Bishop of Liverpool and David Alton Speak On The Hillsborough Disaster

Dec 16, 2012 | News

Police (Complaints and Conduct) Bill
Police (Complaints and Conduct) Bill
8th Report from the Constitution Committee
Second Reading: December 11th 2012
The full debate is at:

4.32 pm
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the report published on 12 September by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, chaired by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, meticulously examined every aspect of the disaster at the Hillsborough Stadium on 15 April 1989, in which 90 men, women and children lost their lives.
The right reverend Prelate, from whom we will hear shortly, and those who worked with him deserve our gratitude and wholehearted appreciation. Their report exposed a number of significant failures and associated shortcomings in the investigation that followed the disaster. The welcome Bill before us today emerged from their findings. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, for the way in which he introduced the debate on what, as he said, is an exceptional Bill.
The Independent Panel’s report concluded that police and emergency services had made “strenuous attempts” to deflect the blame for the disaster on to fans. One hundred and sixty-four police statements had been altered, 116 of them to remove or change negative comments about the policing of the match. The report also said that 41 of the 96 who had died had had the “potential to survive”-grounds, certainly, for ordering new inquests.
Lives that were lost can never be brought back but it has given significant comfort to those personally affected by Hillsborough that Parliament has at last recognised that a terrible tragedy was compounded by injustice and falsification, as the noble Lord said. Flawed and delayed investigations do significant damage to delicate and crucial finely balanced police-public relationships, and this Bill is a recognition of that. The Bill-and the new inquests-will allow the Independent Police Complaints Commission to bring some solace to the families and their supporters, whose signal resolution and dignity have been exemplary.
Twenty-three years ago, one of my saddest duties as a Liverpool Member of Parliament was visiting families of those bereaved at Hillsborough. Several of my constituents had died, including a child. Another, Andrew Devine, then aged 22, was left in a persistent vegetative state. Andrew was caught in the crush, deprived of oxygen, and following the resultant brain damage his parents were told that he would die within
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months. Ever since, his extraordinary parents, Hilary and Stanley, have lovingly cared for Andrew, who emerged from his coma in 1994.
The deaths of 96 people and the long-term trauma were compounded by the infamous aftermath, which combined vilification and procrastination. Agony was piled upon agony with the insulting and wholly fallacious attempts to smear and blame the victims. They had, it was suggested, brought the calamity of Hillsborough on themselves. Thanks to the Independent Panel’s report, 23 years later that calumny has finally been laid to rest.
For me, however, the most shocking aspect of the tragedy has always been that it could have been averted and that it had been predicted. In the month before the match, a Liverpool fan who had witnessed an earlier game at Hillsborough told me that staging the semi-final at Hillsborough would be unsafe. Following that conversation, I wrote to the then Sports Minister, Colin-now the noble Lord-Moynihan, to express my concern. This correspondence is referred to in a parliamentary reply which appears in Hansard. In 1989, the Minister said:
“The hon. Member wrote to me on 22 March about the arrangements at the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough on 15 April. No other representation was received. The arrangements for the match will be among the matters to be considered by Lord Justice Taylor’s inquiry”.-[Official Report, Commons, 24/4/89; col. 414.]
So ground safety and ticket allocation at Hillsborough had been an issue before the game. Many of us were reassured that Lord Justice Taylor’s inquiry would examine why sufficient weight was not attached to those concerns, as well as examining the events of the day.
Although much-needed changes would subsequently be made to ground safety, Liverpool fans found themselves branded by Kelvin MacKenzie as liars-for which he has now unreservedly apologised. Acting, he said, on information given to him by the police, his newspaper alleged that drunkenness was to blame. At the time, I questioned Ministers in Parliament about the fans’ behaviour, asking the then Minister at the Home Office, Douglas Hogg,
“at what level the publication of statements on 18 April by South Yorkshire police concerning the conduct of Liverpool fans at the Hillsborough semi-cup final was authorised; if he will publish a copy of that statement and the name of the officer who made it; and if he will make a statement”.
He replied:
“Statements made by officers of the South Yorkshire police are a matter for the chief constable. It would not be helpful for me to publish statements or counter-statements which have been made about the circumstances leading to the tragedy, or to name those who made them. It is for Lord Justice Taylor’s inquiry to establish the facts”.-[Official Report, Commons, 24/4/89; col. 404.]
The names of the officers who gave the authorisation were not subsequently made known and the falsehoods were allowed to stand. Taylor did not establish the facts; nor did he discover the truth. It was left to the grieving families to demand answers and to insist that justice should be done.
As the years went by I made repeated requests for the legal cases to be reopened. In the House of Commons in June 1992, the Solicitor-General at the time, Sir Derek Spencer, responded that he would,
“take a decision on an outstanding formal application for consent under section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988 as soon as possible”.
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“As soon as possible” is a phrase which has been used again and again since 1989.
In 1992 I asked the Minister if he had any understanding of,
“the sense of grief felt by many people, including my constituent Philip Hammond whose boy was tragically killed at Hillsborough, and their sense that no line can be drawn on the issue until every legal remedy has been exhausted?”.
I urged him to,
“assure the House that that announcement will not be long in coming and that he will try to understand the feelings of the relatives involved, who do not feel that the inquest process has been exhaustive”.
Twenty years ago, the then Solicitor-General replied that he was,
“conscious of the continuing grief and anxiety of the many individuals affected by that tragedy. For that reason, the decision must be carefully considered-and it will be. We shall make a decision as soon as possible”.-[Official Report, Commons, 15/6/92; col. 644-45.]
Three years had then elapsed since the tragedy-and a further 20 now. If we had acted in 1992, telling the coroner to reopen the cases, it would not now be possible to cite “the passage of time” as the reason why details of what occurred will not and cannot be accurately recalled. It is not just the passage of time that is shocking: it is our lamentable failure to provide justice- as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said in his remarks earlier-in a country which prides itself on the rule of law.
In 1998, in your Lordships’ House, I once again challenged the failure to re-examine the Hillsborough deaths and asked:
“What account the Home Secretary and Lord Justice Stuart-Smith”,
had taken,
“in deciding against a fresh inquiry into the Hillsborough tragedy, of missing video tapes, changed statements by police officers, conflicting medical evidence and complaints of lack of impartiality in the original coroner’s process and in the granting of immunity from prosecution to police officers upon taking early retirement”.
That was a point alluded to earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith.
The then Minister, the late Lord Williams of Mostyn, replied:
“Lord Justice Stuart-Smith considered all the material evidence submitted to his scrutiny about the Hillsborough disaster. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary”-
Jack Straw-
“accepted his conclusion that there were no grounds for a fresh inquiry”.
The Minister told the House that,
“there was no new video evidence”,
and that,
“the only missing video tapes were two tapes stolen on the day of the disaster, which remain missing. They were not police tapes and the judge was satisfied that they would not have shown anything significant”.
He added that the Director of Public Prosecutions had considered whether police officers should be prosecuted,
“but concluded that no officer should face prosecution”,
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and that because one officer had retired on ill health, it would,
“have been unfair to pursue what was, in essence, a joint charge against one officer only”.
Imagine if any of us here were involved in a bank robbery, a fraud, manslaughter or a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Would the police decide that because one of us had retired they would take no action against the other? That is simply implausible. It also raises a worrying question about the ability of the IPCC to question retired officers. Ministers, of course, have got it wrong before. In 1998, the Minister was clear that,
“allegations of irregularity and malpractice are not substantiated”,
and that it had been found that there were,
“no grounds to suggest that the original inquests were flawed or that complaints of bias against the Coroner were justified”.-[Official Report, 23/3/98; cols. WA 232-33.]
As the Prime Minister made clear in his Statement on 12 September, we now know otherwise and that allegations of irregularity and malpractice were indeed substantiated. Mr Cameron told Parliament that the Liverpool fans had “suffered a double injustice”, both in the,
“failure of the state to protect their loved ones and the indefensible wait to get to the truth”.
In offering a full apology, he also admonished those who had denigrated the deceased and suggested,
“that they were somehow at fault for their own deaths”.-[Official Report, Commons, 12/9/12; cols. 285-86]
In October, the IPCC published its Decision in Response to the Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which makes it clear that despite the fact that it does,
“not have investigative powers over all of the parties referred to in the report”,
its desire is,
“to go forward in the spirit of the Panel’s work, to seek to ensure that there is a coordinated approach”-
a point which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to-
“that can encompass all the issues, agencies and individuals involved, and which liaises closely with the families”.
We can all welcome that.
It would, however, be helpful if, arising out of the exchange of letters on 10 December and 4 December between the right honourable Damian Green MP and the All-Party Group on the Hillsborough Disaster and the chair of the IPCC, Dame Anne Owers-concerning the decision not to specify effective sanctions in this Bill-the Minister will clarify precisely what action will be taken if serving officers refuse to attend an interview with the IPCC if required to do so. Will he also list the documents which the IPCC says were not given to the right reverend Prelate’s panel and say who is now looking at them, why they were not given to the panel in the first place and whether they are going to be made public?
Last week, the Home Affairs Select Committee said that there should be safeguards for police officers interviewed by the IPCC. This would surely point to the use of interviewing under caution. Perhaps the Minister will say whether that procedure will indeed
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be invoked. The Home Secretary, the right honourable Theresa May, gave a commitment in the House of Commons that the IPCC would be given the powers and resources it needs to carry out its investigation “thoroughly, transparently and exhaustively”. Perhaps the Minister will tell us more about resources and how that work is to be expedited.
When the Prime Minister made his Statement in September the Attorney-General, the right honourable Dominic Grieve MP, said he would make a decision in the forthcoming two months about whether to apply to the High Court for the original verdict of accidental death to be quashed. Yesterday the Attorney-General said:
“My application has now been lodged with the court. It is my intention to appear to argue the case at the hearing that will take place in the High Court. I believe that the case for the High Court to quash the original inquests is a good one”.
What is envisaged as the timetable for those new inquests? In particular, on 27 November I asked the Government,
“what consideration they have given to the petition by Anne Williams”-
supported by 100,000 people-to accelerate the new inquest into the death of her 15 year-old son Kevin at Hillsborough,
“and what consideration they have given to fast-tracking the request on compassionate grounds”.
The Advocate-General for Scotland, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, replied:
“The Attorney-General is in the process of preparing an application to the High Court to quash the original inquests and order new inquests into the deaths of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster. The evidence which supports an application in respect of Kevin Williams is essentially the same as that which supports an application into the other deaths and the Attorney-General expects to be in a position to lodge the application in December”.-[Official Report, 27/11/12; WA 38.]
Sadly, what is not the same as in other cases is that Anne Williams has terminal cancer. I hope that the Attorney-General, whom the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester-who is in his place and was himself present at the Hillsborough game-and I will see tomorrow, will ensure that Kevin’s new inquest will be given the highest priority so that it does not come too late for his grieving mother, Anne. Otherwise, one tragedy will be compounded by another. When he comes to reply, I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us the precise timetable which will be followed so that these new inquests will be held without delay, and whether the Lord Chief Justice is likely to make an announcement before Christmas.
Having taken 23 years to uncover the truth, the bereaved families and survivors have a right to expect that the investigations by the IPCC and the inquests are taken forward as expeditiously as possible. I am grateful to the Government for bringing forward the Bill, to the Prime Minister for acting so decisively and to the right reverend Prelate and his independent panel. This time, the words need to mean more than the ones previously uttered and, in seeking justice, our institutions need to examine how and why these tragic events were allowed to fester and to be covered up for so long.
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4.46 pm
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank the Minister for the clarity of his exposition of the reasons why we need the two clauses in the Bill. It is a great privilege to be able to speak in today’s debate. With your Lordships’ agreement, I would like to take the opportunity to speak more generally about the Hillsborough tragedy and, in particular, about the work carried out by the Hillsborough Independent Panel. It was a humbling honour to be entrusted with the task of chairing the panel.
I also declare an interest. As the Home Secretary announced in another place on 22 October, she has asked me to act as her adviser on Hillsborough-related matters and I was happy to accept that invitation. She was particularly keen that the principles that the panel had established in terms of engagement and consultation with the families should not be lost. In this role, I am very aware of how the families of the 96 and the survivors are following closely the different judicial processes and are understandably anxious that the momentum established by the panel’s report is not lost.
The 1989 Hillsborough disaster was Britain’s worst sporting tragedy. Ninety-six men, women and children lost their lives, many were injured, and the effects of the tragedy have been felt by many more: the relatives of those who died; the survivors who experienced the horror in pens 3 and 4, or who were elsewhere in the ground on that day; and those members of the emergency services who helped the dying and the injured. There have been, over the years, a judicial inquiry, an inquest-at the time the longest-running inquest in English legal history-scrutiny of evidence carried out by a senior judge and a private prosecution. However, despite all these inquiries and investigations, the families have always felt that the truth about Hillsborough had never been told. Instead, they felt and believed that the truth had been obscured.
As Bishop of Liverpool, it became apparent to me that a deep wound continued to exist within the community and it was on the occasion of the 20th anniversary in 2009 that the anger and frustration that had built up over the years was vented at the then Secretary of State, Andy Burnham. I was present and presided over the act of remembrance, which was attended by more than 30,000 people. Mr Burnham was visibly moved by this outpouring of anger, and it was a great credit to him-for this, along with other noble Lords, I pay him huge tribute for it-that he went back to the Government and the idea of a full-document disclosure process was developed.
Discussions took place over the next few months within the Government involving a number of prominent MPs, including Maria Eagle and Derek Twigg. Representatives from the Hillsborough Family Support Group, the group that represents the largest number of bereaved families, were also involved in these discussions. I pay particular tribute today to the bereaved families for their strength, dignity and fortitude, and their persistence in pursuing the truth. Without that persistence, it is unlikely that the work of the panel would ever have taken place.
The Hillsborough Independent Panel was established in January 2010. I place on record my thanks to my fellow panel members for their dedication. Each of
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them brought to bear their unique knowledge and expertise in a quite remarkable and exemplary manner. I also put on record the debt of gratitude that I and all those associated with the panel owe to Ken Sutton and his team of civil servants who formed the secretariat. They are the finest example of the British Civil Service.
At the outset, we had defined terms of reference, and these established three broad objectives: to oversee the disclosure of the documents to the maximum possible degree, initially to the families; to report on its work, outlining the ways in which the information disclosed adds to the public understanding of the tragedy; and to make recommendations about a permanent Hillsborough archive.
The panel met for the first time on 4 February 2010. That meeting was significant. Rightly, it took place in Liverpool, and it was at the very start of the meeting that for the first time the panel met representatives of the three family groups: the Hillsborough Family Support Group, the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and Hope for Hillsborough. Meeting the family groups for the first time in this way and listening to their views provided the panel with a sense of unity and common purpose that endured throughout our work.
Enshrined in the panel’s terms of reference and central to its work was the need to consult the bereaved families. This we did. We also met with those families that were not part of one of the three representative groups. Perhaps I could add here that, during the panel’s work, the families said to me on more than one occasion that this was the first time in 20 years that they were being listened to and taken seriously. That sentiment has given me much cause for reflection on some of our judicial processes that, by contrast, seem to distance the very people whom they are intended to assist.
The scope of the disclosure process was significant and complex. It covered documentation held by central government, local government, other public agencies and some private bodies relating to the events of the Hillsborough tragedy and its aftermath. Spanning two decades, this necessarily included material that was produced before the tragedy occurred in 1989 and extended to 2000 and the private prosecution of former Chief Superintendent Duckenfield and Superintendent Murray.
The panel developed a system for cataloguing and archiving relevant material, based on the principle of maximum possible disclosure with minimal redaction. We identified a wide range of relevant organisations, and the process involved us reviewing more than 450,000 pages of material from 85 separate organisations and individuals. The material was subject to analysis and research so that it could be considered in the context of the panel’s report. Throughout, the panel has been guided by the fundamental principle of “families first”-in other words, the bereaved families would be first to see the report and the disclosed material. As chair of the panel, I am grateful to all who accepted that principle.
The panel’s report and the disclosed material were made available to the families on 12 September in Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral. This was a very moving
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occasion. Those of us on the panel and from the secretariat who were present felt privileged to be with the families on that day. The cathedral protected the dignity of the families, which had so often been at risk over the previous 20 years. It provided a safe place for them to hear and absorb what we knew would be for them traumatic information. It allowed them to regain their composure before being exposed to the world’s media, and above all, it did this within the sanctity of a sacred place where they could remember and honour the 96.
The disclosed documents show that multiple factors were responsible for the deaths of the 96 victims and that the fans were not the cause of the disaster. It is also clear from the documents that the seeds of the disaster were sown as early as 1981, when warnings went unheeded.
The disaster should never have happened. The deficiencies at the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough, the end occupied by the Liverpool supporters, were well known. Overcrowding had occurred at the turnstiles in 1987 and on the terrace of the equivalent FA Cup semi-final match in 1988. The risks were known and the crush in 1989 was foreseeable.
The scope of responsibility for the tragedy extends well beyond the role of the South Yorkshire Police. From the documents provided to the panel, it is clear that the crush at the Leppings Lane turnstiles outside the stadium was not caused by fans arriving late for the kick-off. The turnstiles were inadequate to process the crowd safely and the rate of entry was insufficient to prevent a dangerous build-up outside the ground. The documents do not detract from the conclusion of the judicial inquiry at the time that there were police failures, but for the first time the documents reveal the extent of the shortcomings in the emergency response. The ambulance service’s failure fully to implement the emergency incident plan is thrown into sharp relief by the disclosed documents.
The panel’s report reveals that the medical evidence from pathologists, who had conducted post-mortem examinations on the deceased, was central in establishing a picture of a single, unvarying pattern of death within a few minutes of crushing. This evidence was the basis for the assertion by the coroner and others that the outcome was predetermined from an early stage for all who died. This in turn underpinned the imposition of the 3.15 pm cut-off on the generic inquest and the repeated assumption that the emergency services’ response could not have helped. The panel’s access to all the relevant documents has confirmed that the notion of a single, unvarying and rapid pattern of death in all cases is unsustainable. Lives could have been saved.
It is evident from the disclosed documents of the multiple investigations that, from the outset, South Yorkshire Police sought to establish a case emphasising exceptional levels of drunkenness and aggression among Liverpool fans, alleging that many arrived late at the stadium without tickets and determined to force entry. In seeking to make this case, South Yorkshire Police went as far as to vet the written statements made by its officers. Once vetted, changes were made. As we have already heard, the panel found that 164 statements
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were altered significantly. Of those, 116 were amended to remove content that was unfavourable to the police, including on its lack of leadership.
The final chapter of the panel’s report looks behind the media headlines to the origins, promotion and reproduction of unsubstantiated allegations. Drawing on papers provided to the panel by the Sun newspaper, the panel is able to explain the background to the stories that appeared in a number of papers at the time. The documents show the role played by a local news agency in Sheffield, but also the part played by a local MP and a number of police officers. I hope that whatever emerges as the result of Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry will be tested against the experience of the Hillsborough families and survivors. Misrepresentation and distortion by the press can endure for a generation or more. The press should be accountable not just to its readers but to an independent body that inspires confidence that truth and justice will be the benchmarks of a free press.
The Government’s response to the panel’s report has been unequivocal. We have already heard from the Minister, and the Prime Minister spoke very powerfully and clearly for us all in the Statement in another place on 12 September when he acknowledged that the families had suffered what he described as “a double injustice”. He went on,
“the injustice of the appalling events-the failure of the state to protect their loved ones and the indefensible wait to get to the truth; and then the injustice of the denigration of the deceased-that they were somehow at fault for their own deaths”.-[Official Report, Commons, 12/9/12; cols. 285-86.]
The panel has been enormously encouraged by the cross-party consensus and by the overwhelming reaction of support to its report and publication of the disclosed material. It is right that the publication of the panel’s report and the disclosure of the material should now allow us to move from truth to justice, a phrase which was coined by the Prime Minister in his Statement and echoed in this House today, but justice, for me, is making sure that the various investigations that are now taking place-and they are to be welcomed-allow the law to take its proper course. The panel interrogated documents, not people. Organisations and people who may be the subject of allegations need now to be give the opportunity to respond in a proper manner, for justice is about process as well as outcomes.
There have already been speeches from the Government and Opposition Benches in support of the principles of this short Bill. I will therefore not add to them, other than to say that I welcome any proposal which takes forward the panel’s work in a correct and proper manner.
I think back to the day when it was announced that I would be chairing the Hillsborough Independent Panel. I was asked what I thought would be achieved by the disclosure of the documents. I replied, not knowing fully the impact of my words, “Truth has its own pressure”. That is an article of faith that I believe generally. In the context of Hillsborough, it is something that I now believe specifically, not least in the week that the Attorney-General has been persuaded by the disclosed documents to make application to the High Court to quash the inquests of the 96.
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In conclusion, I am grateful to your Lordships’ House for allowing me the opportunity to speak more generally about Hillsborough and, in particular, about the work of the panel, its context, the content of its report and the consequences. Hillsborough was a national tragedy, and it is right that the events there and in the aftermath should never be forgotten. The names of the 96 victims of the tragedy are publicly remembered each year at the annual memorial service at Anfield but, as we have already heard, the families, friends and survivors have to live with what happened every day of their lives. The sad fact is that it has taken 23 years to get to the point we have reached today.
In the preface to the report, I quoted a 4th century north African Christian philosopher called Lactantius on his definition of justice. He wrote:
“The whole point of justice consists precisely in our providing for others through humanity what we provide for our own family through affection”.
If members of our family had died on 15 April 1989, we would not have wanted to wait 23 years until truth could call out for justice. If we can put ourselves into the shoes of the Hillsborough families, then the journey of justice must not now be a long and winding road. The families know that justice delayed is justice denied. The panel’s work is now complete; we owe it to the memory of the 96 to ensure that the next stage is done in a just and timely manner. In short, the journey from truth to justice must itself be just in order to deliver true justice for the 96.
5.06 pm

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