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.