Kevin Williams — [Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:31 pm on 22nd February 2012.

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Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley 3:31 pm, 22nd February 2012

It is a pleasure to take part in this debate under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate Stephen Mosley on the clarity that he has brought to the case. It is difficult to bring all these facts together and make them comprehensible, and he did that very well. I also pay tribute to the dignity and tenacity of Anne Williams and all those who supported her in taking this case so far and for drawing it to the attention of Members of Parliament and the Attorney-General.

In our culture, we are not equipped as parents to deal with the loss of a child. That lack of preparedness is even greater when the circumstances in which the death occurs have never been properly explained or officially put on the face of a verdict from a coroner’s court. We need to recognise that there is a huge burden of honour involved in what we are doing today in relation to what happened to Kevin Williams in the coroner’s court.

I wanted to take part in this debate because I attended one day of the inquests that took place. At the time, I was with two constituents, Mr and Mrs Joynes. I was appalled at the way in which the proceedings were conducted, and I have two points to make. The first one, which has been mentioned repeatedly this afternoon and on many other occasions, is that the decision to make a cut-off point at 3.15 had the effect of insulating everybody who was responsible for everything that happened after 3.15 from any criticism or any action. People talk about the 3.15 cut-off because it is important. Things happened and people were still alive after that, but the presumption of the inquest was that nothing happened after that, or that anything that did happen was not relevant to the conduct of the inquest. In the Coroners Act 2008, I tried to move an amendment about that in the event of future incidents, but, unfortunately, I was unsuccessful.

My second conclusion after spending a day at the inquest was that the whole thing was set up on a preconceived presumption, which was that those who were killed may have, in some way, been partly responsible for their deaths. It was significant that on the day that I was there—from what I can gather, it happened on all prior and subsequent occasions—one of the issues that was relentlessly pursued was the alcohol content in the blood of the deceased. Obviously, in some cases, that may have been relevant, but the issue was pursued on a presumption. It was as if they were saying, “We know about football fans. We know how they behave and we know that they may have been responsible.” That was the feeling that I left with, and I was outraged at the time and remain so today.

The whole process of conducting mini inquests—from recollection there were eight on the day that I attended—is unacceptable. Again, that makes a presumption about what happened. What we have heard subsequently, and what the inquiry that is being conducted into the paperwork by the Bishop of Liverpool will show, is that every individual’s case was different. What happened to each and every one was different. What caused the events is known, but how individuals were treated and dealt with was specific. As those inquests were so truncated, they could not explore all that in every case.

I welcome the fact that the Attorney-General has made a positive statement about what may happen in the near future. For all the reasons that the hon. Member for City of Chester and others have given, the verdict in the case of Kevin Williams is invalid. Moreover, because of the 3.15 cut-off point, all the verdicts are potentially—I stress “potentially”—invalid. It is possible in a lot of other cases that something could have happened to prevent the death of someone who was still alive beyond 3.15. I have no hard and fast suggestion about how to deal with that, but the Attorney-General, as a very competent lawyer, will recognise the point that I am making. This case may not necessarily be a precedent, but it may well be a model that applies in other cases where people think it is appropriate. I am sure that the Attorney-General will give a great deal of thought to the important points that have been made during the debate.