I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the matter of the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report.
The Hillsborough independent panel published its report on
Before I do so, however, I want to remind the House of some of the panel’s findings. First, it found that the safety of the crowd entering Hillsborough’s Leppings Lane terrace was “compromised at every level”. The capacity of the terrace had been significantly over-calculated, meaning that hundreds more tickets were sold than the area could safely accommodate. Crush barriers were lower than set out in safety rules. Their layout was also inadequate. The small number of turnstiles meant that delays were always likely at a capacity match. There were three times more people per turnstile at Leppings Lane than at the opposite end of the ground.
Previous instances of crushing had not been recognised or acted on. Lessons had not been learned. When the disaster happened, neither the police nor the ambulance service properly activated their major incident procedure, which meant that command and control roles were not properly filled. The panel found
“repeated evidence of failures in leadership and emergency response coordination”.
There was no systematic triage of casualties and a lack of basic equipment. None of this takes away from the heroic work of spectators and individual members of the emergency services who fought to save lives, but the panel is clear that a swifter, better-equipped and better-focused emergency response could have saved more people.
The original inquests heard that the victims of Hillsborough suffered traumatic asphyxia leading to unconsciousness within seconds and death within a few minutes, but the detailed medical analysis produced by the panel tells a different story. The panel considered that there was definite evidence in 41 cases, and possibly in a further 17 others, that those who died did so after having survived for a longer period. In these cases, their condition was potentially recoverable, and they might have survived had there been a more effective emergency response. It is difficult to imagine how the families of those who died must feel hearing that fact after 23 years.
The truth, however hard to bear, should not have taken so long to be told. The panel’s report shows that the coroner at the original inquest acted on the medical advice of pathologists and after seeking the views of colleagues, but it also shows very clearly that the structure of the inquest and the imposition of a 3.15 pm cut-off of evidence meant that a false picture was presented and accepted as fact.
The panel’s report makes it clear that South Yorkshire police in the last couple of years have set an example in terms of the process of disclosure to the panel. However, its findings about South Yorkshire police in 1989 are stark. The panel’s report lays bare the reaction of the police in attempting to shift blame for the disaster on to the fans. Lord Justice Taylor’s report into Hillsborough found that the disaster’s main cause was
“the failure of police control”.
Inadequate crowd management and poor provision of turnstiles led to an unmanageable crush outside the ground. Taylor found that the police were right to respond by opening exit gate C but wrong to fail to consider where fans entering through that gate would go next. Most went straight ahead, down a tunnel marked “Standing”, into the already-full central pens. Failure to block that tunnel was, according to Lord Taylor’s report,
“a blunder of the first magnitude”.
The police, however, attempted to create a different story—one in which drunken Liverpool fans arrived in their thousands at the last minute and caused the disaster. Their late arrival, it was claimed, overwhelmed the police. Officers presented unfounded stories of vile behaviour to the press. The intention, according to the panel, was to
“develop and publicise a version of events that focused on…allegations of drunkenness, ticketlessness and violence”.
In seeking to make its case, South Yorkshire police went so far as to vet the written statements made by its officers. Once vetted, changes were made. The panel found that 164 statements were altered significantly. Of those, 116 were amended so as to remove content that was unfavourable to the police, including on its lack of leadership.
At the meeting of the Select Committee on Home Affairs last Tuesday, the present chief constable of South Yorkshire police was asked whether he accepted without qualification the panel’s report. He said yes.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He is absolutely right: the current chief constable has accepted what was in the report unconditionally. That is an important step for South Yorkshire police, but obviously we have to look at what the report says about South Yorkshire police.
Is not part of the problem that there is currently limited, timid and weak sanction for any tampering by police officers with statements and witness statements? This is not the only case in the news today where witness statements and statements by officers have been tampered with. Clearly the currently sanction is not strong enough, because if it was, perhaps we would have fewer incidents of this kind.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. I am coming on to talk about the investigations that will take place into the actions of South Yorkshire police, and obviously the issue that he has raised—the sanctions—is rightly something that should be considered alongside those investigations.
Let me return to the actions of the police. Perhaps even more shockingly, the panel also found evidence showing that officers carried out police national computer checks on those who had died. The panel said this was done in an attempt
“to impugn the reputations of the deceased”.
The whole House will want to join me in thanking the Bishop of Liverpool and all members of the panel for their thorough and revealing report. The panel’s report was shocking and disturbing, and the families of the victims must have found its contents harrowing. But although it is painful and will make many people angry, the report brings the full truth of Hillsborough into the light of day. The truth that some families have long known or suspected is now clear for all to see and to respect. I believe my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke for all of us in the House when he apologised to the families of the 96 for what he called the “double injustice” that they have suffered: first, the injustice of the appalling events and the indefensible wait to get to the truth; and secondly, the injustice of what he called the “denigration of the deceased”—the suggestion that those who died were somehow responsible for their own deaths and for those of their friends and fellow fans.
But after the truth must come justice; and after the apology, accountability. So let me set out for the House what is happening now. The Independent Police Complaints Commission has announced an investigation into the panel’s findings. The investigation will cover potential criminality and misconduct in respect of police officers, both serving and retired. It will be thorough and wide-ranging. As I have previously said, I remain committed to ensuring that the IPCC has all the powers and resources it needs to carry out its investigations thoroughly, transparently and exhaustively. The Government are already looking at what additional powers the IPCC will need, which includes proposals to require current and ex-police officers who may be witness to a crime to attend an interview, and whether this might require fast-track legislation. I therefore welcome what the shadow Home Secretary set out at the weekend about the opportunity for us to sit down and discuss the proposals, and to see whether fast-track legislation is the right way forward—I think my office has already been in touch with hers to try to get a suitable date in mind.
As the Home Secretary probably knows, the South Yorkshire chief constable wrote to me on Friday to say that he has sent a list of 1,444 names of former and serving officers of South Yorkshire police to the IPCC. That is a huge number of names—more than we expected. Has the IPCC approached her to ask for additional resources, bearing in mind that it already has a large workload? It is important that we deal with the resources issue right at the start.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for making that extremely valid point. The number of names sent by the chief constable of South Yorkshire makes clear the enormity of the issue. The Home Office is in discussion with the IPCC about the resources that it might need to ensure that it can conduct the investigation as thoroughly and exhaustively as we would all wish.
In addition to the question about the IPCC’s powers in the investigation, it is also important to recognise that, in the case of Hillsborough, a number of individuals and organisations other than the police or ex-police officers will be investigated. We need to ensure that all these investigations are robust and properly co-ordinated, and that other investigations do not in any way compromise the independence of the IPCC. An important part of that will be to ensure that any police officers who are involved in any investigations are not from South Yorkshire police, now or in the past.
I am also very clear that, as we go through this process and decide on the next steps, it is important that the families should be consulted at every stage and that our proposals should be discussed with them.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We will obviously need to see what material will be required for the investigations, and what material might be used as evidence in any charges and prosecutions that are brought. I will certainly look at the issue that he has raised about continuing transparency, which I recognise has been important in relation to the documents that have been released so far. Perhaps I can come back to him on that point.
May I return to the question of resourcing that was raised by the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz? A number of agencies, including local government and the police, will be involved as a consequence of the inquest, and many other operations will need to be undertaken that will require substantial resourcing. Can we have an assurance that those costs will be met centrally, rather than in a way that could affect the operation of other services to people in the communities affected?
I hear what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, and I understand his concern that other services should not suffer as a result of any requirements being placed on such organisations. I cannot give a commitment across the board at this stage. We are talking to the IPCC about the resources that it will need, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will be looking at the implications for any health bodies that are involved. We want to ensure that the investigations are as thorough and exhaustive as possible, and we would not wish to put any barriers in the way of that happening, but a significant number of bodies will be involved, and we have to look at the matter very carefully. Specifically in regard to the IPCC, we are already having discussions about any requirements that it might have.
The Home Secretary has said that we are moving towards a point of accountability, and she has mentioned the police. Before she completes her contribution to the debate, will she list the other public and private bodies to which we might wish accountability to be applied?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will certainly be covering a number of those bodies in his closing remarks this evening. As I have already mentioned, there were issues around the operation of the ambulance service, for example. Further public sector bodies might be involved. Those who are looking at the report are determining which bodies need to be investigated, and the list is currently being compiled. I can, however, commit that we will provide a list for the House at an appropriate point in due course, so that everyone is able to see all the bodies that are involved.
Will my right hon. Friend tell us whether there will be a process whereby the investigation can look into those who, although not involved in the services that she has mentioned, added to or fuelled the salacious rumours that were going around? I am thinking in particular of the local MP at the time. Could such matters be looked into, or would they be a matter for a private prosecution by the families?
I am absolutely clear that the various investigations—I shall come on to other aspects of investigation—will look at the totality of the report and its findings, and will identify any cases where there has been a suggestion of criminality; and if there has been such a suggestion, it will be properly investigated.
With the families’ hopes dashed on so many occasions, does it not shame us as the mother of all Parliaments that it has taken 23 years for the families to get to this stage where at least the truth is out, but justice is still to be done?
The hon. Gentleman is right, but I think that the issue goes wider than that. Going back to the remarks that the Prime Minister made in his statement, the problem for the families was that a sort of collective view came to be held across the country—that the fans had been responsible. We can discuss how that came about—it is quite clear in the report how it was fuelled by certain newspaper reports—but everybody came to accept that view and not to question it. It is to the great honour of the hon. Gentleman and a number of other Opposition Members, and to the families themselves, that they held fast to their belief through those 23 years. I hope that they can now take some comfort in the fact that the truth is out there. That double injustice has come to the surface and people have recognised it.
The Home Secretary said that it became the collective view of everybody across the country that this was the fans’ fault, but let me be clear that that is completely and utterly incorrect. Many people across the country were very clear that it was not the fans’ fault, and very few people from my background were surprised to find that the former Prime Minister, the police and certain newspapers were in cahoots.
I recognise that there will have been individuals, perhaps in certain parts of the country, who took a different view. What happened was that, collectively or as a whole, nothing was done, and nobody responded to that view. This happened, I think, because there was an acceptance of the story that had been put about. As I said, that was the second injustice to the families that the Prime Minister mentioned. They had to suffer not only not seeing brought to light what they believed was the truth about what had happened to their loved ones and friends, but the injustice of being told that it was those individuals’ own fault. That is absolutely shameful.
Does the Home Secretary agree that our system is at times vulnerable to cover-ups, and that we need to look at the processes to try to make sure that we have no more of them?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I assume that in the course of these investigations, some issues of that sort will be raised and we will need to look at them. I shall say a little more later about the accountability of the police.
Moving on to deal with further investigations, the Director of Public Prosecutions has initiated a review of the panel’s findings. His review will inform a decision as to whether there are grounds to pursue prosecution of any of the parties identified in the report. If the DPP decides that further investigation is necessary, I will ensure that this can be carried out swiftly and thoroughly. In the case of police officers, it is likely that the IPCC will pick up the investigative role. If the DPP finds that a broader investigation is necessary, we will appoint a senior experienced investigator—entirely independent and unconnected to these events—to operate an investigation team within the new National Crime Agency.
The bereaved families have long considered the original inquest to have been inadequate, and the Hillsborough independent panel has pointed to significant flaws. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has studied the panel’s report in detail and looked at the disclosed material and the previous requests for new inquests that were declined by his predecessors. He has confirmed that he will apply to the High Court for the original inquest to be quashed and a new one ordered.
Right hon. and hon. Members will know that it is for the High Court and not for Government to make the final decision, and that we must be careful not to pre-judge the Court’s consideration. Should the Court agree a new inquest, I have asked the chairman of the Hillsborough independent panel, the Bishop of Liverpool, to work with the new chief coroner to ensure that arrangements are put in place in which the families are central, and to ensure that the new inquest is run in a way that reflects the dignity and respect that the families have themselves so consistently demonstrated. I have also asked the Bishop of Liverpool to act as my adviser more generally on Hillsborough-related matters, and he has agreed to do so.
That point has been raised with me directly by families and by representatives of families and survivors, and my officials are looking into it now.
As I said earlier, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will say more about the role of health professionals and emergency health services in respect of Hillsborough when he closes the debate. I know that, like me, he has met representatives of the Hillsborough families, and has taken a close interest in the work of the panel. I also know that, with his responsibilities for the health service, he shares my determination to ensure that proper action is taken when individuals or institutions are found to be at fault.
The Government’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, has already written to the Royal College of Pathologists, the College of Emergency Medicine and the General Medical Council drawing their attention to the panel’s work and asking them to consider its implications. The Department of Health has also drawn the panel’s report to the attention of the General Medical Council, which will be considering whether there is a need to investigate any currently practising doctors.
The chief executive of the NHS, Sir David Nicholson, has written to the chief executives of ambulance services and hospitals that provide emergency care to ensure that they are aware of the panel’s findings. Last week, given the panel’s findings in relation to the alteration of statements in the ambulance service, the Department of Health asked the Health and Care Professions Council, which regulates ambulance paramedics, to consider whether any actions taken by currently serving ambulance staff might merit further investigation.
I was steadfast in my support for the panel, and I am equally steadfast in my determination that the processes that are now taking shape must be pursued with all the rigour that the panel showed in its work. I have set out the action being taken by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Attorney-General and others, but it is clear that that action will require a co-ordinated approach. Representatives of the IPCC, the DPP and the Attorney-General are already in contact and working together, and I can give a commitment that, as part of my ongoing role as the Government’s lead minister for Hillsborough, I will ensure that a fully co-ordinated approach is adopted. I have met representatives of the bereaved families and survivors, and I will ensure that they are consulted further about the arrangements.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way a second time. As she knows, the families came to see the Select Committee last Tuesday, and I am glad that she was able to see them on Thursday. They suggested that the DPP should have oversight of all the different agencies. I know that the Home Secretary will be the lead Minister and that Stephen Rimmer will be the responsible official in her Department, but does she not think that a single person should co-ordinate all the various agencies? There is a possibility that things might get lost in various different places otherwise. I am merely seeking the Home Secretary’s view on what is best.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising that point, which I discussed with representatives of the families when they came to see me. A number of meetings are taking place with representatives this week to consider a number of options for how that co-ordination can take place. We are looking at all those options, and I assure him that the option that was raised then will be in the mix. We must ensure that we get what is right, and what the families can have confidence in.
I take immensely seriously the report’s implications for public confidence in the integrity of the police. Police officers in this country police with the consent of their fellow citizens, but they can only do that if they have the trust of their fellow citizens. The actions of officers, especially senior officers, at Hillsborough and immediately following the disaster strike at the heart of that trust. There are also wider problems that give cause for concern in relation to the integrity of the police. In recent weeks we have seen a constable and a chief constable dismissed for gross misconduct, and a number of senior officers across the country are currently under investigation for misconduct. Lord Justice Leveson will report shortly on the findings of his inquiry, and Operations Elveden and Weeting continue to uncover the involvement of individual police officers and police staff in the activities of News International. This all generates a level of public concern and loss of confidence in the police that is damaging to the reputation of the vast majority of decent, hard-working police officers, and therefore to their ability to police with consent.
Our programme of police reform includes a new college of policing, which will work to improve police leadership and professional standards. Police and crime commissioners, elected next month, will bring greater transparency and local accountability to policing. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary is becoming more independent. I have also already said that I am prepared to give extra resources and new powers to the IPCC.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way a second time; she is being most generous. I am sure she agrees that the governing coalition does not have a monopoly of wisdom on legislation and good ideas as to how this country can be better governed, so will she remain open-minded about the shadow Home Secretary’s recently announced plans to replace the IPCC with a new police standards authority? A lot of people think the IPCC is not fit for purpose. It will be very busy over the coming months, and it is right that we stick with it and support it, but will she be open-minded about the possibility of bringing in a Bill to establish a new police standards authority before the next election?
I am always willing to be open-minded on a number of such matters. The IPCC is under new chairmanship, and I think Dame Anne Owers has done an excellent job in the limited time she has been at the IPCC in showing its genuine independence and her desire to make sure the organisation has all the powers and resources it needs to be able to do the job it currently has to do in conducting a number of investigations, but I have outlined a number of changes that I believe will bring greater accountability to the police. All those changes will make a positive difference in terms of public confidence in the integrity of the police, but I will return to the House by the new year with fuller proposals to ensure that the police operate to the highest ethical standards and that the public can have full confidence in police integrity.
I would like to end by paying tribute to the families of the 96 and all those who have supported them over the many years. Their persistence and indomitability, driven by love for those they have lost, is an inspiration. They have fought for justice, and not warm words, but I would like to place on the record my respect for them all the same, and I offer them this commitment: the Government will do everything in their power to support them in moving from truth to justice.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s opening speech, the personal attention that I know she has given to this extremely important issue, and the stance she has taken. I agree with her and join her in respect of the apology that is owed to the families for the 23 years they have waited and been denied both truth and justice and also in recognising the deep distress caused by the disturbing facts found in the Hillsborough independent panel report, which shocked the country and this House.
What was set out in its pages was a shocking failure to keep people safe. They were failures that spanned nearly three decades: the failure to improve the safety of the ground in the years before Hillsborough; the failure to learn from previous crowd problems; the failure to organise crowd safety before the match; the failure to deliver crowd safety during the match; the failure to close the tunnel once the gate was opened; the failure to help fans in the crush speedily; the failure to be honest about what happened and to investigate what happened; a failure to get to the truth; and a failure to provide justice. That is a long list of failures, which have caused untold sorrow and anguish, and which underpin the tragic death of 96 people.
A long list, too, of untruths have now finally been exposed: the untruths about the fans, about late arrivals at the match, about drinking, and about the actions of the emergency services. There is also a story of injustice: an inquest that failed to give every family a truthful account of how and why their loved one died; a failure to hold anyone to account, either through the criminal courts or through disciplinary procedures; a systematic cover-up; and a campaign of misinformation that maligned innocent people.
As the Prime Minister said on the day the report was published, Hillsborough was
“one of the greatest peacetime tragedies of the last century”.—[Hansard, 12 September 2012; Vol. 550, c. 283.]
Ninety-six people died but it could have avoided. That alone should have made it even more important to get to the truth and justice, and it makes it even more sobering and shocking that there has been a failure to do so for 23 years. All the institutions that are supposed to pursue truth and justice—that are supposed to provide checks and balances in a democracy—failed to do so over Hillsborough: the police; the courts; the police watchdogs; the justice system; the press; and democratic institutions. They all failed to deliver truth or justice for 23 years.
It is therefore with humility that we must all pay tribute to the families of the 96 victims, who fought for 23 years for the truth and are still fighting now for justice, because without the efforts of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and Hope for Hillsborough the truth would have remained hidden. They kept fighting when others would have given up, they kept calling for the truth to come out when others turned their backs and they kept standing when others fell. We must pay tribute to all of them, and we must also pay tribute to the Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Rev. James Jones, and his team of experts for setting out in black and white what the evidence shows.
I pay tribute to the Liverpool Echo, which has kept the campaign going for so long, and may I pay tribute to the local MPs, who have fought so hard to support the families? I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham, whose work in government led to the setting up of the Hillsborough panel and who has continued to pursue this issue from the Opposition Benches. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) and for Halton (Derek Twigg), and to all the other Merseyside MPs who have been so determined in standing up for their constituents; I know that many from across the Back Benches and the Front Benches will be speaking in the debate, but some will not be able to speak from the Front Bench today, including my right hon. Friend Mr Hanson, whose constituents were also affected on that day.
I welcome the words from the Home Secretary today because I believe that there is agreement right across this House about the importance of both action and accountability. Although the Hillsborough panel was set up before the election, she and the Prime Minister have supported it since and they have supported its conclusions. We are keen to work with the Government on the next steps, because disclosure and truth are not enough—the families have made it clear that they need justice. The panel’s report refers to the following quote:
“The whole point of justice consists precisely in our providing for others through humanity what we provide for our own family through affection.”
That journey is not over. So today we have the opportunity to debate and reflect on the details of the panel’s report, and the Home Secretary set out powerfully this afternoon some of the most important conclusions it reached.
I also want to make some points about the next steps, and how we make sure that the system does not fail again and that truth and justice are delivered now. Today, the three next steps have been announced. We heard about the Attorney-General’s welcome decision that he will be applying for fresh inquests into the deaths of the 96; the Director of Public Prosecutions’ decision to review the evidence with a view to criminal prosecutions; and the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s investigation into police conduct surrounding Hillsborough, which could cover both criminal and disciplinary issues. As I understand it, the Home Secretary has today told us that if the DPP decides that a criminal investigation will be pursued, a special investigative team will be established to take that forward.
I am sure that the right hon. Lady, a fellow West Yorkshire MP, shares my concerns that the chief constable of West Yorkshire is being investigated by the IPCC, not least for having tried to influence the police authority not to refer this matter on. Does she agree that in order for the public to have faith in this investigation, he should be suspended?
The hon. Gentleman raises a serous issue about the chief constable of West Yorkshire, who, as he rightly says, has been referred to the IPCC on a series of accounts—for things that happened at the time of Hillsborough, for things that happened subsequently and for the things that have happened most recently. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Home Secretary and I are both constrained from commenting on an individual case when due legal process is under way, but it is extremely important that the case is properly investigated and, later on in my speech, I shall return to some of the issues it raises.
Given the failure of previous investigations to reach either the truth or justice, it is vital that action is now timely and effective and I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement that every step must include detailed consultation with the families.
Let me make a few points about the inquest. Clearly, everyone is keen for a new inquest to be reopened as soon as possible although we recognise, of course, that the proper legal processes must be pursued and that the Attorney-General has 450,000 documents to consider. Given how long the families have already waited, I hope that the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office can consider together whether any additional support must be provided for the Attorney-General’s Office so that it can complete that in as timely a manner as possible. Clearly, the process must start as soon as is practical. I hope, too, that the families will be listened to on the importance of holding the inquest not in Sheffield but in the north-west.
The panel’s report was clear that the coroner’s decision to implement a 3.15 cut-off was flawed and that some people survived for a significant period beyond that time. The report also found, tragically, that a swifter, better focused and properly equipped response would have had the potential to save more lives. The emergency response after 3.15 has never been challenged and it must be now.
Other concerns about the inquest that have long been raised by the families emerge clearly from the panel’s report: the way it was structured; the continued credence given to the unfounded claims about drinking and alcohol levels; the reliance on altered police witness statements rather than on the original testimony of officers; and much more besides. Clearly, it is important that a reopened inquest is not confined to considering the events that took place after 3.15 and there must be a proper answer for every one of the 96 families about what happened to their loved ones. That means that the families will need legal representation, too, and I hope, given the exceptional circumstances, that the Home Secretary and the Ministry of Justice will ensure that that happens directly so that the families do not need to go through further hassle and uncertainty with the Legal Services Commission.
Let me turn to the criminal investigation. The IPCC has already identified two kinds of potential criminal or misconduct issues based on the disclosures in the report. The first concern what happened at Hillsborough on
I want to dwell on the second group of issues for a moment. The purpose and role of the police are to protect people and to pursue truth without fear or favour, wherever it might take them, in the interests of justice. The panel’s report shows that at Hillsborough the police failed to keep people safe, that they distorted and buried the truth, and that justice was betrayed. The panel’s report was devastating in its exposure of what happened in South Yorkshire police, with 164 statements taken from the officers on the day identified for substantive amendment, of which 116 were changed. A series of statements that revealed the lack of leadership from senior officers as the crisis built were all deleted and so, too, were statements about normal practice on closing the tunnel once the gate was opened.
Pressure was applied to police officers to change their statements, too. PC Michael Walpole, in a letter to Lord Justice Stuart-Smith’s scrutiny report, said about the doctoring of police statements:
“I must say that I wished my final statement to be the exact copy of the original recollection…However, since I (like most others) was suffering from post traumatic stress and depression, I agreed to the deletions to my final statement under the conditions I was placed under. My personal view is that a police officer should be able to freely make an honest and truthful statement of facts and opinion and it was an injustice for statements to have been ‘doctored’ to suit the management of the South Yorkshire Police.”
That is an extremely serious statement.
People will have seen—Mark Pritchard referred to them—the separate allegations that have emerged this morning about statements being changed in relation to Orgreave, where it appears that a separate investigation will be needed into what happened. It is important that the matter is fully pursued for the sake of justice over Hillsborough and also to ensure that these events do not cast a shadow over the important work that the police do each day and to ensure that wider public confidence in policing is maintained.
The Home Secretary rightly referred to the approach taken by the current South Yorkshire chief constable, both in full disclosure to the panel and in accepting the conclusions of the panel’s report. It is important for the sake of policing today that we take seriously what happened 23 years ago.
Does the shadow Home Secretary agree that to restore public trust in the police, whatever the IPCC says, there should be criminal prosecutions where there is enough evidence that is beyond all reasonable doubt? We are all subject to the same law, whether Members of Parliament or police officers, both serving and retired. Would she share my concern if the IPCC, having found something, allowed police forces to conduct their own internal disciplinary inquiries, which so often rely on the balance of probabilities—of course, the threshold is lower—and so often see police officers go into a well-remunerated and happy retirement while the victims still do not have justice?
I agree that if there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing, there must be prosecutions. It is right that those decisions about prosecutions are made independently, not by Parliament obviously, but by the Director of Public Prosecutions. It is right that there should be criminal accountability for what happened. The hon. Gentleman is right, too, that we must ensure that the disciplinary procedures are subject to a proper process because there may also be cases where, even if there may not be criminal misconduct, disciplinary proceedings should be pursued. I take the opportunity to welcome his support for the idea of replacing the IPCC with a strengthened police standards authority. Such reforms are important for police confidence in the future.
The panel’s report shows clearly the misleading, false and deeply hurtful information that was disseminated by members of South Yorkshire police—false claims that were propagated by members of the police that fans had broken into the stadium, a claim that was reported in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, and further allegations of drunkenness, ticketless fans and fans arriving late, which were promoted by unnamed officers and were shown to be false by the work of the panel.
The question now is how disciplinary and criminal investigations should be pursued into what happened on the day and afterwards. It is essential that everything possible is done to remove further obstacles in the way of justice and to ensure that the families are consulted. It is vital that they have confidence in this process.
It is clear that the investigation cannot be carried out solely by the IPCC, which has neither the powers nor the resources to do so. Although I agree with the Home Secretary that the new chair is doing a very good job and has a strong background, this investigation is far beyond the scale of anything that the IPCC has done before. It will also require powers that the IPCC does not have. For example, evidence will need to be taken from large numbers of serving and retired police officers, and also from police staff, former police legal advisers, former civil servants, even MPs and maybe even journalists. However, the IPCC does not have the powers to do that. Although it can pursue officers where it has good reason to believe that they have committed a criminal offence, if it is seeking witness statements or pursuing disciplinary offences, its powers are much more limited. The IPCC itself has told the Home Affairs Committee that
“where police officers refuse to attend for interview, IPCC investigators can only seek the information they need through the submission of written questions to officers via their solicitors or other representatives. Not only can this seriously undermine public confidence in IPCC investigations, it can also impact on the overall effectiveness and timeliness of investigations.”
In many cases the IPCC cannot compel civilians at all.
My view is that we will need a new framework in future. I welcome the Home Secretary’s commitment to look further at the issue and bring it back to this House. The IPCC was a huge step forward from the old Police Complaints Authority, and it has done some important work on individual cases, but it is simply not strong enough to provide the safeguards and standards for good policing that we need. That is why I have asked Lord Stevens’ commission to consider drawing up a new police standards authority to replace it.
In the meantime, however, we need answers on Hillsborough. The Home Secretary said that a range of possibilities is being discussed in the mix on how this could be taken forward and that she is discussing it with the families. Clearly, that is important.
My right hon. Friend and the Home Secretary have both made eloquent speeches. It is heartening to see Parliament at one on this very important issue.
When the families came to give evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, they talked about the need for co-ordination. My right hon. Friend has pointed to the problems with some of the powers of the IPCC. There may be a case for a special prosecutor—an individual who can draw all the strands together. It has been suggested that it should be the DPP, but I think that he will be too busy to do something of this kind. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we will lose the initiative if we do not have a single point of co-ordination? The Home Secretary has the powers to do this; let us use them.
I agree with my right hon. Friend about the importance of co-ordination and the value of having a special prosecutor in these circumstances. It might be helpful if Ministers said a bit more about whether there is any concern about how long it will take for the DPP to decide whether further criminal prosecutions will be pursued given that a special prosecutor and a special investigative team may not be established until after that decision has been taken. In other words, what resources does the DPP need in the meantime in order to take the decision about criminal prosecutions? The IPCC is beginning investigations now, and there is a question about how long these will take to get going.
In many years of representing people, particularly in the public services, in some very serious internal disciplinary procedures, it was always the norm that when someone was accused of potential serious misconduct they were suspended. Has anyone been suspended from the police service? If not, who has the power to do that if it is seen to be the right thing to do?
There are legal processes in place that allow police authorities to take decisions about the suspensions of police officers. As my hon. Friend will recognise, in taking these decisions it is clearly important that legal processes are followed. In the past, there have been suspensions in a series of such cases.
Let me clarify this point. If the Director of Public Prosecutions considered that he lacked resources in order to carry out his co-ordinating function, he could come and raise it with me as the superintending Minister. The position at the moment is that no such approach has been made, but if it were required, of course he could do that.
I welcome that clarification. The interest of the families and the public in this lies in having a properly co-ordinated investigation. We do not want to have a separate IPCC investigation and a parallel criminal investigation but a single, co-ordinated investigation.
Perhaps I can clarify the situation. There is the IPCC investigation and there is also the investigation by the DPP that is taking place. If the DPP believes that a wider investigation is necessary, the Home Office will make resources available under the ambit of the incoming National Crime Agency for an investigator who is completely separate and has no connection whatever with these issues. We would expect to put the co-ordination role in place fairly soon, because this is also about making sure that things get done. For example, we must ensure that if it looks as though there is a delay in any part of the investigation, then somebody, or a group of people, can press the body concerned, whether it be the IPCC, the DPP or individuals, to get on with the job. An investigation must be done fully and properly to uncover the truth and bring about justice, but we also need to make sure that it is not going to drag on and on, because the families do not deserve that.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s clarification. First, the co-ordination is very welcome. Secondly, however, should the Director of Public Prosecutions decide that prosecutions should be pursued—there seems to be strong support in the House for him to do so, although it is clearly an independent decision for him—would that result in a single investigative team involving the police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission, or would there continue to be, in effect, two parallel investigations by the IPCC and criminal investigators? That would raise concerns, given the fact that the IPCC can pursue both criminal and disciplinary investigations.
I urge the Home Secretary to consider, as part of her role in the co-ordination process, having a single team, with full police investigative powers and led by a special prosecutor, for the criminal investigation, and for it to consist of police officers from a range of different forces, perhaps under the auspices of the National Crime Agency. The role played by the West Midlands police in the original investigation was clearly a problem and the panel’s report raised considerable concerns. Drawing police officers from a series of different forces would give the investigation greater authority.
We are keen to explore with the Home Secretary whether additional powers could be granted to the IPCC —perhaps through emergency legislation—so that it can pursue disciplinary action as well as criminal investigations. I welcome the contact that her office made this morning to ensure that we can speedily take those discussions forward. We are interested in supporting emergency legislation to enable the IPCC to compel witnesses and access third-party data.
Thirdly, although a special prosecutor is welcome, the Government will be aware that there have also been failings over Hillsborough at the Crown Prosecution Service in the past, so some additional oversight may be needed.
Fourthly, I welcome the points that Government Front-Bench representatives have made about resources. The IPCC has said that a substantial amount of work is required initially to scope the investigation, including identifying the resources required. It is, therefore, likely to be many months before officers are contacted by the investigation team. Any further delay would be of considerable concern. I hope that the Home Secretary and others can provide reassurance about the availability of those resources.
My final point on the disciplinary investigations is that the IPCC has noted that retired police officers are not liable for any misconduct sanction. That is obviously very troubling for the public in many cases, because it makes it possible for police officers who have committed serious misconduct, or who have breached the great trust put in the office of constable, to retire on full pension without any further investigation or sanction. Given that 23 years have passed since Hillsborough, this is a particularly sensitive concern. Many officers have already retired and many more may do so before these investigations are concluded. Will the Home Secretary consider the issue carefully?
The right hon. Lady may not know the answer, but will she try to clarify something about retiring police officers for me? The current chief constable of West Yorkshire police had retired from the police and taken his full pension, which was suspended when he came back as chief constable of West Yorkshire police. Is he classed as retired or as serving? This is an important point for the investigation.
I hope that the Home Secretary will be able to respond to the hon. Gentleman’s important point. The wider issue applies to a whole series of cases. If officers have taken early retirement or retired at the normal age, further investigations or sanctions should be considered if there was serious misconduct while they were in office. The issue is complex, but I will happily discuss it further with the Home Secretary to make sure that justice is not denied in the case of Hillsborough as a result of long-standing arrangements for disciplinary and misconduct procedures, and to make sure that people can, even after 23 years, still be held to account.
Finally, this journey is not over. We owe it to the families to ensure that they can now get truth and justice. We must reflect on how this could have happened; why the attempts to reach the truth and justice failed so many times; why the Liverpool fans and their families were not taken seriously by the justice system for so long; and why the systems that were designed to help people and to provide safeguards against injustice—the courts, the coroners, the police, the police watchdogs, the free press and our democratic institutions—did not get to the truth for 23 years. What do we need to do now to strengthen those checks and balances and to remove the obstacles to justice? Most importantly, how can we ensure that this cannot happen again? No one should have to wait 23 years to find out the truth about what happened to a loved one. No one should have to fight this hard to get justice for a child, a husband or a relative they have lost.
The Hillsborough panel report is so powerful because it has exposed the truth and brought it out from the shadows and into the light of day. The Bishop of Liverpool has said that
“if the truth of any situation is unearthed and laid bare then the truth will shed light and show the direction forward. And it will have the power of pressure.”
The truth has shed light on Hillsborough and the direction is clear, but the journey is not over. Now we must ensure that the pressure of truth leads to justice.
Order. Understandably, there is intense interest in this debate. In recognition of that, I have had to impose a time limit of 10 minutes on each Back-Bench contribution. I emphasise to the House that, depending on progress, that time limit might, during the course of the debate, need to be reviewed.
The atmosphere that enveloped the Chamber when the Prime Minister made his statement to the House last month will stay with me for the rest of my life. That atmosphere was echoed across the country as the truth of what happened at Hillsborough was revealed.
To learn that the lives of 41 people might have been saved and to discover that those responsible sought to manipulate the truth to conceal their own guilt and shift the blame on to the innocent victims of the day made this one of the greatest scandals in our history. The failures, flaws, corruption and deceit of those who were culpable have been laid bare for all to see. Most importantly, the reputation, honour and persistence of those who sought the truth for so long have been vindicated.
Reading through the panel’s report, it is difficult to identify which of the many failings caused the most harm: the cavalier attitude towards health and safety at the stadium, which had no safety certificate and a terrible record of near misses at big matches in previous years; the complete absence of leadership, communication and responsibility among those who were supposedly in charge on the day; or the perpetuation of lies by those self-serving individuals in senior positions of authority who tried to absolve themselves of responsibility. Each of those revelations, and the many others that the report highlighted, were truly shocking to discover. We owe the members of the panel a huge debt of gratitude for their diligence and hard work, and for the clarity with which they presented their findings.
Looking around the Chamber, I can see many right hon. and hon. Members who fought long and hard to ensure that the truth about Hillsborough was brought to the public’s attention. What many of us cannot understand is why it has taken so long. Although there is much in the panel’s report that has been revealed and published for the first time, there is a huge amount that has been known about for a long time, but that has been ignored, dismissed or ridiculed over the course of the 23 years.
A case in point, where information and evidence have clearly been ignored, is that of my constituent’s son, Kevin Williams. As with all 96 victims, the inquest into his death ruled that Kevin died at or before 3.15 pm, yet video evidence showed Kevin being lifted out of pen 3 at 3.28 pm and resuscitated on the pitch by PC Michael Craighill. At 3.31 pm Kevin was carried across the pitch by, among others, an off-duty fire officer, Mr Tony O’Keefe, who stated that Kevin was still alive. At 3.37 pm, Kevin was resuscitated by an off-duty police officer, PC Derek Bruder, who testified that Kevin was still alive. Finally, Special WPC Debra Martin found Kevin’s pulse, picked him up in her arms and watched and listened as he opened his eyes, spoke the word “Mum” and then died just before 4 o’clock.
There has never really been any doubt about what happened to Kevin Williams. The eyewitness accounts on the day were unequivocal: Kevin was still alive just before 4 pm. The evidence has been presented to three previous Attorneys-General on three separate occasions, and the facts of what happened to Kevin were recounted in the House in an Adjournment debate as far back as 1994. What happened to Kevin, and to so many others, has not been a secret, yet only last month, with the Prime Minister’s statement and the publication of the independent panel’s report, was the truth finally accepted.
I spoke today to Anne Williams, who is not well enough to be here but will be watching the proceedings on the television. Is it not testament to a mother’s love that somebody would continue their fight despite the fact that, time after time, the legal doors were slammed in that woman’s face? She went as far as the European Court and was turned down. Is that not a national disgrace?
I spoke to Mrs Williams on Friday and she passed on her regards and thanks to Members such as the hon. Gentleman and Andy Burnham, who have done so much to ensure that we have got to where we are now. I am grateful for the fact that the truth is now out there, and as the hon. Gentleman says, it is a total disgrace that it has taken so long.
We now know that witness statements were altered in the weeks and months after the tragedy. Last week, the Independent Police Complaints Commission launched an investigation into the process of amendments undertaken by South Yorkshire police. In addition, the IPCC said that the role of West Midlands police would be examined as part of its investigations, and it is that role that I wish to address.
As I said, at 3.37 pm Kevin Williams was being resuscitated by an off-duty police officer, PC Derek Bruder. PC Bruder had seen Kevin moving his head and being sick, so he went over to help. He saw an ambulance and tried to stop it so that Kevin could receive medical attention. PC Bruder provided an official statement shortly afterwards, along with a second statement four months later.
PC Bruder was then visited at his home on
Another example of the inappropriate actions of West Midlands police relates to the special constable who held Kevin in her arms as he passed away shortly before 4 pm. Special WPC Debra Martin’s original statement, made within weeks of the disaster, described finding Kevin’s pulse, resuscitating him, hearing him call for his mother and holding him as he died just before 4 pm. However, a few months later Miss Martin was visited at her home by West Midlands police officers. In total, she was visited on four separate occasions by senior police officers whose aim was to convince her that her original statement was mistaken and that Kevin was not alive when she treated him. Considerable pressure was put on Miss Martin to ratify the amended statement, and I understand that she was even told that she could not have looked after Kevin because she was not at Hillsborough. She was accused of standing by and doing nothing as people died; she was told she was making the whole thing up. In the end, she succumbed to pressure and signed the second statement without reading it. In that second statement, everything that referred to signs of life in Kevin was gone, and there was no reference to a pulse or to him saying, “Mum”. Miss Martin has stated on numerous occasions that she stands by her original statement and that she was bullied by senior police officers to sign the second, inaccurate statement.
This is my reading of the situation. Miss Martin is very clear about what happened; I heard her talking about it on the radio just last week. She was terribly bullied and found herself in an awful situation.
Although the conduct of West Midlands police is not detailed in the independent panel’s report, it must be seriously called into question, and the actions of the police thoroughly investigated in the IPCC inquiry.
The Hillsborough independent panel has done a fantastic job not only in overseeing the full disclosure of information, but also, importantly, by adding to public understanding about what happened. To ensure that we finally complete the quest for justice, two more tasks must be undertaken. First, where responsibility has been neglected and evidence either altered or deliberately ignored, prosecutions must follow. Secondly, the Attorney-General must deliver on his promise to ask the High Court for new inquests into the 96 deaths. Previous inquests have been shown to be false, and they must be quashed in law. The circumstances surrounding Hillsborough have remained clouded in the minds of many for more than 23 years. People did not understand what happened, but now they do. After 23 years, the truth has finally been revealed and it is time for justice.
I welcome the report which sets out, once and for all, the real truth that many of us have known from the start, and I congratulate the panel on its work. I was closely involved with the Hillsborough family support group during long negotiations with the previous Labour Government about setting up the independent panel, and I know that many people put huge amounts of work into the process. Two people who had an input but would not normally be mentioned are Mario Dunn, then the Home Secretary’s special adviser, and Ken Sutton, who led the civil service team and did a tremendous amount of hard work to get us to where we are today.
A number of hon. Members have been considering how we can move this issue forward, and one cross-party idea is to set up a Hillsborough disaster all-party group that will allow us to discuss various matters that will continue to arise, and meet relevant people and bodies—including, of course, the families—to see how the process is progressing. I hope that that group can be set up within the next few weeks.
Before I get to the main thrust of my comments, I wish to record my admiration for and thanks to the families that have campaigned over these 23 years. They have been brave, dogged and persistent and have never given up seeking truth and justice for their loved ones. They have, quite frankly, been magnificent. A leading role over the years was played by a constituent of mine, Eddie Spearritt, who sadly died earlier this year and did not see this report. He lost his son, Adam, and was himself in intensive care and unconscious, although he survived. I will return later in my remarks to some of the issues that the Spearritt family have raised with me. The fact that Mr Spearritt survived is particularly pertinent with regard to arguments about the 3.15 pm cut-off that we have heard previously and today.
I speak as someone who was in the stadium on the day of the disaster. If someone from another planet had come to earth at some point in the years after Hillsborough, they would not have believed it if they were told that, prior to the match, Liverpool football club raised concerns that it was not given the Kop end to accommodate its larger support; that extra tickets were given to Nottingham Forest, which had smaller support; and that there had been a significant crush incident in 1981 and problems between then and 1989, but nothing significant was done and Hillsborough continued to be used as a venue. They would not have believed that the police had decided they wanted to put side fencing on the terracing as segregation and requested that the turnstiles should be altered to direct supporters into the correct pens, but Sheffield Wednesday rejected the suggestion on the basis of cost. They would not have believed that the ground did not have a valid safety certificate, and that an experienced commander, Superintendent Mole, was replaced 21 days before the match. We do not know to this day, and neither did the panel ascertain, why that happened. The panel said that it was a “significant development”. We therefore do not yet have all the truth.
Someone coming to this planet would not have believed that there had been a 30% cut in the number of police officers in the Leppings Lane end, which was the most difficult area to police; that the police were not stopping people to check their tickets and did not organise queues as they had done in previous years; that the police lost control outside the ground; that communications between police officers in the command posts inside and outside the ground were, to say the least, chaotic; that the police opened an outside gate and did not block off the tunnel to pens 3 and 4; and that the officer in charge of the operation ignored what was happening in front in his own eyes—supporters were in serious trouble, being crushed, and, as we know, dying. He then lies about what happened, and police officers engage in a co-ordinated campaign to blame the fans—in other words, they organise a conspiracy to put the blame on the fans and away from themselves.
Someone coming to this planet would not have believed the appalling and inadequate emergency response—senior ambulance management did not take control. They would not have believed that the whole justice system failed the families and survivors, and that no one to this date has been prosecuted or faced justice. They would not have believed that scandalous situation possible. Of course, we knew a lot of that in the years after 1989, including during the debate in 1998, but nothing was done until the independent panel report.
For the first time in 23 years, I have read the match programme from that day. Next to a picture of the Leppings Lane end is the following comment: “a perfect venue”. It states:
“As you look around Hillsborough you will appreciate why it has been regarded for so long as the perfect venue for all kinds of important matches”.
The programme mentions altering and improving the Kop end—Sheffield Wednesday did not, of course, improve the Leppings Lane end—and preparation prior to the match, which it says was of paramount importance. On opposing the then Government’s identity scheme, the Sheffield Wednesday chairman says that
“the hooligan problem inside football stadiums is virtually eradicated”, and yet we, as Liverpool fans, were accused of being hooligans on that day. That man was in charge of Sheffield Wednesday football club, and he made those comments in the programme on the day, which says a lot about the mindset that existed at that time.
Here is another interesting insight into the club and its attitude. Following the 1981 crushing incident, when the police allowed a number of supporters on to the track around the perimeter fence, Mr McGhee, the same chairman of Sheffield Wednesday football club, argued that the police action was completely unnecessary and made the ground look untidy. He considered that that might prevent Hillsborough hosting future semi-finals. I wish it had.
Assistant Chief Constable Goslin insisted that, due to the crushing on the terraces, there had been a “real chance of fatalities” to which, astonishingly, Mr McGee replied:
“Bollocks—no one would have been killed!”—
I hope that is parliamentary language, Mr Deputy Speaker; it is in the report. However, we now know different. We need to continue to explore the issue of the ground.
I mentioned the Spearritt family, who wrote to me and made the point about ensuring that the investigations are fully resourced. They are also concerned about the position of the chief constable, Norman Bettison, which clearly needs proper scrutiny, and the time it will take to bring to justice those who should face it. The families have waited a long time already of course. Other families have raised issues about the cost of the inquest and associated issues, and the siting of the new inquest—presuming that one is held—in Liverpool. That is a matter for others to decide, but I hope that it will take place close to Liverpool if not in the city.
Constituents have also raised with me the issue of Kelvin MacKenzie, who has tried to claim that he was misinformed by the police. In fact, the book “Stick It Up Your Punter!: The Uncut Story of the Sun Newspaper” by Chippindale and Horrie says that the chief reporter at the time
“did not like the look of some of” the copy that he had been given, although the
“agencies whose names were on it were reliable”.
The book continues:
“In his opinion it now needed handling as delicately as a ticking bomb. Seeking out MacKenzie, he confided his fears. ‘We’ve got to be really careful with this stuff…These are only allegations’”.
The front page that was eventually published was obviously a real concern for staff at The Sun at the time:
“As MacKenzie’s layout was seen by more and more people a collective shudder ran through the office. There was an instant gut feeling that that it was a terrible mistake. The trouble was that nobody seemed able to do anything about it. By now MacKenzie’s dominance was so total there was nobody left in the organisation who could rein him in”.
That is worth mentioning, as Mr MacKenzie has said it was the police’s fault and they owed him an apology. Clearly, he had lots of information and advice, but he ignored it and ran the statements he did.
The 1998 debate said many of the things that we know to be true today, especially about the 3.15 pm cut-off, and the police statements that my hon. Friend Maria Eagle and I saw and raised in the debate. The Stuart Smith report said that there was no reason to reconsider those points, and that needs looking at. Dr Ed Walker was one of the doctors who treated people on that day, and he raised the possibility of people surviving after that time, but he was ignored.
What happened on that day is a scandal and a disgrace.
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.
First, I want to reiterate what I said on
I, like my hon. Friends the Members for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) and Mr Betts, have been a lifelong supporter of Sheffield Wednesday. As such, I want to say that the hearts of the people of Sheffield are, as then, with the people of Merseyside and the families. On that terrible afternoon, kindness shone through the darkness: people took families and individuals into their homes around the ground, used telephones in a day when mobile telephones were not available, ran people back to Merseyside, where appropriate, and did their best to indicate a humanity that I hope we will also remember.
The debate has so far been of the highest order, and I want only to say one or two things that might add to it. I commenced representing Brightside in 1987. At the time, I did not hear from any thinking human being who genuinely believed that the deceased had anything to do with the events of that afternoon. How could they have anything to do with it, given that they were in the ground well in advance of 3 pm and so at the front of the dreadful pens that existed at the time? As I said two months ago, the tales that were made up and the way the so-called facts were reiterated demonstrated that we could only really rely on truth and justice being revealed when we had absolute transparency. Today, that is more possible, given mobile technology and the way everything is recorded—we have seen that in recent days—and that is a good thing, but it can only really work if there is a change of heart from the top down.
I want to refer to the three elements of the case—the events of the day, the cover-up and the inquest. I was not in the ground on the day, but I visited Northern General hospital the following morning and talked to those with minor injuries and to some of the parents. I was impressed by what Stephen Mosley said about Kevin’s mother, Anne, whom I heard on the radio a week last Friday, showing the most enormous dignity, having demonstrated the most enormous courage in pursuing this matter and having coped with what she has had to live with ever since. I do not know whether the inquest will bring any kind of peace, but it will certainly bring greater truth.
I understand that such an inquest has incredibly difficult barriers to overcome. The bar was set extremely high by those who took the civil case 12 years ago, and the Stuart-Smith inquiry set the bar at a height that makes it difficult, 23 years on, to achieve the kind of justice that those in the Gallery today rightly seek. What is absolutely sure, however, is that the cover-up must be revealed if we are to prevent such a thing from happening again. It is about culture and perception. The fact that on the day 116 officers wrote down what they believed had taken place but had their testimony altered is a testament to their efforts to tell the truth. The scandal was that senior management in South Yorkshire police and the West Midlands force—the latter has also been tellingly referred to this afternoon—overrode their decency and honesty. That is the lesson for us. The issue is about how senior management, not those at the bottom, should be pursued. I believe that 100 members of the 1989 force are still in place. I hope that their experiences in respect of senior management will be listened to and that they will not be made to feel that they are being pursued. Otherwise, we will get the wrong conclusion by pursuing the wrong people.
As with the organisation and supervision on that tragic afternoon and as with the cover-up, the inquest, which, of course, turned out to be a scandal, was based on presumption and a particular perception of the fans. I say that regardless of what Bert McGee, with whom I am glad to say my relations were nil, might have written in the programme that afternoon. As the MP covering the stadium, I never repeated any of the garbage told to the then MP for Sheffield Hallam, Sir Irvine Patnick. I believe that the perception had arisen out of the previous years—out of what had happened at Ibrox, Heysel and Birmingham, where two people were killed, and the hysteria around the situation with fans. Action by the Taylor committee was taken on the back of that. Here is a thought: the Taylor committee, which got to part of the truth, came out with recommendations that were more about dealing with fans than they were about the outcome or the truth and justice of what happened at Hillsborough in April 1989. We have to ensure, in detection and investigation in future, that that never happens again—that we do not have a police force or inquiries that build on existing perception, but that we genuinely try to get to what happened.
We have a challenge before us, because the truth is virtually out. The families are near to getting some sort of peace and settlement, if that is possible. The Parliament that we stand in today is revealing and opening up what has been covered up for 23 years, but to go forward we need to be able to pick up some of the issues around future transparency and strong outside investigation. My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary referred to this issue. I was the one who set up the Independent Police Complaints Commission, because its predecessor, the Police Complaints Authority, was totally and utterly inadequate. I would like us to strengthen the IPCC immediately, because waiting to legislate on something new would not be the answer. Therefore, we should by all means provide greater powers, but this is also about process, as well as culture and enforcement. The top-down examples that I have referred to are about changing the way we operate our police service. This is also about what happened with the other emergency services—not least the ambulance service—which led to the terrible tragedy of those who might have been saved being left on that afternoon.
We are, 23 years later, trying to put right a wrong that is part of our history. We are trying to do so without undermining the morale and the feeling of service of those in the police and emergency services in South Yorkshire, who I have to care about because they are the ones who are serving my constituency and those of my hon. Friends. They need to know that, while we are getting to the truth and providing justice and accountability for the past, we are also mindful of their lives and their work, and that is why—
As Members of Parliament, we all have to deal on a daily basis with the consequences of what happens when the state fails. Thankfully, there are mercifully few occasions when the state fails as badly as it did the victims of the Hillsborough disaster. We should all be able to take it for granted that the state will make every endeavour to keep us safe. We should also take it for granted that the state will deliver justice and treat us fairly if we obey and abide by the law. Through the publication of this report, we have seen how spectacularly the state failed in those commitments to protect the victims of Hillsborough. The report also shows how the organs of the state colluded to deny the families justice for their loved ones. The families have now got the truth, but in doing so they have reminded us that the establishment is fallible. That is a very uncomfortable truth.
I am pleased to follow Mr Blunkett. Some of the things I will say follow on from the points he made. I was born and bred in Hillsborough, and I lived a mere stone’s throw away from the stadium. I remember that day very clearly, not least because friends and family were there, as stewards, spectators and police officers on duty. I should also advise the House that I was employed at South Yorkshire police in 1992. It is from that perspective that I would like to make a few comments.
South Yorkshire police has rightly been condemned for its failings as part of the tragedy, but it says a lot about Trevor Hicks that when the report was published and South Yorkshire police was criticised, he immediately chose to pay tribute to the individual members of South Yorkshire police who had behaved honourably and supported the victims. I draw attention to the comments of my hon. Friend Stephen Mosley, who identified some of the officers who did exactly that. Although today is rightly about the victims of the tragedy and how we ensure that the same thing never happens again, I want to take a few moments of the House’s time to pay tribute to all the police officers of South Yorkshire who behaved professionally and honourably, but who are being unfairly maligned as a result of the criticism of the force. They should continue to feel proud of the contribution they make to keeping our communities safe. It should also be remembered that, as it was a football game, a number of the officers on duty were special constables, giving their time as volunteers.
Over the years, a number of police officers have shared with me their perspectives of what happened. Without exception, they have all recognised the failings of South Yorkshire police and, as highlighted by the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough, the failings by the senior leadership on the day and subsequently. Those present on the day all report that there was chaos and a complete breakdown of leadership. What happened on the day was exacerbated by a failure of the leadership to acknowledge what had gone wrong, which can have been motivated only by a desire to protect the name of the force and individual officers. That is completely unacceptable. I hope that the inquiries by the IPCC will find those who were culpable and take appropriate action.
When I joined South Yorkshire police in 1992, I joined an organisation that was traumatised by the effects of the Hillsborough disaster and its aftermath. As a consequence, the force had a mission to improve confidence in the service and to improve performance. To achieve that, a corporate affairs unit was established under Chief Superintendent Norman Bettison. Much has been made of his role in the disaster and subsequently, and the unit, which he supervised, has been the focus of discussion in the House before. It will be mentioned in this debate, too, but I should advise the House that as well as dealing with the aftermath of Hillsborough the unit dealt with much wider issues and was responsible for some significant changes in procedure and performance in the force.
The IPCC will obviously get to the bottom of where the wrongdoing took place. I do not think we should prejudge the outcome of those inquiries, but if systemic wrongdoing is found, senior officers cannot distance themselves from it. I was particularly disappointed that, immediately following publication of the report, the former chief constable of South Yorkshire police, Richard Wells, who succeeded Peter Wright—he is no longer with us and therefore no longer able to account for his role in these events—announced that, with regret, he had accepted the account of events given to him by officers, which was that
“statements had been looked at for criminal justice purposes and emotional, non-evidential material had been removed.”
It is just not good enough for any officer in a senior position to distance themselves from things that happened on their watch. Leadership means setting the style and tone of an organisation, and it means taking responsibility when things go wrong. Whether it was a systemic attempt at rewriting events or the activity of individual over-zealous officers, it is still not good enough for senior officers at the time to say that they did not know what was happening. They ought to have known. They are responsible, and we do not pay them healthy salaries so that they can abdicate responsibility when things go wrong. It now falls to the IPCC to identify where misconduct took place and who was culpable, but it should not have taken this long, and we should not have to rely on regulators and inquiries to get to the truth. We need to instil in public servants an emphasis on doing the right thing and on placing that ahead of protecting their reputations. The truth will out in the end.
I cannot finish without addressing the untruths that were published in The Sun and which did so much to set the tone in which the circumstances of the disaster came to be viewed. I was horrified to learn that the source of that material was a former Member of this House. Although it is recorded that the account was given by a police officer, his statement as published also records that another officer told him to take what he had heard with a pinch of salt. It is extremely regrettable that that advice was not heeded. As a result, an untrue account of events relating to the behaviour of fans was allowed to be perpetuated. It is that account which has denied them justice for so long. All of us in this House should never forget our role as community leaders; nor should we forget the respect that our comments command. We should never repeat anything unless we can be satisfied that it is the truth. In this context, careless talk has impeded justice.
It has taken an unacceptably long time for the victims’ families to get the truth, but I am massively inspired by their fight, and I hope that the fresh inquests and the investigations afforded by this report will give them the closure that they need from this awful tragedy.
It is a pleasure to follow Jackie Doyle-Price, who made an eloquent and balanced speech drawing on her own experience and putting what we have heard over the past few days and weeks into the context of overall policing. I also want to pay tribute to the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary. They both made outstanding speeches today, and they showed the House at its very best. The Government have reacted and, frankly, they have not put a foot wrong following the publication of the independent panel’s report. I am grateful to the Home Secretary for the way in which she has given her personal attention to this issue, knowing that, as Home Secretary, she has a lot of things to do. It is one of the toughest jobs, if not the toughest job, in the Government, but she has given this matter the necessary quality time.
The thoughts that the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, has expressed today on how to reconstruct the system for the future, and in particular on the way in which we should develop the Independent Police Complaints Commission, are very welcome. I saw today a desire from those on both Front Benches to work together to ensure that, as the Home Secretary said, from truth we shall get justice.
The Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary were present at the police bravery awards last Thursday, and I heard them both praise the British police as the finest in the world. That does not, however, take away from the fact of this damning report by the independent panel into what happened 23 years ago. I want to pay tribute to Members on both sides of the House for the way in which they have prosecuted the cause of the families, who have struggled so hard in very difficult circumstances to get justice.
Today, I want to concentrate on the future, because there is a danger that, despite all the good will and all the work being done by the various agencies, we could lose track of precisely how we are going to arrive at a conclusion on this subject. I want to refer to the evidence given by David Compton, the South Yorkshire chief constable, when he appeared before the Home Affairs Select Committee last Tuesday. We are not holding another inquiry into Hillsborough. We have had the definitive inquiry. All that the Committee wishes to do is monitor on a regular basis what is happening, just as we have done with Operation Weeting, which was set up following the phone hacking scandal. We will therefore call back the chief constable and the families on a four-monthly basis to ensure that things are going in the right direction. We are not holding an inquiry.
The chief constable gave excellent evidence. He was forthright and transparent, and he promised that he would write to the IPCC by last Friday with the names of the officers who were involved in some way in what happened at Hillsborough. As I said earlier, the names of 1,444 officers have now been sent to the IPCC, of whom 304 are still serving in the South Yorkshire force. It immediately becomes clear, given the number of names involved, that there will be a problem with resources. I welcome what the Home Secretary has said about that today, but she should not wait for the IPCC to come to see her. A meeting should be convened pretty quickly to ask the IPCC what it needs, and to give it those resources. I am watching the Home Secretary’s face as I speak, and I am sure that she has already fixed such a meeting. We often say in the House, “If they need the resources, they should come and ask for them”, but we should go to the IPCC and offer it what it needs.
We also received evidence last week from the families themselves. Many of their names have already appeared in parliamentary reports, including those of Trevor Hicks, Jenny Hicks, Margaret Aspinall and Sheila Coleman. They all came and gave evidence to us, alongside Lord Falconer, who is advising the Hillsborough families. They were concerned about co-ordination and they suggested that the Director of Public Prosecutions should have overall superintendence of the various agencies. However, I am not absolutely convinced that it would be the best course of action to place this matter into the hands of the DPP, another very busy senior official.
I favour the idea of appointing a special prosecutor to look into all these cases and to act as a co-ordination point, because it is really important that we wrap this up in the personality of one person. I put the idea to the Home Secretary right at the start that this could perhaps be done by Tom Winsor, the new chief inspector of constabulary. This is a role for the inspectorate. It should not be about police officers investigating police officers; it should involve someone completely new coming into the system to look into it. I do not know whether he has the resources to do that. There are a number of other people who could take on the task. I would also like to throw in the name of Denis O’Connor. He has just stood down from the role of chief inspector of constabulary, and would therefore be unburdened by day-to-day management duties. We need a figure with experience who can command respect and who can bring all the various agencies together.
I am glad that the Home Secretary said that she would hold meetings this week. It is really important that we take on board what the families say, and that we try to cut through the bureaucracy that will inevitably result from all the agencies trying to do their very best by those families, and by the stated views of Members on both sides of the House, as I am sure they will do. I hope that we can reach a conclusion quickly.
I am glad that the Home Secretary was able to see the Hillsborough families. They had contacted her office before they came to appear before the Committee, but they said that they had not received a definitive reply. I was therefore pleased that she was able to meet them at such short notice. It is they who have been driving this whole issue over the past 23 years, and we should put them right at the centre of what we are seeking to do. We all have our views and opinions but, at the end of the day, it is the families who should turn to Parliament and say, “We need closure, and this is how we are going to get it.”
Alec Shelbrooke mentioned Norman Bettison earlier. I was surprised recently to be rung up by The Times newspaper and to be told that, 23 years ago, I had been to a briefing meeting held by the police officers who had policed Hillsborough, and that I had left the meeting before the end. The press asked me why I had done that, and I had to tell them that I cannot remember what I did last week, and that I certainly cannot remember what I did 23 years ago. I can only imagine the detail of the reports of such meetings, if Norman Bettison was able to write in his report that Keith Vaz had left a meeting early, as though that suggested something pejorative about the way in which the meeting had been conducted. Officers in the South Yorkshire police force were clearly keeping detailed notes on what Members of Parliament were doing in the meetings that they had organised in order to discuss these issues. We should give the IPCC the opportunity to make a judgment on Norman Bettison’s case. I know what the families feel, and I have heard what he has said today.
We should also look at the whole way in which policing operates at the moment. There are a lot of different cases going on. My hon. Friend John Mann has raised some questions in the press today, and I know that he will raise them in Parliament when he speaks. The fact is that we need to look at the new policing landscape. The Government are right to try to change it with the creation of the National Crime Agency and the new college. All these issues need to be addressed. I am not convinced that we should reform the IPCC in the middle of these negotiations, but we can clearly take on board what the shadow Home Secretary has said about giving it additional powers so that it can complete these investigations properly.
The Select Committee is conducting an inquiry into the IPCC, and tomorrow we shall see Marie Rigg, the mother of Sean Rigg. For years, she has felt that his case was not properly dealt with by the IPCC, so the Hillsborough families are not alone in criticising the organisation. We want to hold a proper inquiry and give proper recommendations to the Home Office, taking on board what the shadow Home Secretary and others have said. At the end of the day, according to the families, the only way to get closure will be for people to be prosecuted for what happened. Who those people are, Parliament does not know at this moment. All that we can do is ensure that we have a good, robust process so that justice can finally be done.
I should like to start by praising the families who fought on and on for 23 years to get to where we are today. I want to talk to the public about the impact of what we are discussing. Football is a great joiner of people. Since I have come to this place, I have developed an excellent friendly relationship with the hon. Member representing Liverpool, Wavertree—[Hon. Members: “Walton.”] That is a good start: I mean Steve Rotheram. That relationship comes down to the bond that people gather from being football fans. Although we sit on totally opposite sides of the political divide, we get on exceptionally well through our love of football. Football binds many people together. My sister is an Arsenal fan whereas my brother-in-law is a Liverpool fan, and they live in Sheffield. Quite where on the football spectrum my niece and nephew will end up remains to be seen, but what about the prospect of their going to a football match—something that binds together people who love the game—13 years from now, when they will be 16 and 14, and a terrible incident occurring?
Some people might dismiss this debate as having gone on too long or believe that these matters should not have been dug up again. There are people who have made such comments, but I ask them how they would feel if a family member—a niece or nephew, say, if they do not have children—lost their life going to one of the events that so many people in this country go to, watch, enjoy and love, and were then effectively told that it was all their fault anyway? What if they then saw an establishment war against them, which is effectively what has happened over 23 years?
I came into politics because, I am sure like many people, I wanted to defend people who need to be spoken up for. I have a big thing about bullies; I hate them, yet I see them in so many aspects of life, using their position to bully others. As my hon. Friend Stephen Mosley said in his excellent speech, people were bullied into changing their statements. All that came about because people had made a mistake. The police made mistakes, but instead of standing up and admitting the terrible mistakes that they made that day, they tried to push the blame on to those who had no reason whatever to have that blame put upon them. I think that every single person in this country needs to think about that and about the events they go to enjoy together as a family. They should think about how they would feel if a disastrous event took place and they were blamed for what had happened.
I remember being at school when this event happened—I was 13—and hearing some of the comments made the next day about what The Sun had said. Even in south- east England, school children and others were very uncomfortable about the newspaper coverage. Many people went into shock—this was more than a general sense of shock—about what had happened. I remember reading the Sunday newspapers along with my parents the next day, and I clearly recall seeing a picture of somebody being crushed up against the fence. It had a deep impact on me. The following day a newspaper came out with “The Truth” plastered across it, and some accusations were made. Let us remember what they were. It was claimed that people, including children, were drunk. It was said that people were pickpocketing the dead, urinating on dead bodies and attacking police officers. If that was true, why was nobody arrested, as there were plenty of police there? There were plenty of television cameras there, too, recording all the events, but no arrests were made and no evidence ever came forward.
This leads me on to my comments about the chief constable of West Yorkshire, Norman Bettison. I am not standing here today to say that Sir Norman Bettison is guilty of any crime. I am not saying that, but what I am saying is that he edited, as he was asked to do, the video footage of what went on that day. I think that over 60 hours of footage was brought down to 30 minutes. Subsequently, questions have been raised about whether pressure was applied by people such as Norman Bettison when he was the chief constable to get police officers to change their statements. I know that many more speeches today will address that issue directly.
When I look at the press release from the West Yorkshire policy authority, I see that the authority committee referred the matter to the chair of the special committee, whose role was
“to oversee all conduct matters involving chief officer ranks, including the Chief Constable.”
The second press release stated that that committee
“will decide whether any conduct matters or public complaints about the Chief Constable should be recorded and whether any matters should also be referred to the IPCC as a result.”
One charge that the IPCC is looking into is that Sir Norman tried to influence that committee not to refer him. That may or may not be true, but that is one of the charges brought. If the public are to have faith in any report that comes out from the IPCC, they must be absolutely 100% convinced that no undue influence was brought on that process. Frankly, that is the accusation being levelled against it. With someone involved in the investigation who has effectively been charged with involvement in a cover-up now having to face a new charge of trying to influence the police authority, their position must be untenable if the public are to have faith in the report that comes out.
I emphasise again that I am not saying whether Sir Norman Bettison is guilty or innocent, as that is what an investigation is for. What I am saying is that for the public to have faith in any report that is produced, he should either be suspended or, if a mechanism cannot be found, offer his own suspension from duty. He should not take retirement. I have heard Sir Norman’s warm words:
“Recent weeks have caused me to reflect on what is best for the future of policing in West Yorkshire, and I have now decided to set a firm date for my retirement. I hope”, he said, that his departure
“will enable the Independent Police Complaints Commission to fully investigate allegations that have been raised about my integrity.”
I disagree. I do not think he should take early retirement. I think that his early retirement date should be held until we get to the end of an investigation so that he can be held to account in respect of his current role.
I would hope not. My point is that if he suspended himself and removed himself from any investigation, the public could have faith in any report that is produced. I did not level the new charge—that he tried to interfere with West Yorkshire policy authority—against him; it was the IPCC that levelled that charge. After 23 years, the public must have faith in any report that is brought out.
Is it not a fact that in the vast majority of employment cases, where an issue is raised or accusations are made against a worker—and this man is a worker—that worker would almost certainly be suspended, regardless of what they had to say about the allegations? If the allegations were made, they would be suspended, particularly in order to prevent any interference with any records or paperwork. That would happen to virtually anybody in this country, so why should it not happen to this man?
I am most grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. He will have heard me intervene on the shadow Home Secretary earlier. Her answer made it very clear that she and the Home Secretary did not have the ability to be involved, which is why I said that if there is a mechanism whereby the person in question can offer himself for suspension, that is what should happen. I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not casting judgment on him; what I am saying is that this House, the public, the victims and their families need to know that when this process is finished, no more questions will be left unanswered. There should be no more theories about whether someone influenced a report; only then can peace be brought to those families. They must know that the full truth is out there; those found to responsible must face up to the consequences; and we must close this dreadful, shameful chapter in our country’s history.
Finally, I want to make a point about what my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price said. I simply cannot understand how such an experienced politician as the then Member of Parliament for Sheffield, Hallam was able to go to journalists and report as fact rumours about which he had been told. I am thinking particularly of what appears on page 351 of the report, to which my hon. Friend referred:
“‘Some of the supporters were pissed out of their minds. They were pissing on us while we were pulling the dead and injured out…they were swearing at us kicking and punching us and hampering our work’. One seated showed me the marks of the kicks on his left trouser leg and the marks on his skin.”
The report goes on to mention what fans were said to have yelled about what they would do with a girl who was naked. An off-duty sergeant is said to have given this information to the then Member of Parliament. We also read on page 351 that
“‘senior officers advised Mr Patnick to take what he had heard ‘with a pinch of salt’.”
Those accusations should make every one of us angry. I am angry, and I cannot imagine what the families must feel about the fact that a Member of this House fed those allegations to the newspapers, and into the general stream of information that was going around the country, when a senior police officer had told him to take them with a pinch of salt.
At the end of the process, those who are found to have deliberately peddled that story must be prosecuted for defamation of character, because that is what it was: besmirching the names of the dead was a defamation of character. It is not good enough, and I hope that we shall never see a repeat of it in the House. I also hope that one outcome will be that we all remember—this was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock—that we, as politicians, are in a very powerful position. Our words matter, and we must never peddle rumours and, consequently, untruths.
Many Members on both sides of the House have made impassioned speeches, and many have presented arguments that I wish to present as well. I shall therefore use my brief contribution to reinforce some of their points, as well as adding some of my own.
Let me begin by adding my voice to the tributes that other Members have paid to the families of the 96 victims. The publication of the independent panel’s report lays bare the double injustice that they have suffered for far too long, and is a major step forward in their search for truth and justice. However, as all of us who are taking part in the debate well know, the report represents not the end of that struggle, but merely the beginning of a new chapter. For 23 years the families and survivors have been let down, and we owe it to them to ensure that we do everything possible to ensure that they finally get the justice they deserve.
I want to record my thanks to the Bishop of Liverpool and the members of his panel for the forensic work that they did on the report. It is testimony to the bishop’s efforts that the Home Secretary confirmed today that she wished to retain him as an adviser on all matters connected with Hillsborough. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham and my hon. Friend Maria Eagle for the work that they did when in government. They called for the release of documentation, and set up the independent panel. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Steve Rotheram, who has been a powerful and passionate advocate for justice for the victims of Hillsborough. I am sure that we shall hear him speak movingly later this evening.
I welcome the Government’s decision to set aside time for the debate. I also welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement that, if the Attorney-General approves, a special prosecutor will be appointed to examine the possibility of criminal charges. That will be an unusual step, but it is clearly necessary given the nature of the tragedy, the extent of the cover-up, the pain that too many have suffered over two decades, and the many agencies that are implicated.
I support the calls from my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, for the introduction of new powers to compel police officers to give evidence to the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s inquiry into Hillsborough. I also welcome the Attorney-General’s decision to make an application to the High Court for new inquests to take place, and join other Members in asking him to ensure that the process is completed as quickly as possible. New inquests are vital if the wrongs of the past are to be righted. Although the original coroner’s report returned a verdict of accidental death, the independent panel’s report clearly shows that the deaths of 96 innocent people that day were anything but accidental. That verdict must be overturned.
The deaths and suffering of the survivors were a result of systematic failures by football authorities, the police and the emergency services before, during and after what happened on that tragic day,
On the match day itself, key safety procedures were not followed. There was a failure to recognise that the turnstiles were inadequate, or to foresee the problems that would be caused by not sealing off the tunnel leading to the central pens. The response in the immediate aftermath of the crush was appalling. A general failure on the part of the emergency services to recognise what was happening was compounded by the failure to execute major incident plans correctly. Those mistakes cost lives.
Afterwards, a concerted and shameful cover-up of those mistakes began with the blaming of innocent victims. Hundreds of police statements were doctored and amended. The original coroner’s report set an arbitrary 3.15 pm cut-off time; the only reason for that seems to have been a desire to excuse the failings of the emergency services. The blood alcohol levels of those who had been killed—even children—were checked without consent. There was collusion between senior figures in the police force, the political sphere and the media to perpetrate a campaign to smear the fans and innocent victims. Despite the finding of the Taylor inquiry that the police were at fault, not a single officer responsible for the conduct of the police that day has been disciplined or prosecuted.
Those failings, and what in some cases appear to be specific acts of criminality, need to be investigated and exposed in more detail than is allowed by the time afforded to me, or even to today’s debate. That leaves the question of who is best placed to conduct such investigations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood said in the House on the day the report was published, this cover-up, the lies, and the failure to bring prosecutions show a complete failing on the part of our legal system. Securing justice for the families of the victims must of course be our immediate priority, but once that process is complete, we must also consider the wider failings of our legal system. The fact that a public inquiry, a judicial inquiry, and the coroner’s inquest in the 1980s and 1990s failed to establish the truth of what happened at Hillsborough is deeply disturbing, and such a situation must never be repeated.
I think that it is clear from the report, and from today’s debate, that a number of things need to happen. First, the Attorney-General should submit his promised application for new inquests as soon as possible. Secondly, if that application is successful, it is crucial for the inquests to be held in Liverpool, for the costs to be borne by central Government rather than by any local authority, and—most important—for no legal costs to be borne by the families. The Home Secretary said this afternoon that her Department was looking into that, and I hope that its response will be favourable. Thirdly, a special prosecutor needs to be appointed and given the powers to conduct a full inquiry—including powers to question the police—in order to determine what criminal charges can and should be brought.
What happened at Hillsborough 23 years ago was a terrible tragedy that could have been prevented. It has been made worse by a shameful cover-up by parts of the very institutions that are meant to protect us. Now that we have the truth, we all have a duty to the 96 victims, their families and the survivors to secure justice and ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.
Luciana Berger concludes by rightly saying nothing like this must ever happen again. Sadly, however, there are other cover-ups going on at the moment. The Hillsborough independent panel report states:
“The disclosed documents show that the bereaved families met a series of obstacles in their search for justice.”
Stephen Mosley highlighted a case going all the way through to the European Court of Human Rights and the truth not coming out. We must learn from Hillsborough, and from other cover-ups, and work to get greater transparency so that such cover-ups never happen again.
On Friday, my Family Justice (Transparency, Accountability and Cost of Living) Bill will receive its Second Reading. It should, perhaps, be re-titled the “No more cover-ups Bill”. In the case of Hillsborough, there was a cover-up. There was also pressure placed on police officers not to complain. In the case of Jimmy Savile, there was a cover-up, too. There was also pressure placed on people not to complain—ironically, by banning them from watching the TV and withdrawing other privileges.
As a country, we do little to support whistleblowers. Clause 7(2) of my private Member’s Bill aims to stop people threatening others to stop them complaining. Only last week, I received a report from a fellow Member about one of her constituents being threatened.
Order. I know the hon. Gentleman wants to discuss his Bill, but he knows that we are not doing so today. He also knows how important Hillsborough is, and how many people are present who are very concerned about the events that took place there. I therefore ask him to speak to the subject in hand, rather than drifting on to the topic of his Bill, which I know he has a keen interest in.
I take that point, Mr Deputy Speaker. My concern is that we have other cover-ups going on, and I would have thought that it is in order to discuss them and how to prevent them. I will not refer to my Bill, however.
In England, it is even possible to get a court order that stops a complaint being made. The Hillsborough case went as far as the House of Lords and involved inquests, inquiries and judicial reviews, but the truth did not come out until there was an independent panel.
My own view is that we need to be willing to look at cover-up allegations by establishing committees of inquiry in Parliament. However, there are other things that could be done to improve the accountability of public officials. Judicial review proceedings are used to deal with the accountability of public officials, and they were used in dealing with Hillsborough. The General Medical Council is also subject to judicial review. However, public bodies have very deep pockets, and there are cost risks for ordinary individuals if the costs of such a process are not covered by public funding. If cost limitations on judicial review are not set at an early stage, ordinary people cannot take on the system—the GMC, perhaps, or a local council planning decision, or a coroner as in the Hillsborough case.
In the case of Hillsborough, judicial review did not provide an adequate system of scrutiny; that was made clear in paragraph 2.9.100 of the report. One of the difficulties with criminal prosecutions and regulatory actions is that all the processes are somewhat remote from the people affected. At paragraph 2.9.114 Terri Sefton is reported as stating,
“none of the questions that she had wanted answered had been answered.”
We need greater transparency and accountability. We know, for example, that the Slovak Republic has identified 40 cases in the English courts involving 89 children where it does not think the legally correct decision has been taken, yet they have gone through our system without any challenge. To me, that is a serious criticism of the system.
The system also has an automatic cover-up in that the media in the UK are prevented from discussing details of what has been going on. Even academic researchers are banned from looking at these secret cases, to see if the decisions are sensible. More recently, it has become clear that one of the people involved in the Haut de la Garenne scandal was Jimmy Savile. Hillsborough happened in 1989, and the Savile issues arose many years ago. However, the US—
I am aware that we are drifting from the topic under discussion. I have brought the hon. Gentleman back to the subject being debated once before, and I am sure he does want to speak about Hillsborough, and that is what he will do for the rest of his speech.
I do want to speak about Hillsborough, but there are similar cases that go before the Europe courts. Unless we solve the systemic problems and ensure that cover-ups do not continue, there will be further cover-ups. I am sure the Hillsborough families wish to see the system changed so that such situations do not happen again. I will not mention any of the other relevant examples at present, but, over time, we must look at them, because, as the Minister accepted earlier, the system is very vulnerable to cover-ups.
I cannot speak for all Hillsborough families, but the Hillsborough families I know would absolutely agree that there should be no more cover-ups. However, they have fought for 23 years for the opportunity to come to this House and hear politicians speak about the Hillsborough independent panel report, and I think the hon. Gentleman is drifting far from that topic.
It is interesting how many Members are taking on the role of the Speaker today. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point, however.
Let me return to the comments in my prepared speech: it is to be hoped that the report of the Hillsborough independent panel will provide closure for the families. They need justice, and they have now got to the truth. Parliament needs to learn from this and stop the culture of cover-up. There must be no more cover-ups.
My hon. Friend Derek Twigg listed a number of authorities, from the football club that is based at Hillsborough through to the media, that, to say the least, made mistakes, crass errors or whatever one wants to call them. When dealing with the issues the report highlights, the one point it is impossible to get one’s head around is the motives of those people who were involved in this complex series of mistakes. We can, perhaps, understand that the club was desirous of the revenue coming in from hosting such a prestigious game, but the subsequent actions of a number of senior people in the police, the emergency services and the media lead us to the conclusion that their motives were completely scurrilous.
Two of the 41 victims who, it appears, lived beyond 3.15 pm were my constituents, and another of my constituents also died. Let me quote the comments of the brother of one of those constituents. Nick Delaney’s brother, James, died, and he said in response to a local press inquiry about the Attorney-General’s report:
“I’m over the moon. It’s great news. I didn’t expect it to be as quick. I just hope they push it through now. People need to trust the police again”.
That is very true.
The difficulty we face is that because of the complex interaction of all these issues, we know that we cannot promise the Hillsborough victims’ families any form of instant justice. We are going down the right path and, as long as Members in this House continue to work together in a collegiate manner, I am hopeful that we will get somewhere towards achieving justice for the victims and their families.
The coroner’s court has been mentioned. I am hopeful that there will be a fresh coroners hearing, and I certainly think it would be totally inappropriate for that to be in Sheffield. I am open-minded as to where else it should be; somewhere else in the north-west may be appropriate. There is a school of thought that says Liverpool may not be the best place to hold it, but somewhere else in the north-west where the court would be accessible to the victims’ families might be considered as an appropriate venue.
I want to deal briefly with the issues associated with the media. The Home Secretary used a phrase to which we all ought to listen: “after the apology, accountability.” That comment applies particularly to people such as Kelvin MacKenzie. It is mission critical that we re-establish —somehow—confidence in the media. As with the police, the media must have the confidence of the people in the country. I want to refer to what he said, where he said he got it from and what others have said.
Kelvin MacKenzie has, apparently, asked South Yorkshire police to apologise to him for the “vilification” he has received. That seems extraordinary because, as the Home Secretary said, after the apology comes the accountability and he was the accountable person in that newsroom. A police spokesman has said that
“Mr MacKenzie was responsible for the particular headline he chose to run with.”
Irrespective of one source that he got, just as the police need to follow every line of inquiry, so should a respectable journalist. He is now seeking to pass the blame on to his source and he claims to have been
“deeply affected by the affair”.
Interestingly, former Sun reporter Harry Arnold has now broken his long silence. He apparently wrote a substantial part of the story and was “aghast” when he saw the headline “The Truth”. The book that my hon. Friend the Member for Halton quoted from clearly says that that was the feeling within the newsroom. After the apology comes accountability, so I hope that every outlet for Mr MacKenzie’s work reflects on that statement before hiring him again, because he has done a huge disservice to justice by reinforcing the mistakes made on that day.
The mistakes are covered in great detail, graphic detail, horrendous detail in the report, and I, too, praise the work of the Bishop of Liverpool and his team. I also want to put on the record my thanks to the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General for following through the work started by my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham when he was a Minister. The fact that this has brought the House together in pursuit of justice will, I hope, lead us to create a culture where events such as these can never happen again in this country. That will never bring back the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy, but I hope that it will be a legacy from which the whole country can benefit.
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.
I welcome the opportunity to speak and to raise with the Home Secretary and Home Office Ministers many of the questions West Lancashire constituents have asked me since the publication of the Hillsborough independent panel’s report.
Amazingly, it is 12 months since I and many hon. Members in the Chamber today stood in this place and asked for the disclosure and publication of all documents relating to Hillsborough. That day we called for the truth and now we have it, but the fight for justice continues and will do so until it is secured. Gandhi said:
“Truth never damages a cause that is just.”
Liverpool people were never frightened of the truth, so, as we move on to the next stage, I am reminded that Benjamin Disraeli said that
“justice is truth in action.”—[Hansard, 11 February 1851; Vol. 114, c. 412.]
It is that action that we now welcome, and we seek assurances that the process will be seen through to the very end, delivering justice.
I join other hon. Members in welcoming the Attorney-General’s announcement that the original inquests into the 96 deaths will be quashed; the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s investigation; the Director for Public Prosecutions’ inquiry; and the comments made by the Home Secretary today. Those are certainly steps in the right direction and are welcomed as progress towards justice, but I believe the depth of the cover-up and how it spread throughout the institutions of the police, Government and the media demand that everybody be required to give evidence, whether they are retired or serving police officers or even insurance companies. There can be no place to hide for anyone when it comes to one of the darkest events in modern British history.
Before I move on to the specific questions and issues raised with me, I want to put on record my gratitude and respect, and that of my constituents, for the members of the Hillsborough independent panel and their excellent work in bringing the truth about Hillsborough into the public domain. In particular, like so many of my hon. Friends, I want to mention the chairmanship of the Right Rev. James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool. A constituent who came to my advice surgery described Bishop James as “the shepherd”. Everyone associated with the panel felt the warmth of his guidance, his care and his truthfulness and, like a shepherd, Bishop James looked after his flock and led them to the safety of the truth.
On the issues my constituents have raised with me and the questions on which I hope Ministers can shed some light, with all the documents now in the public domain, my constituents have had the opportunity to search through them and have brought to my attention concerns about missing documents. One constituent gave a witness statement to West Midlands police and was visited twice by officers and shown videos of Hillsborough, but his statement does not appear in the documents provided to the independent panel. That situation is very strange, given that he obtained a copy of his statement in 2004. He tells me that other people are in the same position. It appears that not all the statements have been provided to the panel and I would be grateful if the Home Secretary could look into that matter, find out what has happened to those statements, and either ensure that all the documents relating to Hillsborough are published or give the reasons why they were not provided.
Throughout the coverage of the Hillsborough tragedy, the focus on South Yorkshire police, the Government’s actions and the complicity of sections of the national media and those who perpetuated the lies that were told has been considerable. However, the Football Association appears largely to have disappeared below the radar, but it chose the venue that led to the events unfolding that day and allowed the game to take place in a venue without the appropriate safety certificates. There is no question about the culpability of the Football Association in the entire fiasco, but it has been distinctly quiet in recent months apart from its attempt to apologise immediately following the publication of the report. My constituents have asked when the FA will be held to account by the various investigations and inquiries. Will it come within the scope of the criminal investigation?
I have also been asked whether the coroner and his collusion with South Yorkshire police will be included in the criminal investigation. Given the historical problems of crowd safety at Hillsborough, why were 100 fewer police officers on duty in 1989 than at the 1988 FA cup semi-final at the same ground? There were actually fewer officers there than in 1987. Many of my constituents would also wholeheartedly applaud any action against Sir Norman Bettison for his role in Hillsborough. There are certainly precedents for reconsidering and potentially removing his knighthood.
Constituents have also asked what action can be taken against those sections of the media that were complicit in perpetuating the lies. Let us be clear that that did not happen just in the immediate aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster. The Taylor report exonerated Liverpool fans from any blame, but the lies about that day at Hillsborough in 1989 were continually repeated. Only the publication of the independent panel’s report has stopped the lies being told and I would welcome the Home Secretary’s guidance on that.
The experience of Hillsborough is a watershed in the political, social and legal landscape of Britain. Much is still to be resolved. I had the great privilege of attending the vigil at St George’s hall on
It is both a sadness and a pleasure to contribute to the debate. I thank the panel for its diligent work in pulling together all the evidence and finally laying bare the truth that has now been shared with the world, and I thank Andy Burnham, who managed finally to persuade his Government, quite rightly, to start the inquiry. I also thank Maria Eagle for her diligent work going through the papers in the Library and using her legal mind to ensure that work on the issue kept going.
Just over a year ago, on
I spoke quite emotionally in the Chamber when the Prime Minister read his statement last month, and today I have already said that I am still sick, angry and incredulous at the cover-up. The families of the victims, their friends and those who have been keeping the campaign alive for 23 years may be sick, angry and incredulous today, but they are vindicated in the campaign that they have been pursuing.
I want to thank the Attorney-General. I appreciate that he is a man of great legal diligence and wants to go through the paperwork, but the announcement that he made in the written ministerial statement was welcome—that he would be applying not just for one inquest to be set aside, but for all 96 to be set aside, so that the many inquests that were restrictive in nature could be put aside. I also thank the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Health for their continuing diligence on this matter.
I will not relay again all the different issues, but I have been trying to put myself in the mind of the former Member of the House, to whom my hon. Friends the Members for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) and for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) have already referred. No Liverpool fan will ever forget the tragic events that happened in another country, in Heysel, just a few years earlier, when other football fans were resentful at what had happened because all teams were banned from European football as a consequence of what happened that night. I do not want to read out again the statement to which my hon. Friends referred, but I will always struggle to understand how someone could repeat a few days later the smear of somebody who implied that Liverpool fans were sexually abusing a dead person, and indeed were going to go further than that. I realise that that person cannot be in the House to defend himself today and I know that he has expressed his regret.
It was made clear today that two forms of investigation are needed—one into what actually happened on the day, and one into the potential cover-up. Of course it will be for a court of law to make that decision. Since the last time we discussed the matter, a school friend has contacted me by e-mail to say that he did not go into the stadium that day because he saw the police officers opening the gate, he saw what was going on and he walked away—and thank God he did. I hope that such evidence will be put to people, even though they may now be quite elderly. As we heard earlier, when one of those officers retired on medical grounds, it was decided not to pursue justice. I know that there was a private prosecution, which did not end as we may all have wanted, but I still hope that such people will be brought to justice.
One of the things I would like to say to the people who have kept the fight going is “Please, have a little more patience.” That may seem a terrible thing to say after 23 years, but people were patient for the unveiling of all the terrible things that came out in the Hillsborough independent panel report. Although we can say freely in the House what we believe, it is important that we allow justice to come to its full term and that the IPCC or the special prosecutor, if that is deemed appropriate later, is brought into play. One of the things that I hope those outside the Chamber will recognise is that we know that Parliament has let people down in the past, but there is unanimity here today that Parliament is definitely on their side and we will not let people get away with it.
Ten minutes is nowhere near enough to do justice to a campaign that I have been involved with for 23 years, and to a 395-page report presented to the House that shocked a nation. It has taken 8,591 days to get here, but we finally have what the families and the people of my great city have known all along: the undeniable truth.
I did not dare dream that one day I would be in the House of Commons to hear a British Prime Minister apologise to the families of the Hillsborough disaster. Not only did that happen, but the Prime Minister offered a double apology. I never thought an Attorney-General would ever apply to the High Court for fresh inquests into the deaths of 96 men, women and children, but just last week in this very Chamber, that is what was announced. And I could never have imagined that the police and other organisations and individuals would ever face the full weight of the law for their lies and deceit, but we now know from what the IPCC and the DPP have said that there is the probability that criminal charges will be brought against those really responsible for both the tragedy itself and the cover-up that followed.
Let us remind ourselves of that corruption in more detail. The report suggests that police statements relating to the Hillsborough disaster
“underwent an unprecedented process of review and alteration”.
The report outlines a process of intimidation, manipulation and coercion from senior officers to their juniors less than 24 hours after the disaster, and the report finally reveals the names and rank of the officers involved in the disaster, with their actions.
There was clearly an “us versus them” mentality in the police before the match, and this mentality did not change as the disaster unfolded before their very eyes, and it certainly did not change after the disaster. When does human nature override orders given by senior officers? Why did humanity not replace duty? Was it not the duty of the police to ensure fans’ safety?
We now know that the police were not the only ones who were at fault on that day. Six agencies were also involved in the cover-up. I will try to cover them in the limited time available.
The ambulance service was engaged in despicable alterations to statements. We always knew that the police were involved, but the ambulance service was at it too. Many, many parts of the Hillsborough independent panel report are harrowing for the families and the survivors, but none more so than the news that numerous fans were alive after the arbitrary 3.15 pm cut-off point, and with proper emergency care they could and probably would have been saved.
Next, there was Sheffield Wednesday football club. As the report says, following the 1981 crush,
“there was a breakdown in the relationship” between Sheffield Wednesday and South Yorkshire police. The two major partners in match-day safety had a fractious relationship at best. What is more, Sheffield Wednesday, a club that was promoting Hillsborough as a modern ground, fit to host major football games, failed in its first duty to ensure that it had a suitably safe stadium.
By now the failings of Sheffield city council are well known. The council allowed a major football stadium in its city to operate outside the law. The report is absolutely clear that the way the council undertook safety inspections was totally and utterly inept and it failed to ensure that an appropriate safety certificate was in place.
As Kenny Dalglish wrote in his weekend column in The Mirror, the Football Association
“knew that Hillsborough did not have a safety certificate and yet they were still adamant the game had to be played at the stadium.
If they had not insisted that the game was played there . . . the fans that died would still be alive”.
The FA must now face the full force of the law for the deadly decisions that it made at that time.
“examine…the part that alcohol played in the disaster”.—[Hansard, 17 April 1989; Vol. 151, c. 29.]
Why—on what basis—did he ask that question?
If there were ever a job for the Honours Forfeiture Committee, surely the scrapping of Patnick’s knighthood would be it.
The report reveals for the first time that it was a Sheffield-based news agency, White’s, that claimed that the fans had verbally and physically abused the police and urinated on them as they attended to the stricken, and had stolen from the dead and dying. That came after three days of conversations between White’s, senior police officers, the Police Federation spokesman, and
Irving Patnick MP. Fancy that, Mr Deputy Speaker—lies conjured up through collusion between the press, the police and certain politicians.
It was said on the day that the Hillsborough independent panel report was published that there were 97 victims of the Hillsborough disaster. The families, the survivors and the people of our great city were tarnished and branded guilty of the deaths of 96 of their own. The reputational damage has been incalculable. But one thing is for sure—the 97th victim of Hillsborough was certainly not Kelvin MacKenzie; how dare he claim his victim status? The police were able to make such rapid progress in their conspiracy because they were aided by ready henchmen such as MacKenzie who poisoned the atmosphere around Hillsborough. It will be interesting to see whether any charges of criminal liability are placed at his door.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General, and I appreciate their efforts and commitment to upholding the law and the pursuit of justice in this case. However, I urge the Attorney-General to complete his application as quickly as possible so that fresh inquests can be launched almost immediately. All agencies involved in subsequent investigations have made it clear that the inquests can happen in parallel alongside investigations into potential prosecutions, and there is therefore no need for a delay. South Yorkshire police have billed the taxpayer for a considerable amount of legal advice over the past 23 years as they sought to cover up their actions and the actions of senior officers. Given how badly this country has let the families down, it should be for the state to ensure that any costs of fresh inquests are met by central Government funds.
The first investigation, which is being led by the Director of Public Prosecutions, is looking at whether manslaughter charges can be brought against South Yorkshire police, Sheffield Wednesday football club, the Football Association, Eastwood—the engineering company—and Sheffield city council. Any manslaughter charges may be corporate or individual, depending on the DPP’s findings, and may relate to the actions of those agencies before the disaster. The second investigation, which is totally separate from the first, will be carried out the IPCC. This investigation will focus on the conduct of the police after the disaster and will decide if charges for perverting the course of justice or malfeasance in public office can be brought against certain individuals.
It is vital for the families and for the justice process that three things now happen with these investigations. First, they must be co-ordinated; there is no point in having two investigations covering the same ground. It is the wish of the families that there be a figurehead for subsequent investigations. The IPCC and DPP should work together effectively and efficiently so that decisions over future prosecutions may be made within months, not years. Secondly, both investigations must be well resourced. Thirdly, the investigations must be carried out in reasonable time. The families have had to wait 23 years already. As my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham has said,
“What you have achieved, your dignity in the face of provocation, setbacks and defeat will forever inspire any parent fighting for their child.”
He was absolutely right.
At Hillsborough on that fateful day, we witnessed one of the greatest moments of spontaneous human ingenuity in peacetime. Heroes who were labelled drunken louts and who were apparently “unemployable” came together in a time of uncertainty, panic and immense fear to try desperately to save others by creating makeshift stretchers from advertising hoardings and by working to save the dying while the professionals did little or nothing.
This report means that half our campaign has concluded, and our gratitude must be conveyed for the work of Bishop James and the independent panel, but the fight for justice continues. The lies are now attributable to the liars. Whether or not the reported 41 or 58 could have been saved, the reality is that 96 should have been saved. We will never give up until there is justice for the 96.
I was, with my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham, one of the two Ministers in the previous Government whose initiative led to the establishment of the Hillsborough independent panel. I believed then that after years of campaigning and the seeming exhaustion of all legal avenues, only transparency and full publication of all documents could reveal the truth to the world. The people of Merseyside always knew the truth of Hillsborough.
Hillsborough is something that I have campaigned on since I was first elected in 1997. As a lawyer by trade, I am dismayed to see the utter failure of the legal system to right the wrongs and the smears of Hillsborough. Only Taylor’s interim report partially succeeded. All the other legal proceedings—from the inquests to the civil actions, the contribution proceedings, the judicial reviews, the criminal investigations, the disciplinary investigations, the Stuart-Smith scrutiny, and the private prosecutions—failed. The Hillsborough independent panel has succeeded. It has enabled the incontrovertible truth of what happened on the day and subsequently to be spread beyond Merseyside.
It took a wholly novel and non-legalistic process to break down the failings of past legal attempts to get the truth on record. I commend the great work of Bishop James Jones and the panel members. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh, as well as Lord Michael Wills, whose role has been unremarked but was crucial, our current Home Secretary, who enabled the panel’s work to be finished when it could have been halted by the new Government, and the Prime Minister, who quickly grasped the import of the panel’s findings and has said that justice must follow on from truth.
Accountability, especially for the black propaganda campaign, matters very much to this House. Those who ordered and orchestrated that campaign have had many years of impunity to enjoy their burgeoning careers. One of the people I named in this House in 1998 as being involved in orchestrating it is Sir Norman Bettison, currently chief constable of West Yorkshire police but at the time a chief inspector, then superintendent, in South Yorkshire police. I should make it clear that he has always denied any involvement in the “dirty tricks campaign”, as Trevor Hicks has somewhat mildly dubbed it—the black propaganda campaign, I call it—in public statements.
I have here a letter from which I would like to read an extract. It was written in 1998 to Ann Adlington, then a solicitor working for the Hillsborough family support group. It is from Mr John Barry, who says that he was at Hillsborough and saw the disaster unfold. He sent it to me with a covering letter in 2009, and has recently given me permission to make it public. It says: “At the time”, in 1989,
“I was doing a part-time MBA at Sheffield Business School. One of my fellow students was a middle ranking police officer with South Yorkshire Police…Some weeks after the game and after I had been interviewed by West Midlands Police, we were in a pub after our weekly evening class. He told me that he had been asked by his senior officers to put together the South Yorkshire Police evidence for the forthcoming inquiry. He said that ‘we are trying to concoct a story that all the Liverpool fans were drunk and we were afraid that they were going to break down the gates, so we decided to open them’. I was quite astounded that he had shared this information with me, knowing that I had been very close to the scene of the disaster and had been greatly affected by it. We didn’t discuss it further.”
Mr Barry confirmed to me in the covering letter in 2009 that the middle-ranking police officer to whom he refers is Norman Bettison. He has agreed to swear a statement to that effect and I have put him in touch with the families’ solicitors. Here we have an account of a contemporaneous conversation in which Norman Bettison boasts that he is engaged in a South Yorkshire police plot to fit up the Liverpool fans and deflect blame from the force. That is indeed what happened subsequently, so what Sir Norman denies in public he boasts about in private conversations.
Sir Norman Bettison has given inconsistent accounts publicly over the years about what his role was. In late 1998, when he was appointed chief constable of Merseyside, he accepted that he was a member of what the Hillsborough independent panel report calls the Wain unit. In a written statement, he said:
“The unit was tasked with looking at what had happened on the day of the disaster…The unit also liaised with and passed information to WM police who were undertaking the formal and independent investigation into the disaster…After the immediate work of the unit was complete, I was given a specific role to monitor the public inquiry and the inquest and brief the Chief Constable on progress.”
“Shortly after the conclusion of the Taylor Inquiry, I was posted to other duties. I had nothing further to do with the subsequent Coroners Inquests and proceedings.”
That is completely different from what he said in 1998 about having a special task reporting to the chief constable until after the inquests.
It is my belief that Norman Bettison has always known more than he has admitted to publicly. I met him one to one in my parliamentary office in late 1998 at the request of Sir David Henshaw, the then clerk to the Merseyside police authority, following the understandable furore that erupted when Norman Bettison was appointed chief constable of Merseyside. At that meeting, he let slip the liability split agreed in the contribution proceedings —in other words, the percentage of the blame that South Yorkshire police would accept for the disaster when paying out damages. That was very sensitive information from South Yorkshire police’s point of view and it was never made public; it was a requirement of the settlements that it be kept secret.
I knew what percentage of the blame each defendant had agreed to accept, because as a trainee solicitor at Brian Thompson and Partners I had had legally privileged access to some of my principal’s Hillsborough files. My principal was on the Hillsborough steering committee of lawyers, dealing with civil litigation on behalf of some families. Only someone who was at the heart of dealing with Hillsborough from the South Yorkshire police side would have known what percentage of the blame they accepted, and Norman Bettison knew that information.
The Hillsborough independent panel report itself suggests that Norman Bettison had a much wider role than he has admitted. He was present and took notes at the five-hour meeting between senior officers and the South Yorkshire police legal team on
Norman Bettison compiled and introduced a video for South Yorkshire police, which was shown on
Norman Bettison was involved in what looks like a crude attempt to smear and discredit Lord Justice Taylor, as reported by The Independent on Sunday on
I want to raise one other issue. This House and the country were shocked by the extent to which police statements were interfered with and changed by South Yorkshire police. I believe that there may have been a similar issue regarding West Midlands police pressurising survivors who were witnesses into changing statements to support the South Yorkshire police account of events. Stephen Mosley has referred to West Midlands police pressurising police officers about their statements. I have seen one such example. I have heard from survivors who gave statements that they were never told whether they were passed to the Taylor inquiry or the coroner and that they have been denied copies when they have sought them. I am pleased that the IPCC has decided to investigate the role of West Midlands police in that regard.
The families want swift criminal investigations that do not overlap and are not sequential. I know that the Home Secretary understands that and wants to do her best in that respect. The families deserve to be properly resourced after 23 years of having to raise their own money, and I know that she is also thinking about that.
The families want a point of contact in order to be able to be kept informed about how things are going. The Bishop of Liverpool may be a good person to fulfil that role, given that he continues to advise the right hon. Lady and is well trusted by the families.
Twenty-three years is far too long for anybody to wait for justice. I hope that, through the efforts that we can all make and the House’s unity on the need for something to be done to get to the bottom of this, and soon, we can make sure that justice does not take as long as it has taken to establish the truth.
I first pay tribute to the families of the 96 who have campaigned with dignity over the past 23 years for truth and justice. I also want to put on the record my admiration for Liverpool fans and football fans from around the world who have supported the campaign from day one, especially Everton fans who, despite being our major rivals, have stood by the Hillsborough families and supported them every inch of the way. I thank them for their efforts.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Derek Twigg, who has been the point of contact between the families and MPs since the campaign started. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham and my hon. Friend Maria Eagle, who took on all comers to make sure that all the files were released and that the truth came out. I pay a special tribute to my hon. Friend Steve Rotheram, who has already said how he has been campaigning on this issue for many years both in the House and elsewhere, and to his predecessors and many other MPs, both past and present, who have campaigned on the issue for a very long time. I associate myself with the comments that have been made so far, especially by the Front-Bench representatives, who have been very positive. I am glad that Parliament is standing firm and together to make sure that there is truth and justice on this occasion.
I also want to take this opportunity to remember my old friend, David Hawley. He was a childhood friend and we met by chance after 20 years and arranged to have a drink. Unfortunately, I did not take that offer up quickly enough—I should have done so much quicker—and two weeks later he died at Hillsborough. I can only hope that his wife and family take some comfort from recent events and that they can at least get some peace.
Much has been said about who is to blame for the disaster. We know that many individuals and organisations are to blame, but we also know that the fans were not to blame. We need to do a number of things today. I hope that the Secretary of State will make it clear that the Government will pay the costs of all the coroners’ inquiries, past and present, for the families. The inquiries should be arranged as quickly as possible and, given this week’s exposé by The Independent on Sunday, we need a separate investigation into the role of the Crown Prosecution Service. We also need to see whether some of the legal files held by the Yorkshire police and their lawyers can be released, so that we can see exactly what went on between them.
I want to concentrate on why it took so long for the truth to come out. We know that as soon as the tragedy occurred the authorities decided to carry out a cover-up to protect themselves. They found willing partners in the national media. The cover-up included the police, other emergency services, the football authorities, Sheffield city council, Government Departments, the CPS and possibly others. They were all successful in the cover-up for many years. They decided to blame the fans, not themselves.
My hon. Friend said that Sheffield city council was involved in a cover-up. I hope that he will reconsider that, because I have seen no evidence that anyone at Sheffield city council partook in any cover-up.
I am not making any accusations against members of Sheffield city council, but there was certainly no certificate. I do not know what role Sheffield city council officials played, but I would have thought that they would have had to make some comments. If that ground was not safe, the game should not have gone ahead.
As I have said, I do not want to make individual accusations against members of the emergency services. None of us knows how we would react when faced with the crisis with which they were faced. I do not know how I would have acted as an individual policeman or member of the ambulance service, so it would be wrong for us to pass judgment, given the situation that they found themselves in and the poor leadership that existed.
Many issues regarding the disaster need to be addressed. We need full, independent, transparent, open, fact-based investigations that are carried out professionally, for a change.
There are other issues that I would like to address. Why did the establishment and the media not expose the cover-up before now? I believe that in-built prejudices about the north-west, about football fans and, especially, about Liverpool led them to protect the establishment and to not worry too much about the 96 who found themselves in that position. It is clear to me that the London-based media and establishment believed that all football fans were potential hooligans, who deserved what they got. They believed the police, the emergency services, the establishment and the football authorities without question. They took the view that they were right and that football fans were wrong. I believe that all Liverpool people and fans were seen as trouble makers and, in some cases, thieves and thugs.
I suggest that anyone who does not believe that account reads the book, “Stick It Up Your Punter: The Rise and Fall of the Sun”, which goes through the conversations that went on in the media and parts of the establishment in some detail. After the tragedy, the London-based media and establishment were ready to pounce, led by The Sun and its editor, Kelvin MacKenzie. Once The Sun had ignored the facts, its editor could do what he wanted. He could not wait to put the knife in. Apparently, the first headline that MacKenzie came up with was, “You Scum”. That was later replaced with, “The Truth”. What does that tell us about editors and newspapers? They are happy to publish anything that fits their political and personal prejudices. Kelvin MacKenzie fits that stereotype perfectly.
Kelvin MacKenzie now claims that he was misled. However, he said before the National Heritage Committee that he did not stand by the claims that he made at the time. I hope that hon. Members remember that. He went away from the Select Committee saying, until a couple of weeks ago, that the false allegations were absolutely true and repeated them on a regular basis. He and The Sun obviously will not support my view of how the media dealt with this matter. They will point out that some northern journalists work for their newspapers. I am sure that that is true, but most of them have been away from their northern roots for too long and have become part of the London-centric establishment. I find it incredible that any human being could write such inaccurate, shabby and hurtful stories, or that they could continue to repeat them until only weeks ago.
The national media, including the BBC, are still employing this man. That says an awful lot about what is wrong with our media and the lack of standards that they maintain. I cannot believe that anyone could justify employing such a man. We need a media that will investigate the establishment and hold it to account; that will do the job that they are supposed to do, instead of dealing with tittle-tattle and sex stories; and that will protect the public from the establishment and cover-ups like the one that we have talked about today.
This debate is another milestone in the 23-year struggle to force the authorities to face up to the truth of why 96 people died, hundreds more were injured and thousands traumatised as a consequence of the Hillsborough disaster —a disaster that was wholly preventable.
The unique work of the Hillsborough independent panel has exposed the horror of what happened and has made it impossible for the authorities to continue their deception in hiding the truth. The painstaking work of the bishop and his team has transformed the public understanding of what happened for ever, and I commend them.
The vindictive lie that the victims were responsible for their own deaths is laid bare for all to see. It was always based on prejudice and lies, and the denial of culpability from those who were responsible. It was perpetuated by a long-standing cover-up. The Taylor report came close to exposing the truth, but nobody wanted to listen and the authorities joined forces to hide the truth from the public.
The question is where we go from here and what should happen now. It is essential that the dynamic is maintained. We must move with urgency from exposure of the truth to accountability, and due process is required. I welcome the statements of the Attorney-General, the Home Secretary and shadow Ministers. I warmly welcome the actions that the Attorney-General and the Home Secretary have begun. My comments will concentrate on what needs to be done now.
It is essential that the cases that may now be brought are fast-tracked. It has been suggested that there should be a special prosecutor to enable that to happen. I support that proposal. If there is a special prosecutor, sufficient resources must be made available to make swift action possible and there must be no financial cost to the victims’ families. The scope of the investigations and possible prosecutions should be wide and there should be no restrictions. The role of the CPS in the wake of the disaster and the subsequent inquiry by West Yorkshire police should be examined closely.
It is essential that there is parliamentary oversight of what happens from now on to ensure that the momentum is maintained and that any problems are identified and resolved. I was interested to hear the comments of the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee on how the Committee might follow this up. I have confidence that the Home Secretary will want to follow up what happens. It is also important that Parliament is kept informed of developments across the range of activities and actions, so that we know what progress is made and so that any problems are identified and resolved swiftly. There must be no more hiding of the truth, and the public and Parliament must not be prevented from knowing exactly what is happening.
I welcome the Attorney-General’s decision to apply to the High Court for new inquests. I also welcome the statements made by the Home Secretary on how that can be taken forward. The Attorney-General has stated clearly that he must listen to the representations of individual bereaved families on their cases and on what should happen. That must be done, because due process is an essential part of justice. However, action should be as swift as possible, and there must not be any more undue delays. The accidental death verdicts must be quashed, but how long will that process take? Resources must be made available to expedite it.
New inquests are absolutely essential, and they will confirm the absurdity of the damaging and always unjustified decision taken by the coroner to impose a 3.15 pm cut-off point. New inquests will unlock the door to exposing the horrendous inadequacy of the emergency services’ response to this major disaster, as well as the orchestrated cover-up that followed. After all, thanks to the work of the Hillsborough panel and the unprecedented disclosures made to it, we now know that more than 160 statements were altered to cover up culpability for what happened. If required, the law should be changed to enable the IPCC to question all those involved at the time and consider actions against organisations, as well as individuals, where necessary.
The campaigners have fought for 23 years to bring us to this point, but Parliament, too, has had a role in listening to the sustained and strong representations of the bereaved and the traumatised. Through the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham, and my hon. Friend Maria Eagle, Parliament set up the Hillsborough inquiry, and the Government of the day enabled unprecedented access to documents so that the Hillsborough panel could consider all the information available, including information that had been hidden from public view and would not normally have been available for many years, if ever. Parliament must now ensure that we move swiftly from exposure of the truth to accountability for what happened. The 96 and their families, and all those who have suffered, deserve no less. I know that Parliament is determined to pursue the matter, and tonight’s debate must help to make that a reality.
I apologise to the House for the fact that I had to leave for a meeting earlier.
I welcome this opportunity to speak from the Back Benches on an issue of great importance to my constituents, and I join colleagues from all parties in paying tribute to the Hillsborough independent panel for its work. In particular, I pay tribute to the Bishop of Liverpool for the leadership that he has shown, and I welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement that she has appointed him as her adviser on the matter.
The Home Secretary described the report as “disturbing” and “painful”, and my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary spoke about the shocking failure to keep people safe. I join colleagues in thanking my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham and my hon. Friend Ms Eagle for their work in government, which ensured that the long-overdue panel was set up and the process set in train. I thank my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend Steve Rotheram, who has shown remarkable leadership on the issue since his election to the House two and a half years ago, and my hon. Friend Derek Twigg, who, as has been said, has acted as a point of liaison between Members of Parliament and the families.
When we had our debate a year ago I said that, unlike some colleagues, I did not have a connection with Liverpool in 1989. Listening to speeches in both that debate and today’s, I have been struck by what has been said by those who were there and those who lost friends or family members. I cannot say any of those things, but I can say that I speak on behalf of my constituents in West Derby, in the great city of Liverpool, many of whom were there on that day and some of whom lost friends, family members and loved ones.
After last year’s debate and the Prime Minister’s statement to the House last month, I was struck by the response of my constituents and people in Liverpool more widely and across Merseyside. There was real appreciation of the seriousness of both occasions. All too often we hear the relevance of Parliament and politics to people’s everyday lives called into question, but what stood out in the responses that I had from my constituents was that people saw a really relevant response by Parliament, the Government and the Opposition Front Benchers on both those occasions. That is an important point—the cross-party nature of the debate, and the Government’s decision to continue the work that started under the previous Government, are commendable. Today’s debate gives us an opportunity to say so.
The Home Secretary described the report’s references to the behaviour of South Yorkshire police as “stark”, which is absolutely right. The report is stark. The truth is now clear for all of us to see, and we pay tribute to those who have spent 23 years campaigning for it. The Prime Minister spoke in his statement last month about a double injustice that now needs to be corrected. I, too, commend the IPCC and the Director of Public Prosecutions for opening fresh investigations into the appalling failings that occurred on
As colleagues have, I welcome the Attorney-General’s announcement last week that he would apply to the High Court to have the inquest into the 96 who died at Hillsborough overturned. I hope the Attorney-General will move as quickly as possible to proceed with that action and that, as my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary said, he will have all the resources of government behind him so that the matter can be moved forward as quickly as possible.
I echo what Members have said throughout the debate about the importance of the families being fully engaged at every stage. I pay tribute to all the families and the various support groups and campaigning organisations—the Hillsborough Family Support Group, the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and Hope for Hillsborough—whose combined efforts over a 23-and-a-half-year period have got us to where we are today.
One of my constituents, Steven Kelly, whose brother Michael died at Hillsborough, plays an active role in the Hillsborough Justice Campaign doing his best to offer support and advice to people affected by the disaster. I spoke to him in advance of the debate about the issues that should be raised today. Like a lot of other people in Liverpool who were affected by Hillsborough in 1989, Steven trained to become a counsellor so that he could help others who were affected as they battled through their grief. Steven and the many others who want to help need assistance in their counselling work from paid professionals, and in the current climate of austerity it is more difficult for Liverpool council and the voluntary sector to provide that support. Steven has asked me to draw to the attention of the Government and the House the vital importance of support for people for whom old wounds have been reopened by the revelations in the Hillsborough report. Let us take that work forward on a cross-party basis, in the spirit of our debates.
The Home Secretary spoke about trust and the importance of integrity in the police. This morning, another constituent not connected with today’s debate visited me. He is a serving police officer in the Merseyside police force, and he spoke passionately as a Liverpudlian about what had happened in 1989, but he also spoke passionately, as a committed police officer, about how different the police of 2012 are from the police of 1989. He expressed a concern that I have heard others express, which is that trust in the police as a whole could be undermined by what has been revealed. Nobody in the House wants that.
Delivery on justice and accountability is, first and foremost, vital for the families and the memory of the 96, and all those who have campaigned for justice in Liverpool and beyond. Building on the Home Secretary’s earlier remarks, delivering on justice and accountability will ensure greater confidence in the police, not only in South Yorkshire, but in the rest of the country. This is an opportunity, and like other hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, I know this is an incredibly powerful and emotional issue in the city of Liverpool, and beyond. We have an enormous and long overdue responsibility to build on the truth that was revealed in the panel’s report, so that out of that truth can come justice and accountability. I commend the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary on the way they have conducted this debate today. It sends out a powerful and unifying message to my constituents, and I hope we can ensure that we move forward efficiently, building on the brilliant work of the Bishop of Liverpool and the independent panel.
Let me begin by thanking the Bishop of Liverpool and each member of the Hillsborough independent panel. Their diligence and clarity has made clear what was hidden and unjust. The report has made the shocking and the painful bearable, because although it is horrendous to read, we now have the truth. We are all so very grateful to the panel.
Just over a year ago, here in this House, the Hillsborough families and the campaign for justice made history. Having fought a 23-year campaign to see their loved ones exonerated, when it seemed that full disclosure by the Government might be at risk, they did not give up. With thousands and thousands of voices, they told us that this was the issue that must be heard.
The House has often been seen as an exclusive place. A sign in the Public Gallery has words to the effect of, “No clapping. No making a scene”. People are supposed to watch in silence and show no emotion. As I know, if someone already feels like an outsider, this House can be a difficult place to come to. But when the Hillsborough families needed Parliament’s help to get full disclosure, they broke down barriers that had been in place for centuries which said that only the Government or Her Majesty’s Opposition could call a debate here. Theirs was the first public campaign with enough signatures to reach the threshold needed for a Backbench Business debate. Tens of thousands of people signed the e-petition, and just one year later we have the truly open and frank report that we asked for then. We have the truth.
I also pay tribute to all those journalists—print and broadcast—who undertook the serious responsibility of helping the public understand what is contained in the report. To those journalists—they know who they are—who saw the pain suffered by those who lost a loved one but could not grieve properly, and who listened to those who were in Sheffield on that day and never got over it, I say this, “Your words helped to tell that story. Over the past few weeks, your words have made the awful contents of the panel’s report understood. Your words made sure that those who had been ignored were finally heard, and for that I will never stop thanking you.”
Now that we have the truth, I am hopeful that we are turning towards justice. I associate myself with the remarks made by my hon. Friend Luciana Berger, and other hon. Members, on the process that we now want to see. Last week, the Attorney-General said that he is preparing his application to the High Court, and he stated:
“I want the application that is made to be as persuasive as it can be.”—[Hansard, 16 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 9WS.]
I understand that he is now doing a significant amount of work to make that case, and I hope he will not mind me briefly drawing the attention of the House to two crucial points of evidence. The first concerns the 3.15 pm cut-off point in the inquest, and the second relates to prosecutions arising from the alteration of police statements.
Chapter 10 of the panel’s report covers the 3.15 pm cut-off point in great detail. In brief, the reason for that relates to information provided in chapter 5, which covers medical evidence. The coroner judged that all 96 people who died on
“all who died had suffered fatal and irreversible injuries by that time.”
The report provides evidence that calls that claim into question, stating that
“some people who were partially asphyxiated survived, while others did not. It is highly likely that what happened to these individuals after 3.15 pm was significant in determining that outcome.”
That is a vital finding.
On altered statements, as the House heard on
“the fact that some of the original statements made by individual police officers had been edited by solicitors acting for South Yorkshire police.”—[Hansard, 8 May 1998; Vol. 311, c. 944.]
That leads to a question that the shadow Attorney-General, my hon. Friend Emily Thornberry, asked the Director of Public Prosecutions: faced with that information, why did the Crown Prosecution Service and the Director of Public Prosecutions act as they did?
Let me quote my hon. Friend Derek Twigg from that debate in 1998:
“I condemn the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions not to prosecute Duckenfield, the chief constable and others. I understand that the view of the DPP is that there is insufficient evidence. We do not know why that is the case because the DPP cannot publish the reason…That does not help me”.—[Hansard, 8 May 1998; Vol. 311, c. 963.]
All these years later, my hon. Friend must have his answer.
In addition to the key question of why we have not seen prosecutions earlier, and other vital points raised by colleagues, I want to alert the Government and the House to something that I take to be one of the most important lessons in this report. At the heart of the Hillsborough disaster were a couple of horrendous decisions taken by police officers in charge on the day. Against a background of disrespect for fans, and a cavalier attitude to safety, they made the wrong choices with horrific consequences. Despite the magnitude of the disaster, the response could have been very different. The agents of the state could have looked after the families and treated them with kindness—not blood-alcohol tests and allegations, but proper respect for the deceased; not the so-termed “black propaganda unit”, but honesty and frankness; not the hesitation and, in the end, refusal to admit liability, but a proper, early apology.
It is clear from the report that people acting on behalf of the state responded to the primary horrific crisis by adding a second. Untold damage is done to the relationship between people and their Government when the actions of the state are, in effect, a second disaster. What was the impact of that secondary crisis? Unnecessary further distress felt by a great number of people over many years. There is also the unspoken impact on those who took their own lives following the disaster.
Mental illness can affect any of us and it should have no stigma attached to it. We must improve our care for people after extremely traumatic events, and we must not backslide on efforts to improve mental health care. I hope the Government will reflect on the lessons in the report, and look not only at what happened but at how our response to disasters can, and should, be better.
The state can at times be so concerned with its liabilities that it forgets about the relationship of trust and care that must exist between people and the Government. It forgets what power it has to condemn people to a life of disbelieving what they saw with their own eves, and feeling all the time like a perpetrator when in fact they were a victim. We know that there were people so wronged and so afflicted by distress that they were deeply affected. Added to the grief of losing 96 precious, special people, is the silent distress of those who blamed themselves.
I hope that all parts of Government and the state have changed. When a crisis occurs, the state should be there to protect the vulnerable and offer help in times of need. If there is no respect for the dignity of those affected or grieving, we risk a secondary crisis and, in the end, a collapse in trust. I say to all hon. Members that I hope we can shape our Government, our police forces and ourselves to be better than that now and in the future. Much has changed since 1989, but perhaps still not enough.
Let my closing words be about love. This issue is very difficult, and I have previously found it hard to get my words out, so I hope the House will forgive me if, in paying tribute to all those who have fought for justice, and to the families of the 96, I borrow the words of another McGovern. Jimmy McGovern, the talented playwright, spoke at the Hillsborough memorial service at Anfield in 2011. He told us what the campaign for justice had been all about. He told the families of the 96 what they had shown. Their campaign is, as he said,
“A wonderful demonstration of enduring love.”
The Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary and several hon. Members have paid tribute to the determination and dignity with which the families and survivors have pursued their cause over so many years. I add my voice to theirs.
There are two good reasons why the families pursued their cause—there are many more, but I shall isolate two. First, they did so because had those in positions of responsibility on that day—not only the police—carried out their duties properly, they could have helped to avoid the disaster; and, secondly, because of the cruel and baseless allegation that the fans themselves were responsible for what happened. Often, because it was not always easy to articulate what justice would amount to, too many were either unable, or in some cases unwilling, to comprehend the voice of the families.
Before the independent panel got to work, there were a lot of strands to the story of what happened. Among other things, we knew—because of the Taylor report—that the principal reason for what happened was the failure of South Yorkshire police to manage the event properly. We also knew—I saw this first hand—that the so-called mini-inquests were a cruel travesty that seemed interested only in undermining the characters of the 96 people who died. Moreover, that was compounded by the 3.15 pm cut-off point decision, which effectively served to insulate the authorities from any responsibility for anything that happened after that time. We also knew that parts of the media, and most shamefully
The Sun newspaper, had grotesquely misrepresented and twisted events in such a way as to paint those who lost their lives and the survivors as partly the architects of their own misfortune. The survivors were also painted as bearing the responsibility for those who so tragically lost their lives. I recently watched the Jimmy McGovern drama to which my hon. Friend Alison McGovern referred in her emotional speech. It powerfully illustrated how, on top of the trauma of being present and surviving, some felt that the finger of suspicion, despite everything, including the Taylor inquiry, was still being pointed in their direction. That ghost had not been firmly been exorcised.
What the independent panel managed to achieve—by so doing, it did a great service to truth—was to weave all those strands together into a coherent and damning narrative. In my view, the report shows convincingly how the strands combine to form a distinct and discernible pattern. Two unambiguous conclusions among others can now be accepted with absolute confidence by all fair-minded people. First, there is no foundation whatever to the victims-as-cause theory that, we now know, was scandalously orchestrated by South Yorkshire police to such grotesque effect. I am not normally a conspiracy theorist, but in this case there clearly was a conspiracy. I know from comments that constituents and others have made to me that the conspiracy shakes the very foundations of their belief in institutions that they have always respected.
As somebody recently pointed out to me, had there been a fire at a theatre or classical music concert, nobody would ever have tried to blame those attending for having had a gin and tonic or glass of wine during the interval. The fact that so many people were at least tacitly prepared to accept or even half accept that version of events speaks to a more general and regrettable aspect of our society: the implicit prejudice many have towards football fans and working-class culture.
Secondly, the report’s conclusions call into question the means available to investigate major disasters. As we have heard, the Taylor inquiry got it right, but provided no real pointer as to how those responsible could be held to account. Because of the prejudiced assumption on which the inquest was based, the inquest system was deeply flawed to the extent that it was both grossly offensive and cruelly ineffective. As the Prime Minister has said, the approach taken by the independent panel—I join others in praising the work of the Bishop of Liverpool and the panel—might serve as a model for the future, should that ever sadly prove to be necessary.
Finally, the question of what happens next must be addressed. As many have said, we know the truth, but what about securing justice and accountability? As I have said previously, the key action will be to hold fresh inquests. I have described on previous occasions what was wrong with the so-called mini-inquests, and I will not repeat what has already been said, but I welcome the Attorney-General’s statement of last week. I hope the courts take note of the strength of feeling and of the strength of evidence in favour of holding fresh inquests.
A different outcome could unlock the door for other action against bodies and individuals who either failed to carry out their responsibilities or tried to cover up what happened before, during and following that fatal football fixture. The recent Independent Police Complaints Commission statement is, in addition, a welcome step in that direction, as is what the Home Secretary has said today. I know she will listen and I hope she takes note of the many points that have been made on resources, keeping the House informed and, most importantly of all, keeping the families abreast of what is happening.
One small point that has not so far been raised with the Home Secretary is this: I hope that anybody who claims they are too ill to give evidence will be rigorously tested—some will make such a claim, and some serving police officers of the time are getting on. I hope it will not be taken as read if they get a doctor’s note saying they are too ill to give evidence. That needs to be independently tested, because it is all too easy in such cases—it is a cop out. I hope she takes that point on board.
Once or twice in each generation, we have a debt of honour placed on us. What happened at Hillsborough is a stain on all of us. I hope we can now redeem that debt of honour.
I begin my short contribution by acknowledging the work of the panel, and in particularly the Bishop of Liverpool, as all hon. Members have done, and I pay tribute to the families. On Friday, I spoke to the BBC about a constituent who lost her boy on the island of Kos 21 years ago. I said that it is impossible to understand what it is like to lose a child. All hon. Members must acknowledge that if they have not lost a loved one or a child in tragic circumstances, it is impossible to understand it, but we can understand and be amazed by the strength and courage of the families over the past 23 years, and acknowledge that, without their campaign, we would not be where we are today. The House has acknowledged that fully.
I should refer first to the culture that informed the management of football in 1989. It was, of course, a culture that encouraged the characterisation of football fans as heavy-drinking hooligans. My right hon. Friend Mr Howarth pointed out, rightly, that having a drink before or at a football match does not make someone a hooligan or mean that they have done anything wrong. The stereotype was far from being true. The vast majority of fans, even if they do have a drink, are genuine fans and law-abiding citizens. Even then, many fans going to football matches were part of families—dads taking sons, dads taking daughters, mums and dads taking their children. That is something that we should always remember.
Nevertheless, the stereotype of the hooligan was very powerful, and it underpinned an approach by the authorities that led to fans being treated as something less than human. It had three tragic consequences at Hillsborough. One was the erection of the barriers, way before 1989, to prevent fans from going on to the pitch. The second was the crush itself, which was thought at first by the police to be the result of hooliganism. When the crush occurred, the police thought that it was hooligans kicking off. The final consequence was the vilification of fans by South Yorkshire police, the direct consequence of an all too easy assumption that any trouble at a football match is down to the behaviour of the fans.
Justice has to be delivered, and I welcome the referrals to the IPCC and the involvement of Keir Starmer in the ongoing investigations. As my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary said earlier, the investigation is in two parts. We have the events leading up to the disaster and the cover-up in what happened afterwards. We have to have a thorough investigation and, if there is clear evidence of criminal wrongdoing, charges have to be laid and those accused should answer those charges in court.
The cover-up was especially shocking because it was so deliberate and led to the vilification of the fans for all these years. The investigation of South Yorkshire police and the cover-up has to take place in the context—there is no point in avoiding it—of the screening tonight of a programme about a cover-up and the changing of statements about an earlier event in south Yorkshire. It is clear that there was a culture, and we need to ensure that there is a thorough and rigorous investigation of that culture in relation to both Hillsborough and any other aspect of policing in the 1980s, so that we can defend the integrity and standards of British policing in the long term. If we are to continue to have policing by consent, we have to get to the bottom of what was happening to policing in the 1980s. I suspect that it was not just a problem in the South Yorkshire police and that the problem went beyond that force—we already know that Hillsborough also involved the West Midlands force.
I have been clear about the need for rigorous criminal inquiries with no holds barred in getting to the bottom of what went wrong, but it is also important to recognise that the South Yorkshire force is very different now. It has moved forward. It is not perfect by any means—far from it, as recent events have shown—but it is important to remember that it has made progress under two former chief constables, Richard Wells and Med Hughes, and we now have David Crompton. It was Med Hughes who, readily and without question, agreed to release the South Yorkshire police archives for the purposes of the panel’s work. We need to acknowledge that, and we also need to remember that football policing in Sheffield has improved radically in recent years. Police officers in charge of policing at Hillsborough and at Bramall Lane have to be accredited and trained, and anyone taking command at Hillsborough has to have significant experience, especially when taking charge of a big match such as a local derby. I need to say that for the sake not just of South Yorkshire police, but for police morale across the country, as my hon. Friend Stephen Twigg said earlier. If the public are to continue to have confidence in the ability of the South Yorkshire police force to protect our streets, we have to say now, publicly, that it is different from the force that was functioning in 1989.
Equally, Sheffield Wednesday football club is a different club. Bert McGee went a long time ago. It has a different structure now. In fact, the previous club was dissolved and we have a new club with new personnel and new people in charge. The chairman and those new people did not hesitate to release their documentation to the panel so that it could be as thorough as possible in reaching its conclusions. Sheffield Wednesday is not perfect in how it functions—no club is—but progress has been made, and that should be put on the record in the context of this debate.
We have to address the injustices of the past, but we must also recognise progress. More than anything else, we need lessons relating to accountability and transparency arising from Hillsborough to be learnt and applied. I therefore welcome the commitment from the Home Secretary to bring forward proposals in the new year, and I look forward to being able to examine them. I welcome the consensus that appears to be growing on this issue across the House. My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary made it clear that the House will work collaboratively to ensure that we learn the lessons and move forward on the key fundamental issue of police accountability and transparency. There is no other guarantee for public confidence in policing other than the ability to see what is going on within the police, and the knowledge that they are doing their job properly and with integrity. Transparency is the only means by which we can properly guarantee that that is the case.
More than anything else, I look forward to moving on with justice delivered and with our progress towards the highest ethical standards in policing hastened by what we have learned from Hillsborough. I look forward to that in the name of all those who died so needlessly that day, in the name of a sport that is enjoyed by millions but which needs to be enjoyed safely, and in the name of the absolute need for policing that we know we can trust.
Order. Seven Members still wish to participate in this debate, and we have an hour before the winding-up speeches will start. I am therefore changing the time limit for speeches in the hope that all of those Members will be able to speak. The new limit will be eight minutes.
I am pleased, Madam Deputy Speaker, to have eight minutes.
I brought together the families in Birkenhead most affected by Hillsborough, and they asked me to relay certain messages. This I willingly do. They will have been following this debate and, therefore, will know that many of their questions have already been put, and they will be anxiously awaiting the Health Secretary’s reply. My guess is that they will also have noticed how generous we have been in throwing a spotlight on other organisations and their responsibilities for the horrors that we have described and which were described in the independent report. First of all, then, those families wish me to record their thanks for the work that the bishop and the panel did in breaking this open.
As we have shone the searchlight on other organisations, heroes have emerged. Those organisations are not totally without something to be said for them. We should also shine a light on Parliament. I am surrounded by a number of heroes who, during those long 23 years, did not lose faith but continued to raise the issue. When we are liberally condemning other public and private organisations, however, I must add that we do not come out smelling of roses ourselves. Some of those in Birkenhead most affected by Hillsborough are dead. They did not live to see the results of the independent inquiry. All of them are 23 years older and many are now quite elderly. So time is of the essence for them.
Before I pursue that last point, I wish to put three questions not so far raised specifically in this debate. First, in a previous debate, my hon. Friend Angela Smith said that Sheffield was not a suitable place to hold the inquest. The families might well say the same. They are mindful, however, that although two thirds of the families affected are in Merseyside, there are many in Scotland and the south, and, in an extraordinary act of generosity, they have asked me to say that Liverpool might not be the most ideal place to hold the inquest, because a minority of other families will wish to come from other parts of the country. They ask that their needs are also borne in mind.
Secondly, given the tale of horrors we have heard from the independent inquiry and in our debates, the families want to know who will run the inquest. A large number of people set in authority over us have not done terribly well, so why should the families trust the next person? The Home Secretary partly answered my third question when she said that she would give us some idea of the scope of the next stage of the inquiry. As their Member of Parliament, I have listened to this debate and have the advantage of representing what I guess is their opinion so far. We have heard many phrases. As one family member said, truth has at last come home, but, as the Home Secretary said, that must be followed by justice and accountability. To be honest, though, I do not know what the next steps will be. We know that there has been an application to set the inquests apart, but I do not know how we will ensure that truth is followed by justice, and I am not sure what steps will be taken to ensure that those people who should be held accountable are held accountable.
I make this plea: it is a question of urgency. People have waited 23 years. People have died waiting for this report and debate, and time is of the essence for many family members still alive. Although they are still alive, part of them died with those events 23 years ago, and they wish to see truth followed by justice, not in any vengeful sense but because they believe it is important. They believe that those who were in authority should stand accountable.
If I may say so, however, the issue for Parliament extends even beyond Hillsborough. The latter has thrown up a terrible divide in this country between those who are done to and those who do the doing. There is a huge crisis of confidence in the people set in authority over us. Hillsborough could go some way to healing a divide that, if I may say so, is far bigger even than that faced by those who suffered the terrible horrors and blight of Hillsborough. Let us think of Hillsborough as an X-ray, as the barium meal going through the system. It shows up some terrible weakness in our country, where many people feel that they are done to, where it is terribly difficult for them to be heard, where it is nigh on impossible for justice to follow through when truth is established and where those who have taken money to be accountable do not accept that accountability.
I hope that when the Secretary of State for Health sums up he will give my constituents who will be following this debate some clarity on those two key issues. Now that we have truth, what is the road map to justice and how do we get accountability? The plea I make, through him to the Home Secretary, is this. Tomorrow she will have another crisis, and the day after she will have another. It is crucial that there should be somebody who is now accountable for ensuring that the truth that has been established in the independent inquiry is followed by justice and accountability. I do not doubt for a moment the Home Secretary’s good will or her wish to see that through herself; I think it will be very difficult for her to do so. That task has to be delegated. That person needs to be named and we need to support them in taking truth, which has at last come home, to the stage of justice and, even more importantly, accountability.
In paying tribute to the families for their campaign, I want to thank them for something additional: empowering people across the country. One of the things we will find in future months and years is that a lot of people now feel empowered to take on the establishment, be it the state or whoever else. That is a change. I certainly do not intend to use my time to go through all the major issues that people have been bringing to me, but Hillsborough and the campaign of the families has been cited as the reason for doing so—to quote one person: “I wish I’d had the courage to speak out before.” We are going to see more people speaking out about more things. That is part of the legacy that we will see, because the campaign has had such an effect.
I will list one of those issues, however, because the revelations today—about an hour ago on the BBC—of what happened at Orgreave would without question not have come out without the Hillsborough campaign in the last year. The two are directly linked, because what happened at Orgreave was a comparable cover-up of statements made by the police. One of the police constables—now retired—has been prepared to speak out, spelling out exactly what happened and who did what. I salute his courage in doing so, but the culture that came out of what happened in the aftermath of Orgreave—done by the same police force and the same chief constable, albeit in co-operation with other police forces as well—was a prelude to what happened in the cover-up over Hillsborough just five years later. We need to learn the lessons from that.
One of those lessons is about the need for people to feel confident in speaking out from the inside about what is going on. I hope that everyone has read or will read the police statements, which are easily accessible and now in the public domain. I think I am the only MP in this debate speaking from Nottinghamshire. I have a lot of Nottingham Forest supporters in my constituency, and as I said in the last debate, it could quite easily, by fluke or coincidence, have been Nottingham Forest supporters at the other end.
There are two statements that I would like to pick out—I will quote from them—because they are quite extraordinary. It is not just the Liverpool fans who were reviled, but the Nottingham Forest fans. The lie and the myth in the police statement about Liverpool fans urinating was in fact a lie about Nottingham Forest fans urinating down from the stands on to other Nottingham Forest fans. Strangely, it was never reported anywhere in Nottinghamshire and there were no complaints about it. It is a lie—not a statement altered, but a lie.
Last night I read another statement by an officer, who was promoted immediately afterwards, as many were, who claimed—the timing would have been approximately around 3.40 pm—that he saw 100 Liverpool fans charge across the pitch towards the Kop. He said that he then saw fights in all the stands. That is besmirching not only the Liverpool fans but the Nottingham Forest fans. There were no such fights in the stands.
My constituent, Val Yates, was on the pitch trying to save lives at the time. I asked her last night what I should say today. Her answer contained some language that was not quite parliamentary, so I will cut to the chase. She told me to say thank you to the Notts Forest fans, because they were coming on to the pitch and trying to save the lives of the dying. That is what was going on, yet that police constable stated that he saw something else happening at the time. This is part of what needs to be prosecuted further: deliberate, calculated, obscene lies.
Val also told me to “Go for ’em”. Well, I will go for one that has not yet been named: Hammond Suddards solicitors. Oh, of course, apparently we cannot attack solicitors, as they are representing their clients, but looking at the report, they are clear instigators in changing the statements and are probably the people who rewrote the statements. Hammond Suddards, the great big firm of solicitors in Yorkshire, needs to go in front of the Law Society to be fully investigated, and held to account for what it did in perpetrating these lies.
I do not have time to go into the current state of disaster planning, but the Government need to ask whether such an occurrence could happen again. I would like them to look precisely at the rights of families in disasters, and at whether the Government are making the right decisions to ensure that the rights of families are being properly looked after and that they will be in future, if, heaven help us, another disaster occurs. That is a fundamental lesson to be learned from this.
The Government also need to look at the current configuration of emergency planning. Let me quote from a disaster planning meeting that was held in South Yorkshire two weeks ago:
“The public will be horrified, but they won’t find out”.
That comment related to the fact that ambulance capacity in the county is currently running at 98% to 99%. That means that, in the event of another Hillsborough, ambulances would have to be taken off emergency calls to go to it. They cannot rely on the north midlands for help, because the reconfiguration of services last week cut the number of ambulances available there. This is a fundamental issue. Disaster planning is not being incorporated into changes in the ambulance services. Indeed, from what I can see, the services have not even been consulted.
Let me turn to football safety certificates. Everyone thinks that stadiums are safe now, but they are not. A mathematical model, based on perfect evacuation using perfect communication, is used to determine the issue of a safety certificate. That needs to be looked at, as does stewarding. At the moment, the stewarding situation is a huge mish-mash from one ground to another. Finally—Patnick, the MP who lied. Who told him, and will he have the courage to say who told him to spread his lies that week about Hillsborough?
I am greatly humbled and privileged to participate in this debate tonight. I stand firmly behind the families and friends of the 96 Hillsborough victims. Their search for justice, transparency and the truth should be an example to us all.
Like many other people, I was delighted to hear the recent statements from the Prime Minister and, last week, from the Attorney-General. Many of the comments in the reports raise a number of important questions. The Prime Minister said many things of which other people—the vast majority of people, including the families of those who died and their friends, along with politicians of all parties—were unaware. That concerns me greatly, as I have had constituents saying to me, “If you knew that, why did you not do anything about it?” We need to learn a whole range of lessons.
The nation as a whole was stunned to hear some of the revelations—and rightly so. We were stunned that 164 witness statements on an issue as serious as what happened at Hillsborough were tampered with by the police. Even more appalling is the fact that if people had done their jobs properly within the proper time limits, 41 and perhaps as many as 58 people might have survived the Hillsborough disaster.
The truth is that this tragedy, this disaster could and should have been wholly avoided. My hon. Friends the Members for Halton (Derek Twigg) and for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) mentioned previous examples of problems at Hillsborough. We heard of semi-finals where it was traditional that thousands, perhaps even 50,000, people would turn up to watch a game at Hillsborough. The personal experience at Hillsborough I want to mention arose when Sheffield Wednesday played Newcastle United in a league game. We turned up as normal, but we could not get into the ground. And what happened? The gates were opened, we were hurled into Hillsborough like cattle and forced through the tunnel at the Leppings Lane end. People were climbing the perimeter fences to get over and climbing up to the upper stand.
People panicked, yet there was no operational support from the police. I was pushed back against the wall—and I am a fairly big sort of guy—only to feel a policeman’s forearm across my windpipe. I was told to stop pushing, but people could not move. This was a league game at Sheffield Wednesday. I was evicted from the stadium. Supporters were terrified: there was utter chaos and no control. The police approach at that time was to treat supporters like animals. There was no regard whatever for the safety or health of anyone. Frankly, it was appalling.
Such incidents must have been documented. We should have learned from incidents like this. No one has ever mentioned to me this league game with Newcastle, but I was there. Why was this not looked at? Why, for goodness’ sake, was Sheffield Wednesday granted a safety certificate? It beggars belief. I do not want to criticise anyone, as I am not sure what the right body to grant such a certificate was, but my hon. Friend Steve Rotheram mentioned a number of agencies. They were collectively culpable, in my view.
Let me focus now on the actions—or perhaps the inactions—of the South Yorkshire police. They have been there before. The current chief constable admits that there was a “Life on Mars” culture whereby police constables could do as they wished. This was not a “Life on Mars” culture; this was culture in Sheffield and culture in Liverpool—in the UK in 1989. Like millions of others, I was utterly bewildered to hear that 164 witness statements had been altered. This was the UK; this was Great Britain, not a flash cop series from across the Atlantic.
In the time that I have got left, I want to make some stark comparisons regarding police actions in South Yorkshire during the 1980s. I shall refer simply to the miners’ strike. This was not the first time the police had been involved in a corrupt cover-up. As they say in the force, “They have got previous.” My hon. Friend John Mann mentioned the battle of Orgreave. On that occasion, the BBC reversed what had actually happened in the attack involving the miners and the South Yorkshire police. In 1985, 93 miners went to Sheffield crown court, but the trial collapsed 16 weeks later because it had become clear that the police evidence was unreliable. Since then, as with Hillsborough, hundreds of statements have been examined, and there have been dozens of examples of the use of exactly the same phrases. As with Hillsborough, police officers were instructed to describe scenes that they had not seen or even experienced, and as with Hillsborough officers readily admitted that statements had been narrated to them.
The common denominator is South Yorkshire police and cover-ups. It appears that the policing of the 1980s needs close scrutiny, although in many senses it is too late for the 96. Every person involved in the cover-up deserves the full wrath of the law. I cannot even imagine the pain, suffering and despair experienced by the families. We expect our police to be honest, regardless of rank, and we expect them to be people on whom we can rely. The families want a cohesive, co-ordinated investigation. There cannot continue to be one lengthy investigation after another, and it is important for such investigations to be resourced properly.
Let me say, as a miner and a former president of the National Union of Mineworkers, that my ultimate aim is to call for a full inquiry into the actions of the South Yorkshire police during the miners’ strike. However, today is for the victims of Hillsborough, and justice for the 96.
When thinking about the debate, I tried to work out what we were really trying to achieve. Are we part of the process of investigation? I do not think that we are. Are we part of the process of scrutiny? Of course: that is a job that we do every day in the House. Are we part of the process of interrogation? Obviously we should be part of that as well, on a regular basis. Officially, however, as a result of the mechanisms of the House, we are here to confirm
“That this House has considered the matter of the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report.”
I am not criticising the Government, because I know that that is how we conduct our business here, but I think that we should really be discussing a motion along these lines: “That this House will do everything in its power to deliver justice to those who died, those who survived and all their families; and that, in doing so, we will set up a series of rigorous, transparent processes to ensure that that happens, that sufficient resources—of all kinds—are put in place to facilitate the process, that we in this House are constantly updated on progress, and that we can reconvene, at short notice, if we think that we are falling behind on these commitments.” I hope that every Member in the House can agree with those words, and I hope that they will give some succour to those who are listening to the debate, because that is the job that we have taken on tonight.
We have heard a lot about the truth leading to justice. I am happy that we have arrived at some of the truth about the “what”—about what happened—but what about the next stage? We have to work out the “why” and the “who”: in particular, we must identify the guilty. We do need justice, but what are the definitions of “justice”? One is
“Conformity to truth, fact, or sound reason”.
“The upholding of what is just, especially fair treatment and due reward in accordance with honour, standards or law.”
What we have heard over the past 23 years is a negation of justice.
I agree with much of what was said by my hon. Friends the Members for Bassetlaw (John Mann) and for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) about the role of the police, and that of the South Yorkshire police in particular. I was at Orgreave in June 1984, and I was one of those who believed that on that day the police had decided to get their retaliation in first. I was not surprised by that, and I was also not surprised to observe, when I went to matches in the 1970s and 1980s, that the police adopted the same attitude in the football stadium. The truth was that the police decided that because some people, either on a picket line or at a football game, might decide to behave like animals, the best thing to do was to treat everybody as if they were animals. We need to see what happened at that time through that prism. It was not a surprise that Hillsborough happened, because we expected to be treated in the way that I have described and, even more worryingly, we accepted that we would be treated in that way. We cannot lay the blame entirely on the police, however. We need to clarify the role of Sheffield city council, too. I take on board what Sheffield Members have said about the council having done the right things, but the report says the safety advisory committee carried out inadequate and poorly recorded inspections. I cannot think of another scenario in which an organisation that is refused a safety certificate just goes ahead with business as normal; that is unheard of.
In the report, Sheffield Wednesday football club is accused of having limiting costs as its primary concern, while the police’s primary concern was dealing with public disorder. Their primary concerns were not the safety of the men and women in the ground, but keeping costs down and preventing disorder.
The Football Association has a lot to answer for, too. Why did it decide to continue using that ground for such matches? I am also surprised and dismayed by the role of the ambulance service, which I have worked with for many years. It has a lot to answer for as well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw was right to say that the solicitors’ actions need to be scrutinised. They went to the police and said to them, “You need to go back to your officers and get them to ‘reconsider and qualify their statements.’” They were clearly part and parcel of changing the record of ordinary policemen who had been on duty that day.
What are we in Parliament going to do? I was pleased to hear the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, say that the Committee will set up a process whereby it can be continually updated by the people on the ground. Members of Parliament have got to keep on the case, too. We have to keep asking parliamentary questions and urgent questions if we have concerns, and we need to keep asking for statements.
We Back Benchers should consider setting up an all-party group, because such groups can ask people to come and tell us what is going on, and tell us whether things are moving in the right direction. As my hon. Friend Alison McGovern said, we should recognise the role played by the Backbench Business Committee in getting us to where we are today, too. We Back Benchers must take on this responsibility now as well. We should be able to raise matters of concern regularly, and to tackle any obstacles that get in the way of the good people of Liverpool achieving justice.
We must ensure there is no chance for us in this House to say, “Nowt to do with me, guv.” We are now the state; whether we like it or not, we inherit the shame of 1989. We are the establishment, so it falls to us to redeem this House for the total failure of the past. It is up to us to act properly and get a quarter of a century of wrongdoing put right. No one should get away with what happened in 1989, including politicians in this House, regardless of whether they are retired, have moved on to another place or are still Members of the Commons. If any Members of this House have failed in their duty, they should stand up and account for what they did. We must make sure we hold their feet to the fire, so that truth and justice can be achieved.
In many ways, what happened was a failure of the state. It was state-sponsored failure, because most of the bodies responsible for what took place on that day were agents of the state—they were public servants, whom we look to to do the job of taking care of the people we are proud to represent. We must make sure everyone involved in what happened is called to face up to their failings.
When matters such as Hillsborough arise, one of the things that annoys me most is people telling me, “It’s time to move on.” What they really mean is, “You need to forget the debate you’ve just had; you need to bury this issue and let it lie.” I thank God that the great people of Liverpool have blown that kidology mentality out of the water. What we should be doing is making progress, and working with the people who have suffered, so we do our bit to make sure justice is not just a word, but is a fact.
I apologise to the House and to hon. Members for being late, but I was chairing a Select Committee and I did let Mr Speaker know.
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.
My hon. Friend points out that many grounds were unsafe, but we are talking specifically about the Hillsborough independent panel’s report. Paragraph 1.54 on page 32 talks about
“serious crushing at the FA Cup Semi-Final between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers” in the semi-final in 1981. If lessons had been learned by the authorities at that time, there would not have been a Hillsborough disaster in 1989.
The problem was that the crushing at that time was regarded as due to the lateral movement of the crowds at the Leppings Lane end, so lateral barriers were put in place in response to that incident. They created the pens that caused the problem and that is the issue. The lateral barriers were a safety measure that proved to be a failure.
Lord Justice Taylor stated—this confirms what the panel said—that the lack of counting mechanisms for individual parts of the Leppings Lane end meant that the responsibility rested with the police to see whether the pens were overfilling. The problem was that on the occasion of the Hillsborough disaster the police did not see the pens overfilling and opened the gates, which led to more people going into the central pen. They then did not respond to the further overcrowding. That was what Lord Justice Taylor found and I do not think any different evidence was given to the panel. There was a complete failure of the system. Of course there should have been counting mechanisms, but grounds across the country did not have them at that time. It was the police’s responsibility to monitor the crowd and take precautionary action and they failed on that occasion.
Lord Justice Taylor’s interim report was comprehensive. He said that it was the police’s responsibility to control and monitor the crowd. They failed in that respect, as he identifies in chapter 10. In chapter 17, he discusses the choice of Hillsborough as a ground and states:
“However, it was not suggested that the choice of venue was causative of this disaster. The only basis on which that could be said would be that, because of its layout, the Leppings Lane end was incapable of being successfully policed for this semi-final. I do not believe that to be so.”
He is saying that despite all the failings—those of the council, of the club and of others—the key issue was that the ground could have been operated safely on that day but for a failure of police control. Along with the issues considered by the panel, that brings us back to the key questions: why have people not been held accountable for those failings, why was there an attempt at a cover-up afterwards and how will we deal with the issues to ensure justice for the families? They are the key points and if we focus on them and on the responsibilities and actions, we will, I hope, get to the truth.
The question of timing is important and I hope that we can make arrangements so that all the necessary evidence can be taken account of properly and quickly. Twenty-three years is an awfully long time, so we ought to ensure that the final conclusions come as quickly as possible.
Order. Unusually, Members of Parliament have come in under time, so I am in the very happy position of being able to tell the last two Back-Bench speakers that they will now have 10 minutes each in reward for their patience. Mr Esterson, you will have 10 minutes and will be followed by Mr Blomfield, who will also have 10 minutes. We will then start the wind-ups.
You are most kind, as always, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The families and their supporters deserve huge credit for how they have stuck to their guns and for the dignity, restraint and perseverance with which they have continued their fight in the face of a catalogue of smears from the press and cover-ups by the establishment. Ninety-six people went to watch a football match and died, but their families have been treated as if their loved ones were criminals. That has now stopped, thankfully, and the Government have started the process of setting the record straight.
Fifteen-year-old Kevin Williams, 17-year-old Steven Robinson, 18-year-old Gary Jones and 18-year-old Christopher Devonside were among the 18 victims from the borough of Sefton. Their families have told me that they want new inquests and that they want those responsible to be prosecuted. Christopher’s father, Barry, was at the match and saw what happened to the victims as he sat in the stand while his son was in the Leppings Lane end with a friend. Barry was given the run-around on the day by the police. We now have confirmation that this was while the cover-up was starting and senior police officers were desperately trying to agree a story blaming the victims for their own deaths. Barry also attended the inquests. He told me what happened when the results were announced. In front of Barry and other family members, the police celebrated the accidental death verdict. In his words, “Crates of wine and beer were brought into an adjacent room where about 20 senior police officers toasted their success with the coroner.” As he said to me, “How’s that for impartiality?”
The way that the inquests were carried out, the way that the evidence was ignored, the way that witnesses were intimidated and the way that police evidence was altered—all this showed that a cover-up was being carried out, part of a massive miscarriage of justice, alongside an arbitrary decision by the coroner that all must have been dead or beyond saving by 3.15 pm. No wonder, then, that Barry Devonside and the other families have always maintained that the inquests did not tell them how or why their loved ones died, and that it protected those responsible for their deaths.
Other Members of the House have addressed the key issues which come from the independent panel’s report. I add my congratulations to the panel on the work that it has done, and to colleagues in the House who have worked to help the families reach the position that they are in today. The Prime Minister gave a full apology in his statement last month, and the Home Secretary and Attorney-General have done everything that has been asked of them. For that this Government deserve praise. Previous Governments have failed the families and we need to ensure that no more time is lost. It is not possible to make up for lost time, but it is possible to minimise future delay.
The report of the independent panel highlights what went wrong before the event, on the day and in the immediate aftermath, and in the days, months and years after. Much of the evidence in the report is not new, of course, but the report has set it out in a way which allows calls for new inquests to be addressed and for prosecutions to be considered. The report makes the simple point that the policing of football matches was regarded as a matter of control. Public safety was completely ignored. Anyone attending a football match at the time knew only too well that we were regarded with suspicion at best and outright hostility at worst by many of those supposed to be there to keep us safe. The culture of watching football meant that Hillsborough was an accident waiting to happen.
I attended the 1987 semi-final at Hillsborough. I was in the Leppings Lane end. My hon. Friend Ian Lavery described his experience of attending a match with Newcastle in the same location and in the same end. When we left that ground, we felt that we were lucky to escape without serious injury or death. The same thing happened in 1981 and 1988, yet the lessons learned were not applied in full. Some would argue that the behaviour of the police meant that this was no accident, but that is no doubt something for the special prosecutor to consider when he or she looks at the evidence. As the report makes clear, the disaster could have happened at any one of a number of matches in previous years or at a number of other football grounds.
The Attorney-General has already announced that he will apply to the High Court for fresh inquests into the deaths of all 96 victims. Gaining new inquests is the top priority for the families. At the original inquests the coroner decided that all victims must have been dead by 3.15 pm, despite evidence that many were still alive, including 15-year-old Kevin Williams, whose mum Anne has worked so hard to have the verdict overturned. The fact that the Attorney-General is convinced that he can succeed in having the verdicts overturned in the courts this time shows how right Anne and the other families have been all along. The independent panel has found evidence that at least 41 of the victims may still have been alive at 3.15 pm, and that number may be higher. The decision to have a cut-off at 3.15 pm has meant that evidence about the emergency response has not been fully examined. Only 11% of the evidence was considered by the coroner. As the independent panel says in chapter 4:
“The emergency response to the Hillsborough disaster has not previously been fully examined, because of the assumption that the outcome for those who died was irretrievably fixed long before they could have been helped.”
A new inquest would allow a new coroner to consider all the evidence and to decide why the 96 died. A different verdict would show that the victims died as a result of the failings of the police and other authorities.
My hon. Friend has made some important points about where blame lies. I agree with my hon. Friend Mr Betts, for whom I have immense respect, that the police were overwhelmingly to blame. However, as I said in my speech, Sheffield Wednesday football club also needs to be held to account. The key thing was that the radial fences were put in. It was envisaged that there would be access via direct turnstiles and dedicated facilities, but this was not pursued. The report says that there was
“no way of knowing accurately how many fans were in each area.”
That is a very important point that needs to be examined further.
My hon. Friend has worked incredibly hard with the families over very many years, as have other hon. Members. He is quite right that that key finding of the report needs to be properly examined. It shows the difference between the Sheffield Wednesday ground, where the recommendation was not deployed, and other grounds where there could possibly have been problems.
There is no doubt that culpability existed, as was acknowledged by the £1.5 million that was put into the fund by Sheffield Wednesday at the time, but we are now trying to distinguish between the terrible events that happened then and the changes that were made on the back of them, which have benefited footballers, fans and communities as a whole.
My right hon. Friend is of course right. This is about what can be done now to put the injustice right.
A different verdict would show that the victims died as a result of the failings of the police and would at last allow the families the official recognition of how and why their loved ones died. The Home Secretary has announced the potential appointment of an independent prosecutor so that any criminal prosecutions do not drag on any longer than necessary. This is the least that can be done after the 23-year wait by the families. The independent prosecutor will explore possible criminal charges—whether manslaughter relating to the original tragedy or conspiracy to pervert the course of justice following the exposé of the cover-up. Consideration by a new coroner of all the evidence will at last allow for examination to take place of what did and did not happen after 3.15 pm. It appears that the CPS and the DPP did not consider the evidence of what happened after 3.15 pm when they decided not to prosecute. That evidence needs to be considered by the prosecutor and will be relevant to the cover-up that started on the day and continued over the months and years that followed.
The lack of impartiality, the cover-up, and the discrediting of witnesses—all this will be addressed and overcome by new inquests with proper involvement and support for the families. I reiterate my earlier request to the Home Secretary that the families are given full financial support at new inquests, because that is only right in making sure that justice is done this time round. An independent prosecutor will, I hope, achieve the same level of justice when it comes to holding those responsible to account. Again, it is welcome that the families will have all the involvement that is needed in any inquiries of a criminal nature.
All MPs who represent the families have pledged to continue to fight alongside them until new coroners’ verdicts are delivered and until all those responsible for the deaths of the 96 and the cover-up that followed are held to account for what they have done. That is the least we should do, and I am sure that it is what we will do.
One of the challenges of speaking at this stage of the debate is that so many hon. Members have made powerful and moving contributions. I do not want to repeat them, but I do want to make a couple of points, because, as a Sheffielder, I have always felt a sense of collective shame about the fact that this appalling tragedy took place in our city, and that justice seemed such a distant prospect for so very long and was frustrated by our local police force.
I join the tributes that have been made to the Liverpool families, whose courage and determination to see the truth are an example to us all in this House and beyond. As my hon. Friend Derek Twigg said, and as a number of hon. Members have repeated, it is simply a scandal that it has taken us 23 years to get to this point. Having done so, however, it is vital that truth is followed by justice and that all those responsible for both the disaster and the subsequent cover-up are held fully to account.
I welcome the fact that in her opening remarks the Home Secretary drew a distinction between the South Yorkshire police of 1989 and the organisation of today. I am pleased that, under Med Hughes, the South Yorkshire police of today, as my hon. Friend Angela Smith pointed out, played a leading role in helping to uncover the truth, just as the force of the past played such a role in hiding it.
We have to recognise what different times those were and what a different culture existed in the police. As a number of hon. Members have pointed out, it was not just about an attitude towards football fans. As some of the later contributions have highlighted, many of us saw a culture in much of the police whereby they seemed to be above the law in areas such as Sheffield, south Yorkshire and the mining communities in our part of the country, and that that culture was almost encouraged by the then Government in the way in which the miners’ strike was handled. It is not just the South Yorkshire police force who were caught up in that. We need to remember that the Government at the time deliberately drafted police from other parts of the country into South Yorkshire police to ensure, as many people in our mining communities saw it, that the rule of law could be abandoned. One of the lessons of this terrible story is the danger of any part of the state feeling that it is beyond the law and accountability.
Just as we should distinguish between the force of today and the South Yorkshire police of the past, we should also distinguish, as Jackie Doyle-Price has done, between the role of individual policemen and women and the leadership of the force at that time. It is deeply unfortunate that, following the publication of the independent panel’s report, some in the press highlighted the fact that 195 officers on duty at Hillsborough were still working for South Yorkshire police, the implication being—this was not implied in the report—that they were somehow not fit to do so. We need to acknowledge that what went wrong at Hillsborough was a catastrophic failure of leadership, both at the stadium on the day and in the handling of events afterwards, and that ordinary policemen and women at Hillsborough were also let down by that leadership. Many of them went above and beyond the high standards that we expect of our police officers in their immediate response to the tragedy on the day.
I have two examples of that. PC Keith Marsh was a uniformed PC outside the Leppings Lane entrance on the day of the disaster and, on arriving at the fences there, he immediately joined the rescue efforts. He was able to get near the gate and drag a young boy, Lee Nicol, free from the crush. When he checked for a pulse, he was unable to find one and immediately began attempts to resuscitate Lee. It was clear that without oxygen or professional medical treatment, Lee was going to die. PC Marsh carried him to an ambulance and stayed with him to go to the Northern general hospital, still performing CPR. Eventually, he managed to get a response, but he was ultimately unsuccessful in saving Lee. Lee’s family were so grateful to Keith for his efforts that he was invited to be a pallbearer at their son’s funeral. Keith retired from the force as a detective sergeant, but has now returned as a member of support staff at Attercliffe police station.
PC Fiona Nichol was deployed on the trackside at the Leppings Lane end on the day of the disaster. She recognised the crushing and described seeing the terror on people’s faces as she opened a gate. Her first instinct was to protect a group of scouts who were in one of the pens. She reacted quickly and began to pull people out. Climbing up the fence, she pulled the body of a young boy out of the crush and began to give CPR, but sadly without success. She gave further assistance to other victims, giving CPR and pulling people out of the crowd.
On the 20th anniversary of the disaster, Fiona met David Gillooley, a Liverpool fan who was 26 at the time of the disaster. He told her:
“I saw you pull people out. I saw you pull big fellas out. And you kept pulling and pulling and pulling, and it got to the point where I could feel less pressure. Now, without a shadow of a doubt, that’s down to you.”
Fiona is another of the 195 officers who are still serving. She is now based in a response team in Barnsley.
Officers like those two were described as heroes by Trevor Hicks of the Hillsborough Family Support Group. It is important that, when we bring those responsible to justice, we do not tarnish the reputation or damage the morale of those who do not deserve it. Through accountability, we must strengthen confidence and trust in policing, not only in south Yorkshire, but across the country.
A year has passed since our last Hillsborough debate. That year has brought momentous events that many people thought they would not live to see. The truth has finally been established—more difficult to take, not less, for the passage of time, as the Home Secretary said. The tragedy was entirely foreseeable —it could and should have been prevented. Lives should have been saved. There was a campaign of vilification with no justification.
Those truths have been told only because of the sheer love of mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters—a love that would not let them give in, a love that provided strength when hope was lost and provided dignity in the face of provocation. Those truths were also told because of the people of a city that truly understands what solidarity and loyalty means, who locked arms around these families—red and blue together—and supported them for every step on the hardest road imaginable. At last, the entire country can see what Liverpool has lived with for 23 years. Parliament, too, has finally woken up to the full horror of Hillsborough.
We have heard many powerful speeches this evening from both sides of the House. We have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Halton (Derek Twigg), for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) and for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), who have done so much to help the campaign, and from my hon. Friend Alison McGovern and my right hon. Friend Mr Blunkett. On the other side of the House, we have heard from Jackie Doyle-Price, who spoke from her personal experience, and from Alec Shelbrooke. What is clear from those outstanding speeches is that, rather than the closure that people glibly talk of, the report has opened questions of the most profound kind for the institutions of our country, our Parliament and our society. As the debate comes to a close, I want to set out clearly what I believe those questions are. Before I do so, I want to speak for the Opposition in adding to the tributes that we have heard.
In the Church’s history, it is hard to think of a better example of one of its leading members fulfilling the functions of his office with more distinction or doing a greater service for the city and people under his direct pastoral care. Right Rev. James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, has brought light to people who for 23 years have been trapped in the blackest of tunnels, but he has done more. Through his leadership, he has shown the relevance of the Church to Britain today. Through him, the Church has succeeded where the state had failed, in bringing truth and the beginnings of reconciliation to a tragedy arising from a divided Britain.
We thank all the members of the panel for what they have done, and we thank the secretariat, under the leadership of Ken Sutton and Ann Ridley, for its outstanding support. Tonight, I pay particular tribute to Professor Phil Scraton. Of this I am sure: the full truth about Hillsborough would never have been known were it not for his meticulous efforts over many years, turning over stones that others had walked past. Professor Scraton has done a huge service not just to the Hillsborough families but to this country, and I hope the House will join me in acknowledging it tonight.
What is striking about the panel’s report is its thoroughness and the sheer comprehensiveness and quality of the painstaking researching that underpins it, carried out by the research team at Queen’s university, Belfast. I hope that the Government will consider that approach, with the emphasis on disclosure, not adversarial argument, a model for resolving other contested issues arising from our past.
There can be no doubt of the incredible emotional impact that the panel’s work has already had on the people most directly affected by the tragedy. As my hon. Friend Rosie Cooper said, to be in Liverpool on the night of
I do not think we have begun fully to appreciate the scale of the suffering and loss, the true human cost of the tragedy, and the devastating psychological impact on survivors. From the midst of the most harrowing scenes imaginable—truly, hell on earth—thousands of them were simply left to drift home from Hillsborough, to try to make sense of what they had seen without counselling or support. Even worse, they were left to read in the days that followed that they were in some way to blame for what had happened. People talk to me of the lost souls that are scattered throughout the communities of Merseyside, the north-west and beyond, haunted by what they saw and never the same again. Tonight I think about them as we finally put right this terrible wrong. Does the Health Secretary agree that never again should people suffering trauma and shock on such a scale be left without the counselling and support that they need for their mental health? Will he give serious thought to the point made by my hon. Friend Stephen Twigg about support for such services on the ground now?
In making this speech tonight, I think of my constituent Stephen Whittle, who on the morning of
Tonight, I also want to mention Carl Brown, 19 when he died at Hillsborough, not from Liverpool but a Leigh lad—a reminder that this tragedy affected everyone everywhere. It was a national tragedy, and we must all work to bring accountability and justice.
I pay tribute again this evening to the Prime Minister for the way he responded to the panel’s report, the tone that he set and the events that he has set in train ever since. I thank the Home Secretary for her speech today, her leadership and the personal commitment that she has shown to achieving justice for the 96. If I may, I want to leave two points with her this evening.
First, we welcome what the Home Secretary said about the co-ordination of the criminal process and investigation. It is important that we have clear leadership of the whole process, supported by a well resourced, professionally led, integrated investigation, not a series of parallel and unco-ordinated investigations. I hope she will continue to update the House on those important points.
Secondly, these are of course complicated matters that will take time to resolve, but the families have waited long enough. I urge the Government to ensure that public bodies and individuals conducting further work keep that thought in the front of their minds when carrying out their duties.
The impact of the panel’s report has already been immense, but the full enormity of what it reveals has not yet sunk in. It shakes our faith in the very foundations of our society, and in the organisations that exist to protect us and see that justice is done. If we are to learn from the report, those institutions must face up to fundamental questions, and in the time remaining to me this evening I wish to identify five areas of concern.
I will start with football, because of all the organisations in the frame, I believe that the football organisations have the furthest to go in facing up to their responsibilities—in fact, I do not think they have ever really started to do that in 23 years. The Hillsborough independent panel presents football with failings of the first order. A decade of warnings, starting with the 1981 FA cup semi-final, was not acted on. A ground known to be unsafe was made dangerous by modifications that were not recorded in the safety certificate. In short, as my hon. Friend Steve Rotheram said, it was a ground operating outside the law.
What possible explanation can the club offer for failing to ensure the safety of people who paid money to enter Hillsborough, and why did the FA choose a ground for one of the biggest games of the season that, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire said, was not certified as safe? Neither Sheffield Wednesday nor the FA has ever answered those questions. What are we to make of the revelation in the panel’s report that the FA received complaints about the 1988 semi-final between the same two teams, one of which warned in stark terms that the ground was “a death trap”? Were those complaints acted on? Not only does it seem that nothing was done, but the guardian of the game in this country chose to bring the same fixture with the same teams back to the same ground the following year, prompting the question of whether the game’s governing body believed that it had any responsibility to listen to supporters, act on their complaints or ensure their safety and welfare. It is hard to conclude that it did.
For years, people were coming away from Hillsborough with tales of panic and distress. Is there any other part of our national life in which we would tolerate thousands of people going to a leisure venue and routinely coming away with injuries, broken bones, stories of frightening breathlessness, and authorities that do nothing about it? It reveals an unpleasant mentality that still pervades parts of the football industry, and a casual disregard for the paying customer. Costs were cut to the bone and safety was sacrificed on the altar of crowd control.
Like my hon. Friend Ian Lavery, I remember my experiences at Hillsborough, and it angers me to remember that, when I stood with my younger brother and my dad on the Leppings Lane terrace in January 1988 for an FA cup third-round game, throughout the whole second half I was not watching the match but the backs of their heads. I did not let them out of my sight because I feared for their safety in the unbearable conditions of those central pens. There was a feeling that the football club had taken our money but could not be sure of our safety, having failed to take essential legal steps. It makes me angry to think of that and the thousands of people who were put at risk.
That is why I found it hard in September to see a response from football that was stunning in its inadequacy and left people wondering whether the football organisations will ever face up to their responsibilities. In their initial statements, neither the Football Association nor Sheffield Wednesday football club offered one single word of apology to the families. On
The hirer of Hillsborough and the ground’s owner both had a duty of care and a basic responsibility to ensure that a semi-final venue had an up-to-date safety certificate. Their failure to do that was, in my view, grossly negligent, as was the failure to act on warnings and complaints. That is why the families, rightly, cannot accept that the disaster was accidental, and why football must be forced to face up to its responsibilities in the inquiries to come.
Secondly, I will consider the media, but I will balance my remarks by mentioning some exceptions. In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the disaster, an article by the outstanding investigative journalist, David Conn, prompted me to start thinking about setting up the disclosure process, and led me, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood, to make the first public call for an inquiry.
The Mirror can take pride in its efforts supporting the families, the Liverpool Echo has given unwavering support, and ITV’s commissioning of Jimmy McGovern’s Hillsborough drama kept the story alive, but all that is overshadowed by the incalculable damage caused by the most hurtful lies imaginable printed as truth at an entire city’s moment of greatest grief. It was not just The Sun newspaper, appalling as it was, but many other newspapers. Why has the media industry never truly faced up to its moral failings on Hillsborough and the pain it caused people? Why did it not realise its own wrongdoing or propose proper redress to the families? Why, 20 years on, are bereaved families still facing outrageous intrusions into their grief?
Why did The Sun think it appropriate, some years on, to travel to Liverpool to make an offer to the families to pay for and build a sports centre and to give an apology only on the condition that the families accept the apology in full? The families did not owe The Sun anything. What does it say about the ethics of the media industry that an apology was presented to the families on those terms?
It is clear to me that Hillsborough was a forerunner of more recent events under the consideration of Lord Leveson—an early warning of an out-of-control media that was not acted on. I urge Lord Leveson to call the Hillsborough families before he concludes his inquiry. I ask him to ask this fundamental question: how did the media leave this story alone when pursuing so many other trivial causes with much greater ferocity when the amended statements were in the public domain for so long? That was a professional failure to focus on what really matters and to give the proper redress that the families deserve.
Thirdly, on the coroner service, I have two simple questions. How could it ever have allowed a situation in which a parent finds out for the first time on
Fourthly, on the police service, I recognise the force of the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough that the officers on the ground were also let down by their seniors. However, we will watch how the police service responds to the report, which will affect public confidence. I make this simple statement: the service must not allow retirement to be a route to avoid full public accountability, as the hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell said. To allow it to do so would damage public confidence in the service, as would a situation in which the council tax payers of Merseyside pay for the pensions of people who are found to have acted improperly.
We learn in the panel’s report of a campaign orchestrated from the very top—it was ordered by the chief constable of the force—and of the shocking revelation that his officers were to have a “free hand” in preparing a “rock solid story” to exonerate the force and blame the fans. That is prima facie evidence of a failure of policing of a terrible kind—self-protection over public protection.
In responding to the panel’s report, we must not make the mistake of thinking that it was a one-off, exceptional, isolated event. David Conn was the first to draw the parallel with Orgreave, which a number of hon. Members have mentioned, and which has featured today on the main BBC news for the first time in many years. There are echoes of the Hillsborough story in the Orgreave story—statements amended; an institutional effort to shift blame. It is uncomfortable, but what has been revealed goes far deeper than many people would like to believe. The temptation will be to box Hillsborough off as isolated, but that cannot happen. The cultural problem must be addressed.
That brings me—fifthly and finally—to the questions for this Parliament and this House of Commons. We are good at asking questions of others, but this one is for us. How did we let an injustice on this scale stand for so long? Ultimately, the failings are ours. The panel’s report is an invitation to us to ask the most searching questions of ourselves. We failed to legislate for public accountability. We allowed a culture of cover-up. An entire English city was crying foul, rightly saying that there had been a great injustice, but their voices were not heard here in this House. No political party did enough to help them and, worse, we have a political class that looked down on Liverpool. I am left wondering whether this could ever have happened to another city.
Every Member of this House should read chapter 12 of the panel’s report and ask how it ever happened that a propaganda campaign to impugn ordinary citizens of this country got a platform in the rooms of this Parliament and how, beyond a few stray voices at the meeting, the alarm bells were not ringing throughout this place.
We talk proudly of the mother of all parliaments, and of the reputation of British justice, but this adversarial tradition in politics and the law, in which two versions of the truth battle it out, allows on occasion the wrong version of “the truth” to win and it is often the version with the greater connections to power. For the Hillsborough independent panel report we can pick up the same threads as we find in the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday and as we have heard in the Leveson inquiry. All three reveal a country where the powerful and the connected hold the cards, where the concerns of ordinary people were dismissed—a country with an unaccountable establishment that at times colludes in its own self-interest and self-protection.
Hillsborough is a story of an abuse of power, of class and of unequal access to justice. I do not want to live in a country where that can ever happen again, where ordinary people can ever be treated in this way again. That is why I want this to be a watershed moment when this generation of politicians, this Parliament, truly learns the lessons of Hillsborough and builds a country where power is properly shared, where it does not take 23 years for ordinary people to overturn injustice and where news organisations cannot ride roughshod over people at their lowest ebb. Let us work together for greater powers to hold the police to account; let us bring proper redress for people damaged by an out of control press and implement Lord Leveson’s recommendations; and let us make more changes that connect Parliament with people, never forgetting that it was the public who forced Hillsborough back on to the Floor of this House a year ago. This must be a humbling moment for this proud Parliament, but in honour of the 96, let us make it a moment of change.
This has been a powerful debate that has shown Parliament at its best, but also caused us to look into the mirror and reflect on our own failings. I would like to start by adding my own condolences to the families of the victims of that terrible day 23 years ago. I have been privileged to meet some of the families, including Anne Williams, Margaret Aspinall and Trevor Hicks. They were among the most moving and heartrending meetings I have ever had as a Minister. I would like to reiterate to them my unreserved apology for some of my early comments about the events of that terrible day, and thank them for their quiet dignity in the face of so much misunderstanding by those in authority, including me.
That so many people lost their loved ones that day—children, parents, brothers and sisters, friends and partners—is a national tragedy. That they themselves were blamed for the deaths, that people covered up the truth and that so much that could and should have been done to save people’s lives was not, is a matter of huge shame for our country. We cannot know whether our actions now will help bring closure to the bereaved families, but it is incumbent on all of us to do it right this time.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has outlined the facts as highlighted by the report of the Hillsborough independent panel in relation to the police. I should like to do the same as regards the response of the ambulance service on the day and the subsequent actions of pathologists and the coroner.
The panel found significant failings in the response and actions of the South Yorkshire Metropolitan ambulance service. Ambulance staff at the stadium were slow to respond and to realise that a major incident was unfolding, despite being close to where the crush was taking place. Poor communication between the emergency services led to delay, misunderstanding and, importantly, a failure fully to implement the major incident plan. The result was a lack of leadership and co-ordination by senior officers and that resources, including the emergency foot team with essential medical equipment, were not deployed. This clear failure continued for at least 45 minutes after fans were released from the pens. There was no systematic assessment of the condition of the victims, and there was a lack of basic equipment, much of which, again through poor communication, remained in ambulances parked outside the ground.
A number of doctors and nurses happened to be in the ground at the time as spectators. Their accounts, critical of the lack of leadership, co-ordination, triage and equipment, were vigorously refuted at the time by South Yorkshire metropolitan ambulance service. Sadly, they were an accurate portrayal of what happened that day. There is also evidence that a number of written statements were altered. In a number of cases, they deflected criticisms and emphasised the efficiency of the ambulance service response.
The Hillsborough independent panel also re-examined the evidence around the cause of death. In most cases, post mortem results stated that the cause of death was traumatic asphyxia, with the assumption made by the coroner that unconsciousness would have taken place within seconds and death within three to four minutes. As a result, it was repeatedly asserted by the coroner, by the High Court in the judicial review and by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith’s scrutiny that, by the time those who died had been removed from the pens, death would have been irreversible.
I regret to inform the House that the panel found clear evidence in at least 41 cases that that was not the case. The post mortem reports found that 28 people did not have traumatic asphyxia with obstruction of blood circulation and would have taken much longer to die. There was also separate evidence that in 31 cases the heart and lungs had continued to function after the crush, and, in 16 cases, for a prolonged period. However, these people would have remained vulnerable to a further incident brought on by something as simple as being placed on their back, which would further have obstructed their airway. It is not possible to say with certainty whether anyone could or would have survived under different circumstances, but it is highly likely that what happened to them after 3.15 pm played a significant part in whether they survived.
The Hillsborough independent report raised those and other clear failings by the NHS at the time—failings that might have contributed to the loss of as many as 41 lives. I have, in the past, made my own personal apology for my misunderstanding of the events at Hillsborough. Today, I would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the NHS, to make a sincere apology to the families, friend and loved ones of the victims of the 96. I am deeply sorry for the part that the NHS played in their grief, both at the time and in any attempt to conceal those failings in the 23 years since.
The ambulance service in south Yorkshire and across the country is very different today from how it was in 1989. We have learned valuable lessons from major incidents such as Hillsborough, but also more recently from the 7/7 bombings, the floods in 2007 and the Cumbria shootings in 2010. In 1989, ambulance services were predominantly about first aid and transporting people to hospital. Only around 10% of ambulance crews were qualified paramedics able directly to intervene at the scene of an emergency. Today, the service is characterised by a highly skilled and qualified work force. Around 60% of staff are paramedics.
Although the events of that day happened almost a quarter of a century ago and although the ambulance service has changed significantly since then, we should not and will not assume that the failings of 1989 have been fully rectified in 2012. I am totally committed to making certain that any and all steps are taken to ensure that any failings brought to light by the panel’s work are dealt with promptly and satisfactorily.
The chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, has written to the Royal College of Pathologists, drawing its attention to the panel’s report and inviting it to reflect on what lessons might be learned by pathologists practising today. In addition, Sir David Nicholson, chief executive of the NHS, has written to ambulance trusts, acute hospital trusts and strategic health authorities again asking them to consider what further lessons might be learned from the report that would improve NHS services.
I would like now to mention some of the extremely moving speeches that we have heard this evening. I apologise if I do not get round to mentioning all of them because of the time constraints, but let me say first that we have seen a debate this evening that has shown this House at its very best. I want to pay particular tribute to Andy Burnham for his campaigning. It is true to say that without his decision, with the support of Maria Eagle, we would not be here today and justice would not have been done. He deserves huge credit for that.
We heard an extremely moving speech from my hon. Friend Stephen Mosley, who talked about the appalling failing of West Midlands police and the agony that the family of Kevin Williams went through. Derek Twigg talked about the fact that he was in the stadium on the day. John Pugh talked about his shock at the elimination of inconvenient witness statements by South Yorkshire police, describing them as opinion and not fact.
Mr Blunkett talked about the kindness of the people of Sheffield to the people of Liverpool and about how it is important, if we are going to have a culture of transparency, that it needs to come right from the very top. My hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price talked about how she was born and bred and Hillsborough, living only a stone’s throw away, and paid an important tribute to the members of South Yorkshire police force who behaved professionally and honourably. Keith Vaz talked about the huge workload faced by the IPCC, and highlighted the issue of ensuring that it has adequate resources. My hon. Friend Alec Shelbrooke talked about the power of football to bring people together and about the importance that everyone should be accountable for their actions, no matter whether they are serving or not.
Luciana Berger talked about her support for the shadow Home Secretary’s desire for the IPCC to have powers to compel police officers to give evidence—something that we have said we are happy to talk to the shadow Home Secretary about. John Hemming talked about the need to change the law to stop cover-ups. Andrew Miller talked about the need for The Sun and Kelvin MacKenzie to be accountable for their actions, and about the need for the investigation to be carried out quickly.
My hon. Friend Graham Evans talked about his concern for the families and victims. Rosie Cooper questioned whether all statements had been disclosed to the panel. If she has any details of any missing documents, I would ask her to let us know, so that we can ask officials to look into that. She also asked whether the Football Association was subject to investigation. I can confirm that the actions of the football authorities are within the scope of the review of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
My hon. Friend Dr Coffey spoke movingly as a football fan about the need to resolve this matter with decency and urgency. Steve Rotheram, whose campaigning on this issue is second to none, talked about the question of when human nature should override the orders given by a senior officer. Mr Watts asked why the establishment and media did not expose the cover-up and, again, talked about the role of The Sun.
Mrs Ellman talked, as many Members did, about the importance of speed and parliamentary oversight. I can assure her that Parliament will be kept fully informed of the progress of the investigations. Stephen Twigg talked about the response of constituents to the way in which Parliament has responded to this issue following the Prime Minister’s statement. I agree—and the Government agree—on the importance of ongoing support for families.
Alison McGovern talked movingly about the achievements of campaigners for justice for the Hillsborough victims. Mr Howarth talked about the conspiring that has happened and how that shakes many people’s confidence in the very foundations of the state. Angela Smith said that, for all of us, it is impossible to understand what it is like to lose a child. She said that we must remember the law-abiding fans and the fact that the image of a hooligan was a stereotype that led to many of the problems that we are dealing with today.
Then we heard powerful contributions by Mr Field and the hon. Members for Bassetlaw (John Mann), for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), for Blaydon (Mr Anderson), for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), although I am sorry that I do not have time to reference them all in detail.
I want to conclude by saying that, as the Prime Minister has said, the Hillsborough families have been the victims of a double injustice: first, through the events themselves, the failure of the state to protect their loved ones, and their interminable wait for the truth; and, secondly, through the injustice of the denigration of the deceased and the way in which everything that happened that day was portrayed as being somehow their own fault. The Liverpool fans were not the cause of the disaster, and it is clear, as the report states, that
“a swifter, more appropriate, better focused and properly equipped response had the potential to save more lives”.
Motion lapsed (
Order. I have not put the Question, because the motion has lapsed. I have listened with great respect to what the Secretary of State has said, and I think that those attending to our debate can take it that the House has considered the matter of the Hillsborough independent panel report. I thank the Secretary of State and all colleagues for taking part in the debate.