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Kevin Williams

Volume 540: debated on Wednesday 22 February 2012

[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]

This debate is on behalf of my constituent, Mrs Anne Williams, to help seek the truth about what happened to her 15-year-old son, Kevin, at the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. All that Mrs Williams asks for is the truth, and I hope that that message is given loud and clear to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General over the next 90 minutes.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for considering the issue. I understand that he has written recently to Mrs Williams to say that, upon application for a new inquest, he will consider all the evidence put before him and not restrict an application to new, unheard evidence. That is extremely welcome news, for which Mrs Williams, who is watching the debate from the Public Gallery, and I are grateful. Of course, I also thank the 118,000 people who signed Mrs Williams’s e-petition calling upon the Attorney-General to order a fresh inquest into Kevin’s death. Mrs Williams would like to thank everyone who has made the debate possible.

The focus of today’s debate is tightly drawn around the circumstances of Kevin’s death at Hillsborough, and my opening remarks are similarly narrowly focused, but it is important to recognise that the debate encompasses all those who so tragically lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster. Both directly and indirectly, the evidence that I will present about Kevin’s death is significant for all whose lives were irreversibly changed that day.

From the outset, I make it clear that, contrary to the conclusions of the initial inquest into Kevin’s death, Kevin was alive long after 3.15 pm on Saturday 15 April 1989, and he did not die of traumatic asphyxia. The evidence is unequivocal. The testimonies are unmistakable. The original inquest into Kevin’s death was wrong.

All Members present today are familiar with the tragic events at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989. It is not my intention to recall in great detail the many accounts of what happened that day, nor do I intend to talk about the many failings that led to the disaster. This debate is not about pointing the finger of blame, it is about the truth of what happened to a 15-year-old boy.

Kevin arrived at Hillsborough football stadium early on 15 April, entering the ground at around 1.30 pm. Spotting some friends in pen 3, he and his friend Andrew left pen 4 at about quarter to 2. As the pens became more congested, Kevin, like many others, was forced to the ground. Kick-off came and, shortly after, the game was abandoned. According to coroner Dr Stefan Popper and, consequently, to the inquest into his death, Kevin was already dead at or before 3.15 pm. Yet video evidence shows Kevin being lifted out of pen 3 at 3.28 pm and being resuscitated on the pitch by Police Constable Michael Craighill.

PC Craighill then helped carry Kevin across the pitch on a makeshift stretcher, with off-duty fireman Mr Tony O’Keefe and other Liverpool fans including Mr Stevie Hart. Both Mr O’Keefe and Mr Hart are here with Mrs Williams today. The off-duty fire officer, Mr Tony O’Keefe, is on record as saying that Kevin was still alive at 3.31 when he was being carried across the pitch. Mr O’Keefe said:

“In my opinion, he was still alive. Taking this kid and many others across that pitch, you see signs of life in someone and think I’m going to get him to the right end of the ground and give him to someone else. I didn’t have any doubt that he would be dealt with when we put him down. We carried him on a piece of hoarding to the other end of the ground and I looked down, saw people taking over and I thought, yeah, he’s going to be okay.”

At 3.37 pm, Kevin was being resuscitated by off-duty police officer PC Derek Bruder, aided by Liverpool fan Johnny Prescott and a member of St John Ambulance; they found a pulse in Kevin. PC Bruder had seen Kevin moving his head and being sick, so he went over to help. He saw an ambulance enter the ground and tried to stop it so that Kevin could receive medical attention. The ambulance, however, did not stop. PC Bruder provided an official statement shortly after the disaster, along with a second statement four months later in which he identified himself on photographs taken at Hillsborough.

PC Bruder was visited at his home on 3 May 1990 by Detective Inspector Sawyers of the West Midlands police, to take a further statement to clarify certain medical issues made in PC Bruder’s first statement. During the visit, DI Sawyers rang the coroner’s office and handed the phone to PC Bruder. On the phone was the pathologist, Dr Slater, who explained that during the throes of death a body builds up gases that can cause it to wriggle slightly. So while PC Bruder understood that the purpose of the visit was to clarify certain medical details, what transpired was that the pathologist responsible for Kevin’s autopsy was in fact dictating to PC Bruder what he had seen.

The conversation at PC Bruder’s home continued, with DI Sawyers explaining how all the video footage of the tragedy had been studied by the inquiry team and how the ambulance to which PC Bruder referred in his first statement could not have been in the ground at that time because there was no supporting evidence. DI Sawyers then went on to ask whether PC Bruder could have been mistaken about the ambulance. PC Bruder responded to those statements at the Stuart-Smith scrutiny:

“This really annoyed me and I told him that I was not mistaken, nor did I imagine the ambulance, and I insisted that he made reference to it in the statement. I told the inspector that I would be available to give evidence at the inquest should I be required. I expected to give evidence at the inquest in order to clarify my position on the obvious grey areas which emerged. To my surprise, I was never called to give evidence in the case of Kevin Williams.”

Those words are the sworn testimony of a registered police constable, yet they have been categorically dismissed.

Following the visit, DI Sawyers said at Kevin’s inquest that PC Bruder was mistaken about the ambulance and that he must have seen the ambulance that is on record as exiting the ground at 3.20 pm. DI Sawyers said that PC Bruder was also mistaken about finding Kevin’s pulse and about seeing him be sick. The coroner concluded that if PC Bruder was mistaken about the ambulance, he must also have been mistaken about Kevin’s condition. However, contrary to DI Sawyers’s comments, video and photographic evidence has subsequently emerged, along with a statement from Mr Tony Edwards, the assistant driver of the ambulance, that confirms PC Bruder’s testimony that an ambulance did pass them at that point, at 3.37 pm. There are serious concerns about PC Bruder being persuaded on the phone by pathologist Dr Slater of what he actually saw that day, but the underlying fact is that PC Bruder was not mistaken about the ambulance, and that there was therefore no legitimate reason for his testimony to be dismissed.

At 3.40 pm, following PC Bruder’s intervention, Special Woman Police Constable Debra Martin found Kevin’s pulse and helped take him into the gym. Miss Martin was told to stay with Kevin and to carry out resuscitation, which she did. After conducting heart massage and resuscitation, Kevin’s ribs began to move and he stirred from unconsciousness. Thinking that she had revived Kevin, Miss Martin picked him up in her arms. Kevin opened his eyes and spoke the word “Mum” before he slumped back and died just before 4 pm. This, again, is the sworn statement of a registered special WPC, yet the events that I will now describe are quite unbelievable.

Miss Martin’s original statement, made within weeks of the disaster, described the events that I have just described. However, a few months after the disaster, Miss Martin was visited at her home by Detective Constable Appleton of the West Midlands police. The purpose of the visit was to seek her signature on a second, contradictory statement. Considerable pressure was put on Miss Martin to ratify the amended statement. In the end, she succumbed to the pressure, and signed the second statement without reading it. In the second statement, anything that referred to signs of life in Kevin was gone. There was no reference to a pulse, or to him saying, “Mum.” In total, Miss Martin was visited on four separate occasions by senior police officers whose aim was to convince her that her original statement was mistaken, and that Kevin was not alive when she treated him. Miss Martin has stated on numerous occasions that she stands by what was in her first statement, and that she was bullied by senior police officers to sign the second statement, which was wholly inaccurate.

This is what happened to Kevin at Hillsborough. At 3.28, he was pulled from pen 3, and resuscitated by a police constable. At 3.31, he was carried across the pitch by, among others, an off-duty fire officer, who swears that Kevin was still alive. At 3.37, he was resuscitated by an off-duty police officer, who testifies that Kevin was still alive. His statement was dismissed due to lack of evidence relating to the whereabouts of an ambulance. That has subsequently been proven to be an accurate account. Finally, at a few minutes before 4 pm, a special WPC found Kevin’s pulse, picked him up in her arms, and watched and listened as he opened his eyes and spoke the word “Mum”. Those are the facts of that day, plain and simple. Kevin was alive well after 3.15 pm on 15 April 1989.

As a result of the ruling of the coroner, Dr Stefan Popper, that all the victims were either dead, or brain dead by 3.5 pm, the inquest into Kevin’s death was dealt with as such. I have dealt with key parts of the evidence that show that Kevin was unquestionably alive after 3.15 pm, and I turn my attention to the cause of Kevin’s death, which is as contentious as the timing. At the inquest, Dr. Slater, the pathologist who conducted Kevin’s autopsy, concluded that he had died of traumatic asphyxia. Mrs Williams told me recently that although the 3.15 cut-off point has caused great anger and distress to her and many other families who seek justice for their loved ones, her main reason for wanting a new inquest is that Kevin did not die of traumatic asphyxia. Since the inquest, Mrs Williams has obtained several expert evaluations of Kevin’s autopsy report. Without exception, they all disagreed with Dr Slater’s findings.

The first evaluation was courtesy of Dr James Burns, forensic scientist at the Royal Liverpool hospital. Dr Burns spent a considerable time with Mrs Williams re-evaluating the autopsy report with the evidence obtained from PC Bruder and Special WPC Martin. Dr Burns concluded that the fractures that Kevin had suffered in his neck would have caused swelling around the windpipe. The swelling would have resulted in the gradual closing of his airway, which would have taken at least three quarters of an hour to happen. Dr Burns produced a report for Mrs Williams, which contradicted much of what Dr Slater had reported. Of further interest was his letter to Mrs Williams, in relation to the evidence of WPC Debra Martin. He wrote:

“It strikes me that Special WPC. Martin has been the victim of unjustifiable adverse criticism amounting almost to ridicule. I am amazed that the evidence of Miss Martin, a dental nurse, by training, and a special police constable of five years standing, is treated with such incredulity, amounting almost to hostility. I see no reason to doubt the evidence of Miss Martin when she states that she picked Kevin up in her arms, that Kevin opened his eyes, moved his mouth and said “Mom”.

The second noteworthy evaluation was that conducted by the late Dr Iain West, a former consultant forensic pathologist at London’s Guy’s Hospital. Following assessment of Kevin’s autopsy photographs, Dr West stated:

“They do not indicate the classic signs of Traumatic Asphyxia.”

Like Dr Burns, Dr West fundamentally disagreed with the official autopsy report, believing that Kevin’s injuries would not have led to unconsciousness within a few seconds, and that if medically trained professionals had been present, an emergency tracheotomy or cricothyroidotomy would have relieved Kevin from suffering the fatal asphyxia that led to his death.

Some hon. Members may not be aware that traumatic asphyxia usually results from an individual being crushed or pinned under a large weight or force. The cause of death resulting from traumatic asphyxia is related not just to the impairment of respiration but, importantly, to physical interference with the return of blood from the upper part of the body to the heart. That results in swelling and haemorrhaging in the upper part of the body, most notably the face. Dr West did not believe that Kevin’s body displayed such symptoms, and concluded in his report:

“This mechanism, (of death by traumatic asphyxia) leads to quite unmistakable pathological findings which differ from those seen in Kevin Williams’ body.”

Dr West explained to Mrs Williams that if Kevin had died of traumatic asphyxia, and had Kevin looked the way that Dr Slater described at the inquest, she would not have been able to recognise him, but she was able to do so.

I should stress that Dr West was an extremely distinguished and respected pathologist. His cases included the shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher, the Brighton bombing of the Conservative party conference, the second autopsy on Robert Maxwell, and the death of Joy Gardner, the deportee who died in a police struggle. Very simply, Dr West concluded that Kevin did not have any of the injuries to his chest that would have been a necessity if he had died from traumatic asphyxia. The only injuries that he sustained were to his neck.

In 2006, Mrs Williams sought the expertise of Dr Nathaniel Carey, a similarly distinguished pathologist and successor to Dr West as consultant forensic pathologist at London’s Guy’s Hospital. Dr Carey concurred with Dr West’s examination, concluding that the simple administration of oxygen through the insertion of a rubber tube down the windpipe would have saved Kevin. Had medical personnel been present, that would have been a routine procedure.

Mrs Williams has had three previous requests for a new inquest into her son’s death refused by the Attorney-General’s office, and she has been refused an inquest by the European Court of Human Rights due to timing technicalities. In light of the compelling evidence, it is simply remarkable that her requests have been refused. Why is it that what clearly happened after 3.15 that day has not been fully investigated? Why were two police officers pressured into changing their witness statements? Why has the opinion of three expert pathologists been collectively ignored? Why has Mrs Williams never been granted a new inquest into Kevin’s death when the evidence is so compelling?

An inquest into a death is a fact-finding inquiry to establish reliable answers to four important factual questions. The first relates to the identity of the deceased, the second to the place of death, the third to the time of death, and the fourth to how the deceased came by their death. Those are statutory requirements, yet the inquest into Kevin’s death has clearly failed factually and reliably to answer two of those four statutory questions. I hope that I have made that clear to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. Kevin was not dead by 3.15 pm on Saturday 15 April 1989, and he did not die of traumatic asphyxia.

It has been suggested that one key consideration for not previously granting Mrs Williams a new inquest is the wider interests of all concerned, notably that witnesses would be required to cast their minds back to events that many have tried to put behind them. However, I can confirm to my right hon. and learned Friend that, of the individual witnesses mentioned in my remarks, Miss Debra Martin, Mr Derek Bruder, Mr Johnny Prescott, Mr Stevie Hart and Mr Tony O’Keefe have all said very recently that they would be happy to give evidence should a new inquest be granted. I thought it appropriate to put that firmly on the record.

As Members of Parliament, it is our duty to represent our constituents, and to fight for what is fair, just and true. I stand here today because Mrs Williams has not been treated fairly. Justice, thus far, has not been served. The truth that Mrs Williams has campaigned so tirelessly to discover has yet to be officially recorded. Following publication of documents by the Hillsborough independent panel this summer, Mrs Williams will again submit to the Attorney-General a request for the original inquest into Kevin’s death to be quashed, and for a new inquest to take place. For the sake of justice, I beg the Attorney-General to grant Mrs Williams the inquest that she, and Kevin, so rightly deserve.

Nine hon. Members have indicated that they wish to speak, and there are approximately 50 minutes remaining for the debate. I hope that hon. Members will bear that in mind when making their contributions.

I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on his effective description of what happened on 15 April 1989, and I add my thanks to all those who have worked hard to secure this debate. I also congratulate the family of Kevin Williams, and Mrs Williams in particular, on the tireless work with which they have pursued this campaign. I hope that this debate will help Mrs Williams and her family to move nearer to a point at which the truth is fully in the public domain and that what actually happened to Kevin and others on that day will be recognised one day soon.

I am speaking in this debate because of the connection that Kevin Williams and his family have with my constituency. Kevin Williams lived in Formby until his death at Hillsborough. He went to Freshfield primary school and Formby high school, as did his brother and his sister, Sara, who still lives in Formby. There is widespread support for a new inquest across the country, as evidenced by the large number of people who signed the e-petition organised by Anne Williams. People in my constituency often ask me about Hillsborough and about the call for a fresh inquest into Kevin’s death. Nearly 23 years after the terrible events at Hillsborough, the depth of feeling among my constituents remains strong, and it is right to hold this debate.

I will comment briefly on the fact that this debate is being held in Westminster Hall rather than the main Chamber. The Government gave an undertaking that petitions that attract more than 100,000 signatures will be awarded a debate in the House of Commons. That responsibility was passed to the Backbench Business Committee, but it has little time to allocate for such debates and was unfortunately unable to award time for this discussion in either the main Chamber or Westminster Hall. For me, and for many others, the importance of this issue and the almost 23-year injustice experienced by Anne Williams and her family, as well as the families of the other 95 people who died and others who were affected by the trauma of events at Hillsborough, mean that the case of Kevin Williams deserves to be allocated a debate in Government time. I also believe that a vote could have been held on a simple motion that called for a new inquest to be held, or for the Attorney-General to consider such an inquest. We are not able to hold such a vote in this Chamber, and in my view, such a motion would have enabled Parliament to show that it understands the strength of feeling among our constituents.

The Attorney-General has indicated that he will consider the evidence afresh, rather than simply review the findings of his predecessors in office, and I welcome that. He has also indicated that he will await the release of papers by the Hillsborough independent panel before reaching a conclusion. He has said that he will allow further representations to be made to him once the panel has released the papers to the families involved, and he has told Mrs Williams that she will have the time that she needs to consider the information in those papers. The offers made by the Attorney-General are welcomed by Mrs Williams, and I believe that they are a step in the right direction.

I am cautious, however, about what the outcome of the release of papers by the Hillsborough independent panel might be and about the likely outcome of the Attorney-General’s consideration of new evidence. I agree with the call for a new inquest, but I understand that that is a highly unusual step. In his response, perhaps the Attorney-General will explain any potential difficulties that he might have in agreeing to a new inquest and explore how new information might be addressed and what he has in mind when he says that he wishes to consider the evidence afresh.

Kevin was one of 19 people from the borough of Sefton who died at Hillsborough, and I would like to discuss the evidence that relates to what happened to Kevin on that day. I will concentrate on the medical evidence—some of which is similar to that already mentioned by the hon. Member for City of Chester—and on the views of a number of experts who have examined what was said at the inquest into Kevin’s death.

The inquest into Kevin’s death decided that those who died at Hillsborough were irreparable damaged by 3.15 pm, and that therefore the actions—or lack of actions—of those who might have helped, or given instructions to help, were irrelevant. That is one of the reasons why some of the other evidence was not considered. Such a decision implied that none of the 96 people who died could have been saved by medical attention or by being rescued from the pens at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium after 3.15 pm. As we have heard, however, a number of reliable witnesses say that they were with Kevin until nearly 4 pm, and that they tried to save his life but were unable to do so as they lacked the necessary medical training. Those who tried to help Kevin included at least one police officer, yet their testimony was not accepted by the coroner.

The suspicion held by families, friends and supporters is that the 3.15 pm cut-off point was a convenient way of avoiding evidence that showed that lives could have been saved if ambulances had been allowed on the pitch and if police officers had been told to help people out of the Leppings Lane pens. Many thousands of people believe that a new coroner’s inquest would allow the presentation of evidence to show that Kevin was still alive after 3.15 pm and that his life might have been saved had different decisions been taken.

A different coroner’s verdict for Kevin might also provide a recognition for the families of some of those who died that decisions were taken that denied their loved ones medical care or rescue—decisions that cost lives. Many people believe that even after all these years, those who took such decisions could be held accountable for causing the deaths of the 96 people who died—deaths that could have been prevented had action been taken as soon as it became clear that there was a problem. Kevin’s mother, Anne, is one of many people who have fought since that day in 1989 to get official recognition for the truth about what happened at Hillsborough, and that is what lies at the heart of the debate today.

Let me examine some of the evidence and compare the views of Dr Slater with those of Dr West. Dr Slater gave evidence that Kevin died of traumatic asphyxia and that he died quickly from injuries to his chest and neck. He also said at the inquest that Kevin’s voice box had been badly damaged, that he had suffered extensive brain damage and that he would not have been able to speak. Dr Slater’s evidence suggested that Kevin was not alive and did not speak to his prospective rescuers and that those who claimed that Kevin was alive much later than 3.15 pm were mistaken.

Dr West disagrees with Dr Slater and could not confirm that Kevin died quickly. The photographic evidence seen by Dr West showed evidence not of extensive injuries to Kevin’s chest but of injuries to his neck. Dr West says that there was no swelling of the face, which is different to the view provided by Dr Slater. In Dr West’s view, the injuries shown in the photographs would have led to a swelling of the voice box, which would then have reduced the flow of air to the lungs. He says that such an injury would not have been fatal straight away and that it could have been treated by an emergency tracheotomy with a rubber tube. The suggestion is that a trained paramedic could have saved Kevin’s life if ambulances had been allowed on to the pitch.

Dr West has told Anne Williams that the injuries shown in the photographs suggest that Kevin’s chest was not damaged although his neck was. Traumatic asphyxia is not caused by neck injuries alone, and Mrs Williams told me that she challenged what the coroner put on form 99, the coroner’s certificate. Dr Slater said that Kevin had a chest injury and a neck injury; Dr West said that the injury was only to the neck. After Mrs Williams challenged the certificate, Dr Slater agreed that the injury was confined to the neck.

Anne Williams has been advised that the injuries to Kevin’s neck could have taken up to 45 minutes to swell up enough to close his airways. The comments made by Debra Martin, the police constable who says that Kevin died in her arms just before 4 pm, are consistent with that medical advice.

Anne Williams would like recognition that Kevin did not die from traumatic asphyxia, given the confirmation that his injuries were not consistent with that cause of death. She was also advised that Kevin may have been able to speak because the injury to his voice box would not have prevented speech straight away. Dr West believes that Kevin may have been able to say a word or two, even if he had suffered some brain damage.

The evidence that Kevin was alive up to 4 pm and that his injuries may well have meant that he could have been saved is the reason why Anne Williams and many thousands of others believe that there should be a further inquest. There is evidence that Kevin was still breathing at 3.37 and died only just before 4 pm. The family and thousands of others believe that his death has not been properly investigated. They are backed up by Debra Martin, who was at Hillsborough as a special constable. Debra held Kevin in her arms as he died, but found out that her statement was never given at the inquest. Instead, a statement was made up without her knowledge.

I hope that the Attorney-General will explain in his response to the debate just what process he plans to follow in reviewing the evidence. Many people want a new inquest for a number of the victims, so that evidence about decisions taken can be considered at such an inquest and so that the impact of not allowing ambulances on the pitch or preventing escape from the pens can be considered. Many people want public recognition that those in authority took decisions that may have caused some of the deaths after 3.15 pm. Perhaps the Attorney-General can explain whether a new inquest would contribute to meeting that request. Will he explain whether it is possible to have a new inquest? Over the years, expectations have been raised and dashed many times. Today might be an opportunity for the Attorney-General to give an honest assessment of the likelihood of a new inquest.

Anne Williams and her family want public recognition of what happened to Kevin. They want to hear the truth acknowledged. After all the years of knock-backs, the family want justice for Kevin and for themselves, so that they can feel that they have done right by Kevin and for themselves and so that they can finally move on.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) for bringing this much-needed debate to the House today. I also praise Mrs Anne Williams, her family and friends and the extended family of the Hillsborough 96 and supporters for fighting so hard to bring the debate here today to get justice for her son, Kevin.

I will not speak for long, as many other Members want to speak. It is important that they are all heard, because that will add weight and credence to the argument for a new inquest. However, I do want to highlight the fact that through a mother’s love and determination and through the efforts of the public, more than 116,000 people have come together in an e-petition. They all see the force of the argument and the need for a new inquest. That needs to be put on record. Powerfully and forcefully, we are all calling for a new inquest into the death of Kevin Williams.

The Coroners Act 1988 requires a coroner to hold an inquest where

“there is reasonable cause to suspect that the deceased…died a violent or an unnatural death”

or

“a sudden death of which the cause is unknown”.

If a person is dissatisfied with the outcome of the inquest, they can take further action to reopen the case. The Ministry of Justice states in “A guide to Coroners and Inquests”:

“It is possible to challenge coroners’ decisions and inquest verdicts”.

One way of doing that is by making an application to the High Court for judicial review, but we are seeking use of the

“separate power under which the Attorney-General may initiate an application to the High Court…for another inquest to be held on the grounds that it is necessary or desirable…because new evidence has come to light”.

That is precisely what we are calling for here today in respect of Kevin Williams.

Since the Hillsborough disaster, which took place almost 23 years ago, Mrs Williams has always disputed the claim that all 96 victims died of traumatic asphyxia, especially because she has evidence that her son showed signs of life as late as 4 pm. I do not want to cover what has already been stated by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester and by the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson). The situation was well and ably described by both of them. However, we have heard from very credible witnesses, an off-duty police officer and a special constable, who have said that they believed that Kevin was alive and that he opened his eyes and said “Mum” just before 4 pm. Mrs Williams also sought advice from three separate medical experts, who all stated that Kevin did not die of traumatic asphyxiation or he would not have shown signs of life as late as that.

However, the coroner who was in charge of the case, Dr Stefan Popper, stated that he would not take any evidence from after the 3.15 pm cut-off point—a cut-off point that I would say was imposed unnecessarily. He stated that all the victims would have died or been brain-dead within five minutes because of the surge of the crowd and the crush, but in the words of Mrs Williams:

“Kevin did not die from Traumatic Asphyxia or in an accident. I will not pick up his death certificate until we get the cause of death put right and the accidental death verdict struck down.”

I believe that in the light of the witnesses’ statements and the information given by other medical experts, all of which shows that Kevin was alive after the 3.15 cut-off point, it is imperative that a new inquest be granted for Kevin Williams.

It is an honour to speak under your chairmanship for the first time, Mrs Main. For many people attending Westminster Hall today and for those watching at home, there may be confusion that after 118,000 people signed a Government e-petition, today’s proceedings are not being heard in the main Chamber of the House. People recognise the green Benches of the Commons, but understandably will be less familiar with today’s surroundings. The Government need to address that when public expectations are raised owing to a petition reaching 100,000 signatures. This debate could have happened in the exact same location and in the exact same format without a single person having signed the online petition. I feel some sympathy for the Backbench Business Committee because of the dilemma that it faces in looking for parliamentary time to debate such important issues—this is an important issue to hundreds of thousands of our constituents—but here, in the mother of Parliaments, what could be more important than justice? That is what we are trying to achieve today.

We are here to argue the case for the Attorney-General to review the overwhelming evidence relating to the unlawful killing of a young man—Kevin Williams. Some people have asked why we are back here again, following the success of the absolutely enthralling debate in the House on 17 October. It is simply because there are specific questions that still require specific answers. If there was a case in any other walk of life in which the police and members of the emergency services had altered statements, fabricated stories and covered their own backs, there would quite rightly be public outrage. Well, there is public outrage. The public of Merseyside and far beyond have been outraged for 22 and a half years, and it is time that the cynics who believe that we are

“like a blind man in a darkened room looking for a black cat that isn’t there”

woke up to what happened with the Hillsborough cover-up. For Anne Williams and her family, the backdrop to their individual tragedy is the same as that for the other 95 families—it is the dignified pursuit of justice.

In the limited time available, I will not repeat the sequence of events as laid out by the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley).He has provided the necessary detail to illustrate the specific circumstances of young Kevin’s death, and I congratulate him on the way he went about that during his contribution. Despite successive Attorney-Generals and Home Secretaries dismally and consistently failing to act on this issue, there may be light at the end of a very long tunnel. Credit where it is due: I have to thank the current Home Secretary for her contribution, commitment and forthright action back in October. The Hillsborough independent panel is now accessing all the unrestricted and unredacted documentation that our cross-party consensus on that night secured. My hope is that the current Attorney-General will look afresh at the evidence in this case, as he has suggested that he will.

There are options for us as parliamentarians. We can go down the path of hyperbole and trying to hide behind complex legal argument and archaic parliamentary conventions, or we can adopt a simpler approach based on the elementary principle of right and wrong.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this case, of the many cases involved, illustrates just how appallingly inadequate the original inquests were in doing the job inquests are supposed to do: establishing the cause of death in each individual case and bringing a sense of closure to the relatives left behind? Does he agree that the 3.15 pm cut-off point and the accidental death verdicts were instrumental in creating the ongoing sense of deep injustice felt by families such as that of Anne Williams? That needs to be put right to put a stop to the suffering of people such as Anne Williams whose relatives died at Hillsborough.

My hon. Friend is once again spot on with her forensic understanding of the issues. Her contribution in the debate on the Floor of the House highlighted her comprehensive appreciation of what happened at Hillsborough. She touches on two important issues. The first is that the original inquest was inadequate, and the hon. Member for City of Chester made absolutely clear why that is so. The second is the ongoing sense of injustice, which has resonated not only in Liverpool. The people who signed the online petition come from right across this country and from different political persuasions. They include football fans and people who are not interested in sport. People are beginning to understand what the people of Merseyside have fought for for 22 and a half years.

As a result of the overwhelming evidence, Kevin’s case proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that the 3.15 pm cut-off point was simply wrong. It is fundamentally flawed and it does not stand up to scrutiny. For those who failed in their duty on that day, it has, quite literally, been their get-out-of-jail-free card. They point to the 3.15 pm cut-off and claim there was nothing they could do. How wrong they are. They could and should have saved Kevin Williams.

Since becoming an MP, I have wrestled with how best to explain to people who are not necessarily familiar with the Hillsborough tragedy exactly why it still matters. Twenty-two and a half years on from the disaster, some might wonder why their MPs are in this Chamber debating it. They could be forgiven for asking that, and many were not even born in 1989. As human beings, however, they must surely understand that this debate, this campaign and this dark chapter in British history are, and always have been, about broken-hearted mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters fighting for loved ones who went to a football match and did not come home.

All deaths are tragic, especially when they involve children. It is also true that Britain has experienced other national tragedies over the past three decades, but has there ever been a national tragedy in which no one has been held to account?

I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on his excellent speech. I also support Anne Williams’s campaign, which proves nothing is stronger than a mother’s love for her child. One point has never really been brought out to the extent that it should be. Not only was this disaster caused by incompetence and a complete disregard for people’s safety, but some of the people alive after 3.15 pm could have survived, and did not. A lot of people do not understand that. Not only was there a disaster because the crushing resulted in people being injured and killed, but others could have survived afterwards had they been looked after properly—it was a double disaster.

My hon. Friend makes an important contribution. If we look not just at Kevin’s case, but at the disaster that took place that day, it is clear that had it not been for the quick action of Liverpool fans, the tragedy would have involved way more than 96 deaths and could have involved many hundreds of deaths. Liverpool fans acted, while those charged with our safety that day froze, and that should never be forgotten.

Today, we have heard that the cause of Kevin’s death should be re-examined. As we have heard, his mother is yet to pick up his death certificate, because the cause of death is wrong. Imagine a country that has so far allowed a broken-hearted mother to wait 23 years to find out the reasons why her young son died at a football match, when she knows it was not the result of traumatic asphyxia.

The e-petition stated that the overwhelming evidence makes it quite clear that the Attorney-General needs to look afresh at this issue to reach the logical conclusion that Kevin was not dead at 3.15 pm, but died subsequently, so that he can deem that it is right to grant a new coroner’s inquest.

The families have fought their dignified campaign for more than two decades, with an eternal flame burning bright—the flame of hope. Kevin’s mother, Anne, has hope in her heart today. She has been joined on her heart-breaking journey by the families of the other 95 victims of Hillsborough, some of whom I left earlier at a different venue. My hope is that we can finally get justice for those who lost their lives and the families who continue to mourn them. Only then will the families of the 96 be able to put their loved ones to rest.

Order. Some Members have spoken for considerably longer than others, and I am minded to try to include all Members. I will call Mr Tom Brake, but I hope Members will be generous to others in making use of their time allocation.

Thank you, Mrs Main. I will do exactly that. I intend to make a very brief contribution.

I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on opening the debate and bringing his expertise and his knowledge of the family to the Chamber. We have also heard passionate contributions from other Members.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the Hillsborough tragedy further and specifically the tragedy that befell the Williams family and Kevin Williams. I also welcome the fact that the Attorney-General is here to respond to the debate. We have heard of his very positive letter, which I hope gives Members and the families some comfort that a resolution may be in sight.

The hon. Member for City of Chester clearly set out what did and did not happen to Kevin Williams and the time line over which those things happened. He also set out the way in which those involved in trying to save his life were, rather alarmingly, subsequently encouraged—one Member used the word “bullied”—to see events differently from the way they experienced them.

The family are clearly entitled to have an accurate record of how and when their son died. If we, as parents, were in their situation, we would want an accurate record; we would want to know that the truth had come out so that we could have some sense of closure. The medical evidence to which Members have referred clearly points to a cause of death other than traumatic asphyxia. The family are also entitled to a detailed account of the emergency response and to be told whether lives could have been saved if that response had been different.

I hope that the Attorney-General will be able to give Members an undertaking that the inquest they seek is possible. I also hope that he will be able to update Members on any discussions he has had with the Hillsborough independent panel and on whether he expects its report, which is due quite soon, to give some comfort by providing information that might help clarify exactly what happened on that tragic day.

To conclude, the Attorney-General has the opportunity to help the family obtain closure, and I hope he will take it.

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on his important presentation and on securing this debate with other Members. I pay tribute to the dedication and determination of Anne Williams in seeking out the truth and trying to secure justice.

The debate on Hillsborough called by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) on 17 October demonstrated the continuing strength of feeling—the distress, concern and outrage—at the absence of the full information about what happened to the people who died. The deaths and the tragedy may have happened some years ago, but many people have said to me that it is as if it had happened today: the grief and anger are still there, and the determination to get to the truth of what happened remains. The highly respected Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, is chairing the panel that we hope will bring full disclosure of all the documentation available. I hope that that will go further towards establishing the truth of the dreadful tragedy.

Today’s debate, however, is about securing a new inquest on the death of Kevin Williams. That means challenging the ruling of the coroner, Dr Stefan Popper, who imposed the cut-off time of 3.15 on the day of the disaster, his statement that Kevin must have died by 3.15 and his verdict on the cause of death. In the debate this afternoon we have heard compelling evidence from several contributors about why all those aspects of the matter are challengeable and, indeed, wrong. We have heard in graphic and traumatic detail why a new inquest is a justified request. It can only be incomprehensible, and a matter of outrage, that that request has not been granted before.

A new inquest was requested previously in this House. On 26 October 1994 the then Member for Crosby, Sir Malcolm Thornton, spoke at length, imploring the Attorney-General to agree to a new inquest. He quoted Anne Williams, whose words are now recorded for all time in Hansard:

“He was just a little boy that went to watch a football match and never came home. There is nothing that I can be told now that will make the agony any worse. I just want to know the truth.”—[Official Report, 26 October 1994; Vol. 248, c. 979.]

I hope that today the Attorney-General will be able to give us information that will take us nearer to establishing that long-sought-after truth.

It is a pleasure to serve under your Chairmanship, Mrs Main, on what is a busy day for you. I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on the forensic way in which he went through the detail.

I want to stand back a little, and to be dispassionate. I want to work out, coming from the other end of the question, why the Attorney-General might not support Mrs Williams’s case. The facts according to the coroner were, as we know, first, that the death was accidental; secondly that it resulted from traumatic asphyxia; and, thirdly, that Kevin, along with everyone else, was dead by 3.15. Mrs Williams’s e-petition has asked for the opening of a new inquest under section 16 of the Coroners Act 1988. Her case is that Kevin did not die until 4 o’clock and he did not die from traumatic asphyxia. She has evidence to back up her case, and she claims that people who were helping Kevin well after 3.15 are prepared to testify.

If we are going to be told today by the Attorney-General that he does not accept that case, we can apply three simple tests. Is Mrs Williams simply wrong? Is she misguided? Or, God forbid, is she deliberately misleading us out of her understandable need for justice for her son? If the Attorney-General cannot answer yes to at least one of those questions, how on earth can he justify anything other than agreeing to reopen Kevin’s inquest or some other form of process that will allow her to get justice? Whatever obstructions are put in the way of the Attorney-General in trying to reach that justice, he should knock them out of the way. He should also not allow the inbuilt bias that has a long history in this nation, of the establishment closing ranks to protect its own. Why things happened as they did has been mentioned, to an extent, by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram). I do not intend to go into that, but I suggest that if facts come to light as a result of this case that show even more overwhelmingly that people did not do the things they should have done as public servants, it is not too late for them to be called to account. That is something that the nation should pursue.

The Government have made some very positive statements about transparency. As recently as 19 December, the Deputy Prime Minister said in a speech to Demos:

“The third characteristic of an open society is the sharing of knowledge and information. In a closed society the elite think that, for the masses, ignorance is bliss: But in an open society there is no monopoly of wisdom. So transparency is vital.”

I could not agree more. According to the coalition programme for Government of May 2010 the Government believe

“that we need to throw open the doors of public bodies, to enable the public to hold politicians and public bodies to account.”

Today the Attorney-General can show whether his Department will live up to those fine words. He can show the people of this country that justice is more important than secrecy. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton is right. This is about families—dads, mams, brothers and sisters; but it is also about us as a nation, and what sort of country we want to live in.

Like other hon. Members, I shall not detain the Chamber long. I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on the way—it was indeed forensic—in which he laid out the case for a new inquest.

I wanted to add once again the voice of the city of Sheffield to the debate. It is an important voice. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) outlined why the debate still matters. It matters primarily because Anne Williams wants to know what really happened to her son and how he died. It matters to all the families of those who died, and who were involved in the tragedy—the other 95. It matters to the people of south Yorkshire, and particularly to those who were involved in dealing with the tragedy that day, and its aftermath. It matters to a city that, alongside Liverpool, is still struggling hard, 23 years on, to come to terms with what happened that day. It matters because even now, every day of every week, as I said in the debate in October, flowers and wreaths are laid outside Hillsborough stadium in memory of those who died. More than anything else, in a sense, it matters because we need to know the truth.

I think the details, showing why we need an inquest to establish some of the truth of what happened, have been laid out clearly. There is the fact that, as has been mentioned several times, the coroner drew the line at 3.15, which we know was wrong. That matters primarily because it meant there was no examination of how the emergency services and police responded to what happened during the afternoon—the simple facts of the case. Also, we need a new inquest because evidence was suppressed at the time, through, it appears, the falsification of police statements. That evidence is now emerging clearly. Debra Martin has bravely come out into the open and gone on the record in the media. She was on “Calendar” on ITV Yorkshire last night, laying out clearly what happened that day, as many hon. Members have mentioned: how Kevin died in her arms calling for his mother. She has put that on the record. She has gone on Radio Sheffield today. The city now knows that the truth about what happened to Kevin and the other 95 who died is not entirely out in the open. That is why the case for an inquest is strong.

Whatever the new allegations are, and however serious they are, it is absolutely critical that all the papers relating to the disaster, both public and private, are handed over to the inquiry. Although that commitment has already been made from the Government’s point of view, the case still needs to be reiterated. The allegations made against West Midlands police will need further investigation, as it now appears that there was a deliberate suppression of the facts relating to the case. The inquest will help with that, but it will take more than an inquest to deal with the suppression of the evidence that occurred in 1989 and 1990. The relationship between West Midlands police and South Yorkshire police in the suppression of that evidence also matters. The inquest is just one of the critical elements in helping to deal with what happened and how evidence was recorded after the disaster.

If the allegations are accurate—and there is no reason to believe that the claims made by Debra Martin are anything other than accurate—they alone justify the case for a new inquest. Debra Martin is absolutely clear about events. She looked at her watch when Kevin Williams died; it was four o’clock in the afternoon. She is absolutely crystal clear about that. We need a new inquest. The Attorney-General must respond in clear terms this afternoon. There must be no prevarication; we need that inquest.

Finally, let me thank Yorkshire Television for bringing some of the new evidence to light and for helping Debra Martin clear the record and the air about her role on that day. The role of the media is important in all this, and it is watching what is happening—never mind The Sun, it does not have a part in any of this. We all want an inquest and it is in the public interest that we get it.

It is a pleasure to take part in this debate under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (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.

I pay tribute to Anne Williams, Kevin’s mother, for the incredible courage and determination that she has shown in the pursuit of justice for her son. All of us here hope that today marks the beginning of the end of what has been a long battle for her and her family. I congratulate the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on securing the debate and my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson) on the important role that he played in ensuring that it took place. I also pay tribute to the 118,000 members of the public who signed the petition. I echo the comments made by some of my hon. Friends; this debate should be taking place in the main Chamber this afternoon.

Much of what I wanted to say has already been said by the hon. Member for City of Chester in his forensic remarks at the beginning of the debate and by many other hon. Members who have spoken before me. Like all of them, I welcome the fact that the Attorney-General has agreed to look at the applications made to his predecessors, and to consider whether to support an application to the High Court for a new inquest into Kevin’s death. I urge him to make that application, please.

To many of us here, the evidence is conclusive. We have heard the chronology of events on 15 April 1989 in detail from the hon. Member for City of Chester, and from the BBC tapes, we have heard from PC Michael Craighill, Mr Bruder and WPC Debra Martin. It is clear that their visual evidence alone contradicts the original verdict, and when it is added to the evidence that discredits Dr Slater’s conclusion at the inquest—evidence that has already been mentioned—the strength of the case is overwhelming. I sincerely hope that the weight of all this evidence, along with the clear inaccuracies of the original inquiry, will convince the Attorney-General to recommend a new inquest.

It is sometimes suggested by some in the media or by those who are not connected with the terrible events of Hillsborough that it is time to draw a line under what happened on that fateful day in April 23 years ago, that it would be better not to rake up the past, or that the families of those who lost their lives that day should he spared from reliving their trauma. However, those of us here today who have met the families of the 96 victims, or who knew people who were at Hillsborough or who were even at the ground themselves, know the deep sense of injustice felt by so many people about what happened then and afterwards. We know that it simply would not be right to draw a line, not while families still have questions that deserve to be answered, not until the full truth of what happened at Hillsborough is known, and not until justice has finally been served.

If I may, I will break with convention by starting my comments by paying tribute to Mrs Anne Williams for the determined campaign that she has undertaken to seek justice for her son, Kevin. The tireless work that she has put in and the unwavering love of a mother that she has shown for her young son who was tragically robbed of his life, must serve as a reminder to us all of why we are in Parliament—to serve our constituents and our nation.

I thank the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) for securing this debate, all those who have signed the petition and indeed all right hon. and hon. Members who have supported the call over many years—too many years—for justice for the 96 who died and the 766 who were injured as a result of events at Hillsborough on that sad day, 15 April 1989. My heartfelt sympathies are with all the families who were affected.

I also put on record my thanks to those who were with Kevin in his final moments, who revived him, carried him and cradled him. Even just reading what happened to Kevin, and to so many others, profoundly moves me, but I cannot begin to comprehend the pain that losing a child such as Kevin—a 15-year-old lad who was just out to watch a footy match on an afternoon—must be like.

That pain was made so much worse by an inquest that was plainly wrong. The evidence that Anne Williams has uncovered and that we have heard today demonstrates clearly that Kevin was indeed alive after 3.15 pm on that day, and it shows just how unsound the original inquests were.

Quite reasonably, there has been a great deal of criticism about how the coroner conducted those original inquests and about how the 3.15 pm time limit has stopped important evidence being brought forward. Our outdated coroner system needs the reforms that were legislated for in 2009, and more reform. If inquests had been properly conducted in the past, justice could have been achieved years ago and decades of pain could have been tempered.

May I gently suggest to the Attorney-General that he speaks to his colleagues at the Ministry of Justice? That is because the need for a chief coroner, with appropriate powers and an appeals system, was one of the lessons learned from terrible events such as Hillsborough. The Government need to rethink the implications of stripping away the powers of the chief coroner from the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.

As we have heard this afternoon and on other occasions, mistakes—some of them genuine errors, others examples of incompetence and even worse behaviour—led to the tragic events at Hillsborough. However, we have also heard that mistakes, incompetence and even worse behaviour happened after the 3.15 pm cut-off time, which have never been examined at inquests. The cover-up that then took place was, to say the least, shameful.

I am pleased that the Attorney-General has said that he will look again at Kevin’s case and I look forward to hearing what he intends to do, as people’s expectations are rightly and understandably high. I hope that he will set out what he can do and, just as importantly, what he feels he is unable to do. If he feels bound by legal constraints, he needs to make those constraints clear and then explain what—if anything—can be done to change those legal barriers. After all, that is what this House is here for; it is here to change legislation if that is what is needed.

I conclude my remarks to give the Attorney-General plenty of time to respond to the debate and if I may I will again break the normal conventions by turning to the Public Gallery and saying that Anne, her family and so many other families need full answers, and inquests that can properly hear testimony about what happened on that profoundly sad day are an important part of getting those answers. I hope that before the 25th painful anniversary of Hillsborough we will have had a proper inquest into the tragic death of Kevin Williams and that Anne—through her mother’s love—can get justice for her son.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) on securing this debate and thank those right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken so eloquently about the tragedy that was Hillsborough.

Today’s debate has been prompted by the e-petition started by Mrs Anne Williams. She is the mother of Kevin Williams, whose short life was ended that day at Hillsborough. There is no hierarchy of victims; every loss was a tragedy for someone and I express my sympathy to all who lost loved ones on that day. Mrs Williams’s petition asked that her application for a fresh inquest into the death of her son be reconsidered. I have already indicated that I will do so.

It may assist people if I explain what I am being asked to do. After hearing what others have said this afternoon, I recognise that what follows may sound a little dry or legalistic. It is none the less necessary for me to say it, if what is being asked of me is to be understood.

The only way that a second inquest can be held into the death of Kevin Williams, or into the death of anyone else on that day, is if the High Court quashes the original inquest and orders a second inquest to be held. The Court will order a new inquest only if it is satisfied that the test that is set out in section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988 has been met. Essentially, that test is whether a new inquest is

“necessary or desirable in the interests of justice”.

That test implies a wide discretion and it is necessarily fact-sensitive. An inquest determines who the deceased was and how, when and where they came by their death, as was so rightly explained by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester. “How” is not simply the medical cause of death but may include the circumstances in which the death came about. What justice requires in any case is that there has been an effective inquiry into the death and that the conclusions reached are supported by the available evidence.

For example, if it can be shown that an inquest was flawed procedurally or that new evidence has come to light since the inquest was held, and if that flaw or new evidence potentially has a significant impact on the conclusions of the original inquest, then a fresh inquest may be

“necessary or desirable in the interests of justice”.

In the definition of what is a “flaw”, will the Attorney-General consider—I do not ask him to commit himself—including the existence of what many of us believe was an arbitrary 3.15 pm cut-off point?

Perhaps the best way that I can put it to the right hon. Gentleman is to say that I fully understand the points that have been cogently made today that raised criticisms about the 3.15 pm cut-off point, but, as he will appreciate, at this stage of the proceedings, I have only heard the explanations that have been provided. However, I fully understand the force that lies behind the argument that is being put forward.

An application to the High Court can only be made by me or by another with my consent. My role is to consider the available evidence and to determine whether there are reasonable prospects of the Court ordering a new inquest. I act as a filter, as Parliament has required me to do, and I should make it clear that I perform that role entirely independently of anyone else in Government. I have given some thought to how I should set about this task and I will, of course, consider it further in the light of the points that have been made in this debate today.

Mrs Williams has made four previous applications to my predecessors in office—predecessors in the two major parties that have been in Government. On each occasion, the application was refused as the Attorney-General of the day did not consider there was any reasonable prospect of a court being satisfied that a fresh inquest was necessary. There are undoubtedly difficulties. The matter has already been considered by the divisional court in 1992, which looked at many of the issues that had been put forward as reasons for a new inquest. That court refused to quash the original inquest and indicated that it did not consider it at all likely that the court would reach a different view had it been considering an application made under section 13. There has also been the inquiry by Lord Justice Taylor, as he then was, and the later review by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, whose findings argued against the need for a new inquest.

Later this year, the Hillsborough panel will release the information it has collected about the disaster and publish its report. For the first time, Mrs Williams and the other families of the deceased will have access to all—I stress all—relevant material, including the material held by my own office in respect of the discussions that took place with previous Attorneys-General. I am minded, therefore, to approach the case by awaiting the release of that material rather than simply by reviewing the material evidence that formed the basis of the applications already considered by my predecessors in office. This means that it will be necessary for me to delay reaching any conclusion until such time as the Hillsborough panel has released the collected material and there has been sufficient time for the families to be able to consider it carefully.

If I were to try to reach a decision sooner, I could ask to see the material that the panel holds now, but I will not do that for three reasons. First, I do not want to distract the panel or do anything to delay the completion of its work, which I hope will take place shortly. Secondly, I do not want to go behind the promise given, which I think important, that the families should see the material first. Thirdly, I want to give Mrs Williams, or indeed any other applicant, the time to consider the released material and make any representations that they may wish to make to me in respect of it.

I acknowledge that taking this course will affect the timing of my decision as to whether to make an application for a second inquest, and I am of course prepared to consider any representations that Mrs Williams or any other interested party—or, indeed, their Members of Parliament—may wish to make to me on timing.

We have only eight minutes left, but will the Attorney-General consider making a statement to the House once he has had a chance to look at further evidence and what has come from the panel, and will he have discussions with Mrs Williams and others? Will he come to the House and present his thoughts?

I will certainly consider doing so, as I have done in the past. If I come to a conclusion, I would certainly want the House to know what that conclusion is, and I would want the House to understand the reasonings. If it were indeed to be the case that I was going to make an application to the High Court, my reasonings would probably be very brief. If for any reason it were to be the case that I was not to be making an application to the High Court, I would want the House to understand, and indeed the public to understand, why I had come to that conclusion. The reality is that I think it would be inescapable, and indeed proper, that the House would require my attendance to answer questions whether I wished to make a statement or not. For that reason, without anticipating where I will be in respect of this matter, I would be rather surprised if I were not coming to make an oral statement to the House. History has shown that it is a better way of proceeding, particularly in terms of giving adequate notice to the Opposition of what I am going to say beforehand so that we can have a reasoned exchange of views based upon it. I promise that I will keep the hon. Gentleman, and indeed my shadow in this matter, informed of how I am proceeding in respect of it.

It seems to me at least that the Hillsborough panel’s work provides an opportunity to allow for a more informed examination of the evidence. That is going to be very important. My understanding is that not only will it sift through material and make sure that it is presented, but that there will be an ability to direct attention to areas of material that might be seen to be relevant if there is to be further consideration. For that reason, to explain further my rationale behind wishing to wait for the panel’s report rather than just plunging into this material myself, it seems sensible for me to be informed by the panel’s own deliberations.

I will make another point about my work. It is probably not greatly understood, but my office is a very small one. I have a small and dedicated team of lawyers working with me, and I have one deputy Minister, the Solicitor-General. I am afraid it is not the case in matters of this sort that suddenly dozens of people can be let loose on material and we rapidly come to conclusions. That said, I am perfectly aware that after the length of time that has elapsed, there is a real need to try to bring this matter, if I am reconsidering it, to a conclusion. I will be mindful of that, but I will have to ask hon. Members to bear with my office in terms of our ability to manage our workload in what I anticipate is likely to be the sifting of substantial quantities of material. I think quite a lot will be in existence.

I understand the constraints that the Attorney-General’s office has upon it, but given the importance of this matter not only to the House but to the nation, if he finds that he is in a position in which he needs more resources to undertake that work, will he come to the House and ask for that provision?

I would certainly do so if I felt it necessary. We seem to manage a pretty heavy workload reasonably well. Some things come in as emergencies and some things we consider at greater leisure. If I felt that I was not able to discharge my responsibilities more generally, I would certainly bring that to the attention of my colleagues in Government. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman about that. I have no reason to suppose that this is going to take an inordinate length of time. I want to make that clear. I simply wanted to stress the point, because people would not necessarily understand that mine is not a large Department with large numbers of people who can suddenly be tasked on to a particular role.

I will make one final point. No one can fail to be moved by what happened on that fateful day in April 1989 that still resonates so powerfully among so many people. That is perfectly apparent to me having listened to the debate today and having read the debate—I was not able to be present—that took place in October. I found it illuminating in helping me to understand the concerns, which have been further voiced today.

I am only too well aware of the strength of feeling that this House holds about the tragic and needless deaths of so many men, women and children. Not only did that day—a day that promised only the entertainment of an FA Cup semi-final—go so badly wrong, the pain was undoubtedly compounded by unforgivable calumnies published about those who tried to help the injured and the dying. As a man and as a Minister, I share those feelings. As Attorney-General, in which role I am here today, I cannot let sympathy alone sway any decision I may reach. As Attorney-General, in performing this function, as I explained earlier, I act wholly independently of Government and must reach my decision based on the evidence alone. What I can promise the House, and do promise, is that I will approach this case with an open mind and, if I conclude that the evidence supports an application to the court, I will ensure that an application is made.

Sitting suspended.