Hillsborough

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:51 pm on 22nd October 2012.

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Photo of David Anderson David Anderson Labour, Blaydon 8:51 pm, 22nd October 2012

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”.

Another is

“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.