Hillsborough

– in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 18 February 1998.

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The Secretary of State for the Home Department Mr. Jack Straw):

With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the Hillsborough stadium disaster.

Few events in recent years have touched the lives of so many people. The families and friends of the 96 Liverpool fans who died at Hillsborough have suffered immeasurably. The whole nation has been profoundly disturbed by what occurred that day. Although almost nine years have now passed, many of the families and others felt very strongly indeed that new evidence was available that would cast new light on the events. As Home Secretary, I was determined to do all that I could to establish whether that was indeed the case.

On coming into office in May last year, I gave that question intense and urgent consideration, and on 30 June, I announced to the House that the Attorney-General and I had decided to appoint Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, a senior Lord Justice of the Court of Appeal, to conduct an independent scrutiny of the matter. His terms of reference were To ascertain whether any evidence exists relating to the disaster at the Hillsborough Stadium on 15 April 1989 which was not available;(a) to the Inquiry conducted by the late Lord Taylor; or(b) to the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Attorney General for the purpose of discharging their respective statutory responsibilities; or(c)to the Chief Officer of South Yorkshire Police in relation to police disciplinary matters;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. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith has now submitted his report, which I am publishing today. It is available in the Vote Office. His scrutiny is the latest in a series of lengthy and detailed examinations of the evidence in this case. The public inquiry led by the late Lord Justice Taylor considered fully the causes of the disaster and made wide-ranging recommendations about crowd control and safety at sports events. Those have had a profound and positive effect on both crowd safety at football grounds and on the policing of football matches.

The deaths that occurred were also the subject of inquests conducted by the coroner for the Western district of South Yorkshire in two parts in 1990 and 1991. Those inquests involved more than 80 days of public hearings. 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 or disciplinary proceedings against the police. That investigation involved taking more than 5,000 statements. At a later stage, in November 1993, a judicial review of the coroner's proceedings upheld the inquest verdict of accidental death and the conduct of those proceedings. We have now had this further detailed scrutiny by a senior Lord Justice of Appeal.

The main causes of the disaster have long been clear. They were identified by Lord Taylor in his interim report in August 1989. Lord Justice Taylor did not attribute all the blame to a single cause or person, but in paragraph 278 of his report he made it clear that the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control". Both Lord Taylor, and now Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, have been damning in their condemnation of the senior officer in charge that afternoon, the then Chief Superintendent Duckenfield. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith refers in his report to Mr. Duckenfield's disgraceful lie about—one of the gates at Hillsborough— Gate C being forced open by fans". The South Yorkshire police have in turn accepted the main share of responsibility for the disaster. Sheffield Wednesday football club and the local authority were also criticised by Lord Taylor.

With any major disaster, it is almost inevitable that, over time, some new information may become available, but that does not necessarily mean that the outcome of any previous inquiries would have been different. What is crucial is not just whether the information is new, but whether it is of such significance—to use the phrase in the terms of reference—as to justify a new inquiry.

Lord Justice Stuart-Smith has considered in great detail all the evidence put before him. That included all the relevant evidence presented to the earlier inquiries and inquests. He has looked equally rigorously at all the information presented to him, by individuals and official bodies, including those representing the families of those who died and others who have acted in support of them. He has produced a thorough and comprehensive report and goes into immense detail to analyse and reach conclusions on each of the submissions made to him.

Let me briefly summarise what Lord Justice Stuart-Smith says on the key allegations relating to video evidence and the cut-off time of 3.15 pm for the inquest, and allegations of interference with witnesses. I refer first to the video evidence. Two sets of allegations were made to Lord Justice Stuart-Smith about video evidence. They were, first, that video tapes were stolen from the club's control room to conceal material evidence from the earlier inquiries. There is no dispute that the theft of two tapes took place. The tapes were pictures from the club's closed circuit television cameras, not from police cameras. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith says that, in any event, the tapes would have shown nothing significant. Moreover, he is satisfied that all the police tapes were made available in their entirety to Lord Taylor's inquiry and to the coroner.

The second allegation relating to video tapes, with which Lord Justice Stuart-Smith deals at considerable length, was made principally by Mr. Roger Houldsworth, a video technician at Sheffield Wednesday football club. It was that the police had blamed their failure to see overcrowding in pens 3 and 4 on camera 5 being defective, when it was not; that evidence of the video tapes taken by camera 5 was deliberately suppressed and concealed; and that two police officers gave deliberately false evidence that camera 5 was not working correctly.

Lord Justice Stuart-Smith says that the police did not try to blame their failure to spot overcrowding on the terraces on faulty CCTV equipment. He says that the police controllers had a good view over the terraces from the control box, and did not pretend otherwise. He also concluded that the importance of Mr. Houldsworth's evidence has been exaggerated out of all proportion", and that Mr. Houldsworth's existence and evidence were known to the Taylor inquiry and to the coroner. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith concludes that the allegation that the police hid video tape evidence of the terraces is "unfounded".

There are allegations about the conduct of the inquest, and in particular about the cut-off time of 3.15 pm. One of the issues that has unquestionably caused most distress to those bereaved at Hillsborough was the decision of the coroner to rule that all those who had died had received the injuries that caused their deaths by 3.15 pm.

Lord Justice Stuart-Smith says that the coroner did not say that all those who died did so before 3.15 pm, or that all those who became unconscious subsequently died. It was only in relation to how or by what means the deceased came to their deaths that the cut-off time was imposed. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith says that the cut-off time did not limit the inquiry undertaken by the inquest, and that he does not consider the inquest to have been flawed. The Taylor inquiry considered in detail the response of the emergency services after 3.15 pm as well as before, and concluded that no valid criticism could be made of them.

The main allegations concerning interference with witnesses were that specific witnesses had had pressure put on them by the West Midlands police, and that the South Yorkshire police had collected evidence from their own officers in an unacceptable manner.

On the first allegation, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith concludes that there was no improper attempt to alter the evidence of those witnesses. On the second, he records that a number of the initial statements made by South Yorkshire police officers were subsequently amended on the advice of solicitors to the force before being submitted to the Taylor inquiry. He says that in a very few cases, which are referred to in appendix 7 of the report, what was excluded was either factual or comment in which factual matters were implicit. He says that it would have been preferable for those matters not to have been excluded, but he is satisfied that Lord Taylor's inquiry was not in any way inhibited or impeded by what happened.

The report also deals comprehensively in appendix 10 with the 10 questions posed by the Granada Television programme in December 1996.

Taking those and all other considerations into account, the overall conclusion that Lord Justice Stuart-Smith reaches is that there is no basis for a further public inquiry. He also finds no basis for a renewed application to quash the verdict of the inquest, and he concludes that there is no material that should be put before the Director of Public Prosecutions or the police disciplinary authorities that could cause them to reconsider the decisions that they have already taken. He also concludes that none of the evidence that he was asked to consider added anything significant to the evidence that was available to Lord Taylor's inquiry or to the inquests.

I, the Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions have considered Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's report very carefully. We have no reason to doubt his conclusions. That will, I know, be deeply disappointing for the families of those who died at Hillsborough and for many who have campaigned on their behalf.

I fully understand that those who lost loved ones at Hillsborough feel betrayed by those responsible for policing the Hillsborough football ground and for the state of the ground on that day. I hope and believe that the changes that resulted from the Taylor inquiry will mean that such a disaster will never happen again.

However, there is another sense in which the system has failed the Hillsborough families. As Lord Justice Stuart-Smith says in chapter 7 of his report: I understand the dismay that they have that no individual has personally been held to account either in a criminal court, disciplinary proceedings, or even to the extent of losing their job". That highlights some of the serious shortcomings in the police disciplinary system. Earlier this year, the Select Committee on Home Affairs produced a report that made major recommendations for change. I shall respond fully to that report soon, but what happened after Hillsborough is a prime example of why we must improve the current arrangements.

Lord Justice Stuart-Smith also comments on whether coroners' proceedings are appropriate at all in respect of a major disaster that has already been the subject of a public inquiry. He endorses the recommendation of a Home Office working group on disasters and inquests—published in March 1997—that the role of the coroner after such a public inquiry should be limited.

Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's report emphasises the exceptional difficulty of the coroner's task in conducting the main inquest. It placed an unreasonable and, I think, unnecessary burden on the families involved, given that the Taylor report had covered substantially the same ground. Certainly, I am sure that Hillsborough proved that the inquest system in its present form is an unsuitable means of dealing with disasters of that kind. I think it would be far better—above all, for the bereaved families—if there were one fully comprehensive inquiry into the causes of death and the wider circumstances.

When I instigated the scrutiny, I said I would do my best to ensure that the evidence considered by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith was published. Most of the main material that he has considered is contained in appendices to his report. Much of the other evidence that he has considered is already in the public domain, consisting of transcripts of public hearings or material considered by the Taylor inquiry. As I told the shadow Home Secretary, I am arranging for the other material considered by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith to be placed in the Library of the House, save where there are overriding reasons for doing otherwise. Let me make it clear that the material that will be published will include all the original statements made by South Yorkshire police officers, together with the amended versions submitted to the Taylor inquiry.

All hon. Members will have profound sympathy with the families and friends of those who died at Hillsborough. We can scarcely begin to comprehend what they have suffered. In his report, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith says: I realise that my report and advice will come as a disappointment to them"— the families and friends of those who died— especially since they have had their hopes raised that something more could be done. But I cannot allow compassion to cloud my judgement. I have had to look dispassionately and objectively at what is said to be fresh evidence, in the light of the evidence which had previously been considered". My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, the Director of Public Prosecutions and I have had to consider Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's report in the same light, and we accept its conclusions.

The entire country is united in sympathy with those who lost loved ones at Hillsborough. We cannot take the pain from them, but I hope that the families will recognise that the report represents—as I promised—an independent, thorough and detailed scrutiny of all the evidence that was given to the committee.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney Shadow Secretary of State

I thank the Home Secretary for his courtesy in letting me have early sight of his statement, and even earlier sight of the report. It is a long report, and, as the right hon. Gentleman will understand, I have not had the opportunity to read it all, but I have read carefully the chapter that summarises the findings in Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's own words. I also thank the right hon. Gentleman for his willingness to publish all the material, both unamended and amended. I am sure that that was the right thing to do.

We, like Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, express great sympathy for the relatives of those who died, and the spectators who were injured. We, too, find it difficult to imagine anything more horrific than the experience of those who endured it, and of those who lost their families—including children—in that appalling incident.

I have four questions on the report. First, is the Home Secretary satisfied that Lord Justice Stuart-Smith fully examined all the so-called new evidence that has emerged, not least from the families, since the Taylor inquiry? Is he personally satisfied that none of it was newly significant? Secondly, is he satisfied that the families' complaints about the so-called 3.15 pm cut-off point have been comprehensively addressed by the judge? No doubt the right hon. Gentleman realises that, although his decision to establish this independent scrutiny was broadly welcomed, it always carried the risk that it would heighten expectations, particularly those of the families who were involved. That brings me to my third question. Does he accept that they will be disappointed by the outcome of the inquiry and that some of them may feel let down?

My fourth and final question to the Home Secretary is this. By agreeing that there is no basis for a further judicial inquiry; for a reopening of Lord Taylor's inquiry; for a renewed application to the divisional court; for the Attorney-General to exercise his powers under the Coroner's Act 1988; or for any new material to be put before the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Police Complaints Authority, is he suggesting to the House and the country that matters relating to what happened and how it happened in the worst tragedy in British sporting history are now closed as far as the Government are concerned?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his opening comments. Of course, the whole House agrees with the eloquent and compassionate words that he used to express some understanding of the nightmare that the families have faced since that afternoon. He asked four questions, the first of which was whether I am personally satisfied that Lord Justice Stuart-Smith fully examined the new evidence, or the claimed new evidence that has emerged. Yes, I am satisfied, and so is my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General.

It does not follow that, when one establishes an inquiry of this kind, one is bound to accept its conclusions, but, as the right hon. Gentleman will have seen from the summary in chapter 7, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith has conducted a most careful examination of the evidence and has reached clear conclusions. It would have been extraordinary if my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and I had not followed those conclusions in those circumstances.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether I am satisfied that the families' complaints about the 3.15 pm cut-off point have been dealt with satisfactorily in the report. I am satisfied about that, so far as the report is concerned. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith states on page 41, paragraph 12 that in his view the coroner had been "widely misrepresented" about what the 3.15 pm cut-off point was meant to mean. He states: It should be noted that the Coroner did not say that all those who died did so before 3.15, or that the medical evidence was to this effect. The point about the 3.15 pm cut-off was much narrower. I do not think that that will be accepted by the families. The combination, the conjunction, of the coroner's inquest before and after the major public inquiry raises concerns about the purpose of such inquests when there is such a major inquiry, about which I commented in my statement.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the families will be disappointed. Inevitably, there was always a risk that in accepting, as I did, that there was, prima facie, sufficient new evidence needing this kind of scrutiny, the families' hopes would be raised and that that could lead to one of the four possibilities that are mentioned in the terms of reference. That was inevitable. I do not in the least think that it was wrong to set up the inquiry, and I know that the right hon. Gentleman supported me in doing so.

The families are disappointed. With your permission, Madam Speaker, I saw them at 2.15 pm this afternoon and, again with your permission, I gave them copies of the report. They are upset, disappointed and angry about its conclusions. They are also angry that I have accepted those conclusions. I understand that, but what I ask them to do—and, obviously, what they were not able to do in the three quarters of an hour that I had with them—is to read the report carefully and, I hope, in time, to come to understand that the establishment of this further scrutiny and the way in which Lord Justice Stuart-Smith conducted it show great respect for their bereavement and continuing concerns.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asked me whether I believe that, as it were, this matter is now closed. We are announcing today that there are no grounds for reopening a further full public inquiry of the sort that was conducted by Lord Justice Taylor, the coroner's inquest, disciplinary matters against the police or certain other matters. Those are our decisions, and they will have to stand.

The feelings of the families will live with them for ever, so the matter is not closed in that sense. All of us who have lost children in any circumstances have some understanding of the way in which people never get over the deaths of children, even if they die from natural causes; it is still more terrible if they die from violent causes such as this. However, there are other lessons that we have to learn. As I have said, those relate to the purpose of coroners' inquiries, to the fact that we should not put families through the mill twice, as happened in this case, and to the need to change the police disciplinary system.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Labour, Knowsley South

One has to live on Merseyside to understand the palpable sense of grief, resentment and anger that still exists in our part of the world at what we regard as the continuing injustice as a result of the Hillsborough affair.

My right hon. Friend has rightly pointed out that Lord Justice Stuart-Smith had to consider two questions: was there new evidence; and was it sufficiently strong to be a basis for reopening the inquiry? I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to paragraph 14 and related paragraph 13 on page 41 of the report, which deal with the 3.15 pm cut-off, which is one of the most important sources of anger. Referring to new evidence about whether people were alive after 3.15 pm, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith says: it is difficult to see the relevance of further evidence that person A was alive at 3.15 pm but died subsequently"— referring to whether people might have survived if they had been given better medical treatment. He justifies that conclusion by referring to the divisional court, which rejected such grounds, concluding that such questions were not relevant to the inquiry into how—i.e. by what means— the deceased had come to their deaths. If a person had a cardiac arrest in hospital and was not satisfactorily treated, would that be regarded as simply death by cardiac arrest, or would the consideration of neglect come into it?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The point that my hon. Friend raises is often raised in relation to the conduct of inquests. It comes up when, for example, there have been allegations of deaths in custody and in many cases when there has been a violent or unexpected death. The relatives believe that part of the purpose of the inquest is to allocate blame for what has happened, whereas the purpose of the inquest is much narrower: to try to identify the cause of death. It is in that context that Lord Justice Smart-Smith makes his remarks. It is important to recognise that all that he says in paragraph 14 on page 41 follows the decision of the divisional court, which followed a thorough judicial review hearing, not to grant a reopening of the inquest.

Again, my hon. Friend flags up a need for changes in the way in which investigations are held into major disasters such as Hillsborough. I repeat that we believe that, in future, there should be what are called mini-inquests into the immediate causes of death, followed by a comprehensive inquiry, which, in practice, would include the purposes of subsequent main inquests under a senior judicial figure, and a final, formal inquest, which would simply receive the main inquiry's report. In our judgment, that would be a far more satisfactory way of dealing with these matters, and far less frustrating to the relatives and friends of the bereaved.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Although the report has not provided the Home Secretary with support for a further general inquiry, does he recognise that this outcome will make it even harder to lift the cloud of grief and frustration that hangs over the families and friends of those who lost their lives? Bearing in mind Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's reference to the "disgraceful lie" of a senior police officer, the evidence of material omitted from police evidence and Lord Justice Taylor's assertion that the principal cause was a police failure, is it not understandable that the families will be bitterly disappointed that the door seems finally to be closed on any disciplinary action against particular individuals who should bear some responsibility? Will the right hon. Gentleman look again at that aspect of the issue and give priority to a reform of police disciplinary procedure?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The right hon. Gentleman asks whether it will not now be even harder to lift the clouds of grief over the bereaved families. I cannot speak for them, but it would have been far worse had I not set up this further scrutiny. They came forward with serious new allegations and it was important that they were examined by someone of the experience and distinction of Lord Justice Stuart-Smith. However, the right hon. Gentleman is right—there can be no dispute about it—that the families are bound to be bitterly disappointed by the fact that no one has taken the blame for what happened. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith makes that clear and shares the bitter disappointment of the families, as do I and, I believe, the House. As I said in my earlier remarks, that underlines the need for there to be significant changes to the police disciplinary system.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

My right hon. Friend has mentioned in the context of the report his consideration of the future conduct of inquests. Will he extend his review to consider carefully the way in which relatives are treated during inquests? They are treated in a most dispassionate way, which results in much of the grief that is expressed vocally by many of the people, including my constituents, who suffered in this terrible tragedy.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes, I will. We have the helpful report of the disasters and inquests working group, established under the previous Administration, which made recommendations in March last year. Part of the reason for the frustration—often anger—at inquests, of relatives and others who are bereaved, goes back to a misapprehension about their purpose. To some extent, that will be dealt with by the kind of changes that I have already outlined for inquiries into major disasters.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Labour/Co-operative, Liverpool, Riverside

My right hon. Friend acted promptly and properly in commissioning the scrutiny, for which I thank him. I agree that the bereaved parents will remain upset, disappointed and angry. In that knowledge, will he give the matter further consideration? Does he accept that it is not possible for all of us at this early stage to assess the report's full implications and to read it in detail to form our judgment? Therefore, will he support calls for an opportunity for the House to consider the report further, so that we may give a reasoned assessment of the report and attempt to deal with the unresolved problems and traumas faced by the parents? I support them in not wishing to leave matters simply as they stand.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her opening remarks, and I fully understand her concern— which is widely shared—that there should be a debate on the matter. I am probably one of the few who has had an opportunity to read the report thoroughly, and I shall pass on my hon. Friend's remarks to my right hon. Friend the President of the Council. I hope that my right hon. Friend will take them into account.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Labour, Liverpool, Garston

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and for his consideration in seeking your permission, Madam Speaker, to speak to the families first before making it. He has accepted the deep disquiet that they feel as a result of the report by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, and I know that it is deep. I particularly welcome my right hon. Friend's undertaking to publish all the available evidence. What would his attitude be if, at some stage, the families were to consider private prosecutions or taking further action?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Subject to certain constraints, individuals in this country may take private prosecutions. That is entirely a matter for them and for the judicial processes. It would be improper for me to comment.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Labour, Halton

I speak with some knowledge, as I was on the terraces at Hillsborough that day and not in some directors' area. I had to wait for two hours to see whether my friends were alive, and I know that a number of people from my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) were killed on that day.

May I express my bitter disappointment—not at the Home Secretary, whom I thank for organising the scrutiny—but at the conclusions of the report? The families will be bitterly disappointed by the fact that no one has been brought to justice, and such an injustice does not give confidence in our judicial system. I ask my right hon. Friend for his comments on that. If we cannot have a debate on the Floor of the House on the report, would you, Madam Speaker, be prepared to allow an Adjournment debate on the subject in the future?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Of course I understand my hon. Friend's personal feelings in the light of the fact that he was present on that terrible day. I understand, too, that those feelings will live with him for the rest of his life. The families are bitterly disappointed and, as I said, I hope that their disappointment will be directed at my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and me as well as at Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, because it is our view that he has done a thorough, comprehensive and detailed job with the utmost integrity. He has gone into all the allegations carefully and, as he said, it was his job to look at the evidence presented to him and to put compassion aside, as the families would have wished him to do. It is a matter of huge frustration that no one has been brought to justice. That represents severe defects in terms of police discipline, and I have spoken about the need for that to be changed. It is not possible to put the clock back nine years to do so.

Photo of Robert Wareing Robert Wareing Labour, Liverpool, West Derby

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there will be deep unease on Merseyside and elsewhere, and that people will feel that there is no justice in this world? Does he further accept that because few of us have had the opportunity to read the report—although he was kind enough to analyse it with the parents—far more scrutiny is required by the House of Commons; possibly by the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which should be asked to report?

Furthermore, I add my voice to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) and ask that there should be a proper debate following a reasonable period to allow us to read the report. For example, it would seem that Lord Justice Stuart-Smith ruled as not significant a couple of videos stolen from Sheffield Wednesday. How on earth could he say that they were not significant if he had never seen them? Many questions have been raised by the report, and the parents will not feel that justice has been done until they are answered.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Lord Justice Stuart-Smith explains why he came to that conclusion and how he could judge that the videos were not significant when he had not seen them. One of the videos was from a misplaced camera angle. It was known that it had been pointing at a wall. Therefore, the tape was of no value, even though it was stolen. As for the other video, two points are made. One is that it was a club video. Police videos in part covered the same area. In addition, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith makes the point that the police admitted that they could see with their own eyes what was going on on the terraces and did not need this crucial video evidence. That is one example of why it is very important that everybody should read the report's details. When they do, they may be reassured that Lord Justice Stuart-Smith has gone into the matter in great detail and with great care.

That brings me to my hon. Friend's first point. I have already accepted that it is a matter of fact—there is no question about this—that there is great disappointment among the bereaved families and friends of those who died on that terrible day. I do not think that it is correct to say—to pick up my hon. Friend's words—that there is no justice in this world. On reflection, he will perhaps accept that Lord Justice Taylor's inquiry was conducted impeccably, with great thoroughness. There has been no criticism of either the way in which he conducted that inquiry or his conclusions. That may be only partial justice in the context of this terrible tragedy—it is partial justice. I understand that the conduct of the inquests was controversial, but that has a great deal to do with the system of inquests, and that was not found to be unjust.

It is inevitable that an inquiry's conclusions may be uncomfortable to one side or another. I hope that those who read the report will understand that it represents a thorough inquiry in the best traditions of British justice.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Labour, Gedling

As one of the Members of Parliament who represents the Nottingham area, may I take this opportunity, on behalf of those Members, to express our sympathy with the families and people of Merseyside? Does the Home Secretary agree that the people of Nottingham, along with those on Merseyside, will want a full and frank debate on the report, which amounts to more than 200 pages and has only just been published today? Will he do all that he can to ensure a full debate, so that people will have the opportunity to express their views and opinions to me and other Members of Parliament, and we can express those views in the Chamber?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I accept my hon. Friend's point. I should have made the point in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) that there is obviously considerable feeling about the need for a debate. I shall pass that on to my right hon. Friend the President of the Council.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Is the Home Secretary aware that I find it difficult to believe that 95 people were killed but nobody is to blame? Is he further aware that inquests on the deaths of many people, such as after mining disasters and for this matter, are not fit and proper places to start the procedure? He would do well, during this Parliament, to introduce measures to ensure that inquests are fit to deal not just with the death of three people in a house fire but with mass disasters. I have never believed that inquests are competent to do the job.

Will the Home Secretary do me a favour? If, perchance, there is another unfortunate incident of this kind, will he not invite these tinpot judges and justices—distinguished though they may be—to deal with the problem? I have never believed that they understand working-class culture. Over the past few years, all these people—Lord Justice Scott, Lord Justice Taylor, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith— have been investigating matters. What do they really know about what makes working-class people tick?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend makes the point that no one is to blame. It is not the case that the earlier inquiries found no one to blame. Indeed, on page 49 of his interim report—Cm 765—Lord Justice Taylor was explicit and damning. He said: the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control". There has been no cover-up of that. There was a failure of police control, and Lord Justice Taylor pulled no punches whatever in reaching that conclusion. I hope that that gives the lie to my hon. Friend's suggestion that judges are incapable of holding investigations into matters of this kind. I note that, whenever there is a call for an inquiry, there is a great demand for members of the Court of Appeal to hold them.

It is inevitable that not everyone will be satisfied by the result of an inquiry because such judgments defy human behaviour. However, Lord Justice Taylor's report showed great understanding of soccer and soccer culture. He was an ardent soccer supporter himself. I had the occasional discussion with him about it. That is one of the reasons why he was chosen to hold the inquiry. When my hon. Friend has had a chance to digest Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's report, he will appreciate that it has gone into the allegations with great care.

Photo of Mr Tony Clarke Mr Tony Clarke Labour, Northampton South

Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is that clear evidence that will make it impossible for the families to accept disappointment, inasmuch as they know that the police failed and that nothing is being done about that?

Will he say a few words about the evidence that Lord Justice Stuart-Smith put forward in respect of the stolen tapes? Surely, if the stolen tapes are missing, we must ask two questions: first, who was responsible for that theft, and, secondly, for what reason were they stolen if not for concealment? It is for that reason that I add my support to the call of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) for a full debate in the House to examine the individual pieces of evidence and missing evidence before coming to a conclusion.

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I appreciate that I am one of the few people who have had the benefit of reading the report. If my hon. Friend reads it, as I know he will, he will see that the question of the two missing tapes is dealt with in some particular detail. I have explained why Lord Justice Stuart-Smith reached the conclusion that he did about whether the fact that they were stolen was significant.

This goes back to the point that I made at the beginning of my statement. When we consider whether a major public inquiry into events that took place nine years ago should be reopened, with all the inevitable problems caused by the effluxion of time, the issue has to be not only whether there is new evidence—which there might be—but whether it is of such significance as materially to alter the conclusions of the first inquiry. That is what Lord Justice Stuart-Smith has examined. He has come to the conclusion I have described about the two missing tapes.

It is a matter of supposition why the tapes were stolen. People steal things for the purposes of concealment or for more prosaic reasons. They may have wanted the tapes for their own use. No one has ever been apprehended for the theft of the tapes, but in the circumstances described and set out in the report, it is palpable that they were not material to the question whether the police were to blame for failing to recognise that a serious disaster was taking place at the Leppings lane end. That was the issue.

If Lord Justice Taylor had said that the police were not to blame and that the tapes were likely to disclose why, the tapes would have greater significance. However, Lord Justice Taylor said that the police were to blame. He also pointed out—this was confirmed by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith—that one of the reasons why the police were to blame was that they did not have to rely on video evidence; they could see with their own eyes what was going on, and they failed to make proper decisions following that.

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Labour, Dudley North

May I take my right hon. Friend back to the issue of police discipline and the feeling among the relatives that no one has been brought to justice? May I ask him specifically whether Lord Justice Stuart-Smith addresses the issue of early retirement by police officers to avoid disciplinary procedures? May I press him for a speedy response to the Select Committee on Home Affairs report on police discipline?

Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have already referred to Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's remarks about the fact that no one has been brought to justice and that no one has suffered any disciplinary proceedings or even lost their job as a result either of those terrible events, or of Lord Justice Taylor's clear conclusion that a failure of police control was the principal cause of the disaster. By implication, it is clear that Lord Justice Stuart-Smith is not happy with what happened, and neither are we. I have looked in great detail at the helpful report from the Select Committee, of which my hon. Friend is a member. As I said earlier, we intend to make an early announcement about that matter, with a view to improving the system of police discipline.