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Hillsborough Law decision an insult, says victim’s sister

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Hillsborough Law decision an insult, says victim’s sister


  • By Julia Bryson & Anna Lindsay
  • BBC News

Image source, Hillsborough Inquests

Image caption,

The government said no family should suffer the same injustices as those who lost loved ones at Hillsborough

The government’s decision not to introduce a Hillsborough Law is an “absolute insult”, the sister of one of the disaster victims has said.

Campaigners had called for legislation to introduce a legal “duty of candour” on public authorities and officials to tell the truth.

However, the government stopped short of introducing the law, signing a Hillsborough Charter instead.

Louise Brookes said the new charter was “not worth the paper it’s written on”.

Ninety-seven Liverpool fans died as a result of a crush at the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield during the club’s FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989.

In the days that followed the disaster, police officers were told to put the blame on “drunken, ticketless Liverpool supporters” – when in fact their deaths were caused by a series of failures by police, the ambulance service, and defects in the stadium.

It remains the UK’s worst sporting disaster.

“It’s not only a joke, it’s just an absolute insult,” said Ms Brookes, from Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, whose brother Andrew died in the disaster.

“It’s taken nearly seven years to respond back.

“But also this charter, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. People sign up to join the police, they swear an oath.”

The government said the charter would introduce a duty of candour for police officers, but not for public servants.

Image caption,

Louise Brookes’ brother Andrew died in the Hillsborough disaster in 1989

It comes more than six years after such a charter was recommended in a report by The Right Reverend James Jones, who chaired the Hillsborough independent panel, into the experiences of the bereaved families.

The government apologised for the delay in signing, saying it had “taken too long, compounding the agony of the Hillsborough families and survivors”.

Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James died at Hillsborough, said the government’s delayed response to the bishop’s 2017 report was “like giving a child a packet of crisps but when you open it, there’s nothing in it”.

“It’s as simple as that. To me that definitely does not go far enough,” she said.

Vowing to continue with the campaign, she said: “We will be arguing for a Hillsborough Law, that’s the most important thing to me.”

Image caption,

Ninety-seven Liverpool fans died as a result of the disaster on 15 April 1989

Charlotte Hennessy, whose father James died in the disaster, said: “Six years down the line, for them to now come out and not adhere to that and not say that’s what they’re going to be putting forward, of course it’s disappointing.

“It’s supposed to be about lessons being learned from what we’ve been through.”

The government added the new duty of candour on police officers would be required by law in England and Wales, and aimed to promote a culture of openness, honesty and transparency.

‘Significant changes’

Speaking after the government’s response was published, Bishop Jones, who had made the recommendation, said: “Although the government’s statement falls short of the hopes of the Hillsborough families it is a serious and substantial response and rises above that given to other panels and inquiries.

“It has responded to all 25 recommendations of the report and has today introduced significant changes.”

The former Bishop of Liverpool welcomed the government’s decision to sign the Hillsborough Charter but added he would continue to “press for further action”.

Image caption,

The Right Reverend James Jones was with some families as they read the government’s latest pledge earlier

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the Commons he was “profoundly sorry” for what the Hillsborough families had been through.

“The Hillsborough families have suffered multiple injustices: The loss of 97 lives, the blaming of the fans and the unforgiveable institutional defensiveness by public bodies,” he said.

Mr Sunak said he hoped to meet the families in the new year.

‘Unflinching determination’

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said the families of the 97 “deserved the thanks of our nation”.

Also speaking in the Commons, he said: “I was deeply moved to hear of their experiences and by the dignity with which they shared them.

“Perhaps even more affecting was their unflinching determination to make sense of the senseless, and bring about change for others. That is the true mark of compassion.”

But Elkan Abrahamson, director of Hillsborough Law Now, said: “To wait six years for a government to respond to a report about a disaster that took place 34 years ago speaks volumes.

“To deliver that response on a day when all eyes are on a former prime minister giving evidence to the Covid Inquiry only seeks to increase the cynicism felt amongst Hillsborough families and the thousands of others who would benefit from a change in the law.”

He called for the full reintroduction of the Public Authority (Accountability) Bill, which was introduced by the then Labour MP for Leigh Andy Burnham, who is now the Mayor of Greater Manchester, but fell when the 2017 general election was called.

Mr Abrahamson said the government must make a duty of candour enforceable and ensure “a level playing field between public authorities and those affected by disasters and wrongdoing at inquests and inquiries”.

Analysis

Judith Moritz, North of England Correspondent

The time it has taken for the government to respond to the bishop’s report has become as much a focal point for campaigners as the content of the response itself.

Theresa May was still home secretary when she commissioned the report back in 2016, and six years – and seven home secretaries – have gone by since it was published.

The government knew it could not avoid confronting this, and it is striking that it is accepted that the delay has compounded the Hillsborough families’ agony.

Given that the very purpose of the bishop’s report was to prevent further suffering, it might be seen as something of an own goal.

Campaigners for a Hillsborough Law will doubtless say that the government response falls short of the legislation they’ve envisaged.

They have pushed for a full “duty of candour” on all public servants – meaning that they would be forced to be frank about their failings, when appearing at inquests and inquiries.

The government says that the police will be held to account on this front, via different legislation.

But some Hillsborough families have told me they want to see that duty extended to everyone who works in the public sector.

Inquests into the deaths of the victims in 1991 found they were accidental, but families and survivors fought a 27-year campaign to prove their relatives and the supporters around them were not to blame.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel report was published in 2012, and the original verdicts were quashed, with new hearings ordered.

Fresh inquests followed and, in 2016, a jury concluded the victims were unlawfully killed and found the supporters did not contribute to their deaths.

The match commander on the day, David Duckenfield, was charged with gross negligence manslaughter in 2017 but was cleared in 2019 at a retrial, after the jury in his first trial was unable to reach a verdict.

In 2021, retired officers Donald Denton and Alan Foster and former force solicitor Peter Metcalf, who were accused of amending statements to minimise the blame on South Yorkshire Police, were acquitted of perverting the course of justice after a judge ruled there was no case to answer.

Families who lost loved ones as a result of the Hillsborough disaster were the first to read the government’s latest response, which was released earlier.

It was not made available to the wider public until 12:00 GMT.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Families affected by the disaster campaigned for justice for 27 years

Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said: “The law has failed the Hillsborough families and countless other groups affected by tragedy.

“Ensuring that no grieving family is forced to suffer the same indignity would be a fitting legacy for their decades of tireless effort.”

He said the “belated response” was “a move in the right direction”, but was not the Hillsborough Law campaigners had been asking for.

“A Hillsborough Law in full would ensure that ordinary people have a fair chance at getting the justice they deserve,” he said.



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