, at any stage since the late Lord Justice Taylor reported, there has been any criticism of his wider recommendations, most of which have been implemented, on the policing of football matches and on crowd control.
I am sure that no hon. Member would challenge the judgment that the Home Secretary has come to today, but will he confirm that, in his statement, he said that, on the evidence submitted to her, the Director of Public Prosecutions had concluded that nothing justified fresh criminal investigations? Could he give two undertakings to the House: that, in due course, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith will make it clear what new evidence he is considering that was not available to the Director of Public Prosecutions in making that judgment, and why that evidence was not available earlier?
I can confirm exactly what the hon. Gentleman says. I said that the Director of Public Prosecutions has taken the view that the material so far presented to her would not justify fresh criminal investigations. I also referred to a judgment made by the former Attorney-General, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), but I ought to make it clear that, as I understand it—as I am informed—he based that judgment on information other than that which arose following the television programme screened last December.
It is in the nature of asking a senior and highly respected judge of the Court of Appeal to look at all the fresh allegations and the fresh evidence that he may come to a different view from that which the Director of Public Prosecutions has so far come to on the evidence that she has available. That is not in any sense to imply any criticism of the work of the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Crown Prosecution Service.
On behalf of constituents of mine who were so tragically affected by this event, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether the fresh inquiry will bring about some consideration of the way in which the coroner's court conducted its affairs during the inquiries immediately after the deaths? Does it constitute the possibility of fresh evidence—evidence that should have perhaps come to the coroner's court earlier—now becoming more widely available?
There has been continuing concern about the way in which inquests generally are conducted. There was a working party report into large-scale disasters and inquests, which recommended significant changes, including a change whereby if there were, God forbid, a disaster of a similar scale and nature in the future, there would be one inquiry similar to that conducted by the late Lord Justice Taylor, which would be the general public inquiry and also take the form of an inquest, so that the relatives would be spared going through the agony caused by two separate inquiries.
The issue of the way in which the first inquest was conducted was the subject of great consideration by the divisional court when there were proceedings for judicial review. It is a matter for Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, but I expect that he will not wish to go over that ground but will instead, as part of his scrutiny, wish to consider with great care the new allegations of evidence not put before the inquest—especially, as the House is well aware, arguments about the time of death which, in the view of the relatives and programme makers, the inquest was not properly able to take into account.
I warmly welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement and the measured and sensitive way in which he outlined his plans. I take the point about the issue of police discipline in respect of this inquiry, but will he nevertheless undertake to consider a re-examination—not necessarily in the light of these events, but more generally—of the police disciplinary code, which provides that, once an officer has retired, any matters under investigation lapse? Does he agree that that should be reconsidered, and will he undertake to do so?
Yes, without reference to this particular case, I accept that many members of the public regard it as odd that, when an officer retires, that is the end of all disciplinary processes. However, one of the things on which I am currently taking advice is the fact that, as I understand it, regulations expect chief officers not to permit the retirement of officers on grounds of ill health where disciplinary proceedings are still pending. There is, therefore, an issue not only of whether disciplinary regulations should be changed, but of whether chief officers of police are properly fulfilling the terms of existing regulations. Both these matters are subjects that I wish to investigate.
I welcome the Home Secretary's statement, in that it opens up the possibility of justice for the families whose lives have been so cruelly devastated. Is my right hon. Friend able to assure the House that, while the inevitable legal considerations take place, he will keep in mind the prime consideration of the feelings of the families involved and their belief that they have been denied justice, in that information was not brought forward at the appropriate time?
Of course I give that assurance to my hon. Friend. I made the decision to ask Lord Justice Stuart-Smith to conduct further scrutiny because I felt that there was fresh evidence that required proper and independent examination. In reaching that decision, of course I took full account of the profound distress and grief felt by relatives of those who lost their lives. As I said in my statement, those feelings have been compounded by a belief that some aspects of the tragedy—its causes and the culpability of those whose actions may or may not have led to the tragedy—have not been fully examined.
I am sure that the Home Secretary will be aware that, although the events of that day were particularly traumatic for the people of Liverpool and of Sheffield, they were traumatic also for football fans across the country. He will also be aware that, in the past 12 months, after years in which the incidence of hooliganism at and around football matches was declining, there have been worrying signs that hooliganism is beginning to increase. In the light of his answer to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Helen Jackson) that Lord Justice Stuart-Smith will not be able to consider the wider issues arising from the Hillsborough tragedy, will he tell us whether, ultimately—should the incident be examined by a public inquiry—a public inquiry will be able to consider the wider issues of crowd control and policing at football matches?
For well over the past 10 years, I have taken my children to football matches. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that, since implementation of Lord Taylor's recommendations, there has been profound improvement in football fans' behaviour at and around football grounds. The recommendations have led also to significant improvements in policing football matches. Now—as we saw during Euro 96—it is a pleasure to take anyone, including one's children, to football matches. Ten years ago, as I know for certain, it was often a frightening experience. I have received no representations that there need to be changes in the criminal law to deal with crowd control at football matches, although I will consider any such representations that might be made.
I should make it clear that the purpose of Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's scrutiny will be to consider the fresh evidence that has become available on the Hillsborough tragedy. I cannot anticipate the full terms of reference of any full public inquiry that I may establish. As I said earlier in answer to my hon. Friends, however, what is clear and beyond peradventure is that no one has criticised Lord Taylor or the way in which he conducted his inquiry, particularly on crowd control at football matches.
May I again express my condolences to the Hillsborough families? Those of us from Merseyside know that, to this day, the nerves are still raw and the pain is still tangible when Hillsborough and Leppards lane are mentioned. I should therefore like to associate myself with the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Ms Ellman) that, in the previous inquiry, the feelings of Hillsborough families were shamefully neglected.
May I pursue that point and ask my right hon. Friend whether Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's terms of reference will extend to consideration of past and possible future governmental support for those families? Although very strong support was provided—particularly locally, but also nationally—to those families in their grief, the amount of Government support was pitiful. Will the Lord Justice's terms of reference extend also to examining certain newspapers' disgraceful accusations about the behaviour of fans who were killed, at a time when their families were feeling such pain?
I understand entirely the feelings of my hon. Friend, expressed on behalf of his constituents. He asked me whether the terms of reference extend to future Government support to the families. They do not. With great respect to my hon. Friend, I make no apologies for that. The scrutiny by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith is to ascertain whether any evidence exists relating to the disaster at the Hillsborough stadium that was not available to the Taylor inquiry, the inquest, the Director of Public Prosecutions in respect of criminal prosecutions or the chief officer of the South Yorkshire police. As has been said, it is a focused scrutiny, led by someone who is senior and respected on the Court of Appeal bench to carry out a specific task that I believe the families have asked us to do.
I welcome the statement as a Merseyside Member, at the end of a line that connects most supporters of Liverpool football club. From what I remember—I was in the House at the time—many people said that they had recollections of what happened, but never came forward because they were terrified to give evidence. Can we make an appeal—from the House or through the lord justice—to ordinary people and ask them to stretch their memories once more and, if they were frightened to do so at the time, to come forward now with any new evidence? That is a crucial part of the procedure.
If there are any individuals who have material evidence that was not produced at the inquiry conducted by the late Lord Taylor, at the inquest or in relation to the police disciplinary investigation by West Midlands Police, I appeal to them to come forward.
I did not properly answer the second part of the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) in relation to allegations by newspapers. Although I shall not go into that, let me make it quite clear that Lord Taylor's report dismissed entirely the allegations made by certain newspapers and clearly came to the view that the principal reason for the disaster was the failure of police control. I hope that remains a matter of reassurance for the families.
I declare an interest as a director of Sheffield Wednesday football club and an eye witness to the event who was no more than 50 yards away before and after the game. The only other hon. Member who was an eye witness was Eddie Loyden, who has since left the House. Sheffield Wednesday football club has the deepest sympathy with the victims and will be happy to co-operate in any way with the inquiry.
I have two questions for my right hon. Friend. First, will the evidence be given on oath? There is a great interest in that. Secondly, he will recall that the previous inquiry cost some £250,000, excluding compensation. Will the Government pay for the inquiry and refund all the expenses to the parties concerned, including the witnesses and relatives of the victims? Will it be possible to reopen the matter of compensation? Can he give us some information about that?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, especially given his position as a director of Sheffield Wednesday football club. He asked whether evidence before the scrutiny by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith will be given on oath. We are not planning that that should be the ease. If Lord Justice Stuart-Smith considers that he has inadequate powers to conduct the scrutiny, I shall actively consider any such representations from him, but I do not expect that it will be a problem, given the nature of the scrutiny that we are asking him to undertake in respect of the new evidence.
My hon. Friend asked whether the Government will pay the costs of the inquiry. We shall certainly pay for the cost of the inquiry itself and will refund the travelling and incidental expenses of those who appear before it to make representations. I dealt with the issue of legal representation, which is a much wider issue. So far, I have had no calls for legal aid. That would involve some large decisions to which I cannot commit myself. With respect to my hon. Friend, the issue of compensation for trauma suffered does not arise as a result of this scrutiny.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that, a short time before the general election, traumatised policemen were awarded substantial sums because they had witnessed the horrific events? It is well known that many of the Liverpool families of the victims have not received anything. I take it, from his answer today, that compensation will not be dealt with by the inquiry. Will he give a guarantee that, if the results of the inquiry lean in the direction that many of us hope for, consequential payments could be made to those Liverpool families?
The issue of some police officers receiving compensation while some of those who were on the terraces have not is not a matter for this scrutiny—not because it is unimportant, but because it is not directly related to the need for the scrutiny, which is to examine allegations of new material evidence. If that new material evidence is found to exist, it should trigger a new public inquiry or action by the Attorney-General, the Director of Public Prosecutions or the chief officer of the police.
I fully understand the concerns that have been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the payment of compensation to police officers and its unavailability to others who were there. The issue could be raised in the debate that I promised to discuss with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in response to the shadow Home Secretary.
I represent a number of families who lost loved ones in the Hillsborough disaster and a number of people who were severely injured there. I am sure that the Hillsborough families support group will welcome the independent review of the evidence. Will that review look at the events that took place between 3.15 and 5.30 pm? The issue is very important for many of my constituents. I hope that what my right hon. Friend has announced today will lead to a full public inquiry.
The answer to my hon. Friend's first question is an unequivocal yes. One of the major issues raised by the Granada Television programme and by the families, support group is the time of death—whether it was 3.15 for all those who died or whether it was later for some. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith will examine that critical issue.