With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the report of the Hillsborough independent panel. Today, the Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Rev. James Jones, is publishing the report of the Hillsborough independent panel. The disaster at the Hillsborough football stadium on 15 April 1989 was one of the greatest peacetime tragedies of the last century; 96 people died as a result of a crush in the Leppings Lane terrace at the FA cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
There was a public inquiry at the time by Lord Justice Taylor that found that the main cause of the disaster was
“a failure of police control.”
But the inquiry did not have access to all the documents that have since become available, it did not properly examine the response of the emergency services, and it was followed by a deeply controversial inquest and by a media version of events that sought to blame the fans.
As a result, the families have not heard the truth and have not found justice. That is why the previous Government, and in particular the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), was right to set up the panel and it is why this Government insisted that no stone should be left unturned and that all papers should be made available to the Bishop of Liverpool and his team. In total, more than 450,000 pages of evidence have been reviewed.
It was right that the families should see the report first. As a result, the Government and I have had only a very limited amount of time to study the evidence so far. But it is already very clear that many of the report’s findings are deeply distressing. There are three areas in particular: the failure of the authorities to help to protect people; the attempt to blame the fans; and the doubt cast on the original coroner’s inquest. I want to take each in turn.
First, there is new evidence about how the authorities failed. There is a trail of new documents which show the extent to which the safety of the crowd at Hillsborough was “compromised at every level”. The ground failed to meet minimum standards and the “deficiencies were well known”. The turnstiles were inadequate. The ground capacity had been significantly over-calculated. The crush barriers failed to meet safety standards, and there had been a crush at exactly the same match the year before. Today’s report shows clearly that lessons had not been learned.
The report backs up again the key finding of the Taylor report on police failure, but it goes further by revealing for the first time the shortcomings of the ambulance and emergency services’ response. The major incident plan was not fully implemented; rescue attempts were held back by failures of leadership and co-ordination; and, significantly, new documents today show that there was a delay from the emergency services when people were being crushed and being killed.
Secondly, the families have long believed that some of the authorities attempted to create a completely unjust account of events that sought to blame the fans for what happened. The families were right. The evidence in today’s report includes briefings to the media and attempts by the police to change the record of events. On the media, several newspapers reported false allegations that fans were drunk and violent and stole from the dead. The Sun’s report sensationalised these allegations under a banner headline “The Truth”. This was clearly wrong and caused huge offence, distress and hurt. News International has co-operated with the panel and, for the first time, today’s report reveals that the source for these despicable untruths was a Sheffield news agency reporting conversations with South Yorkshire police and Irvine Patnick, the then MP for Sheffield Hallam.
The report finds that this was part of police efforts
“to develop and publicise a version of events that focused on…allegations of drunkenness, ticketlessness and violence”.
In terms of changing the record of events, we already know that police reports were significantly altered, but the full extent was not drawn to Lord Justice Taylor’s attention. Today’s report finds that 164 statements were significantly amended, and that 116 explicitly removed negative comments about the policing operation, including its lack of leadership.
The report also makes important findings about particular actions taken by the police and coroner while investigating the deaths. There is new evidence which shows that police officers carried out police national computer checks on those who had died, in an attempt, and I quote directly from the report,
“to impugn the reputations of the deceased”.
The coroner took blood alcohol levels from all of the deceased, including children. The panel finds no rationale whatsoever for what it regards as an “exceptional” decision. The report states clearly that the attempt of the inquest to draw a link between blood alcohol and late arrival was “fundamentally flawed”, and that alcohol consumption was
“unremarkable and not exceptional for a social or leisure occasion”.
Over all these years, questions have been raised about the role of the Government, including whether they did enough to uncover the truth. It is certainly true that some of the language in the Government papers published today was insensitive, but, having been through every document—and every Government document including Cabinet minutes will be published—the panel found no evidence of any Government trying to conceal the truth. At the time of the Taylor report, the then Prime Minister was briefed by her private secretary that the defensive and “close to deceitful” behaviour of senior South Yorkshire officers was “depressingly familiar”. It is clear that the then Government thought it right that the chief constable of South Yorkshire should resign. But, as the right hon. Member for Leigh has rightly highlighted, Governments then and since have simply not done enough to challenge publicly the unjust and untrue narrative that sought to blame the fans.
Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly of all, the Bishop of Liverpool’s report presents new evidence that casts significant doubt over the adequacy of the original inquest. The coroner, on the advice of the pathologists, believed that victims suffered traumatic asphyxia leading to unconsciousness within seconds, and death within a few minutes. As a result, he asserted that, beyond 3.15 pm, there were no actions that could have changed the fate of the victims, and he limited the scope of the inquest accordingly. However, by analysing post-mortem reports, the panel has found that 28 people did not have obstruction of blood circulation, and that 31 did have evidence of heart and lungs continuing to function after the crush. That means that individuals in those groups could have had potentially reversible asphyxia beyond 3.15 pm, which is in contrast to the findings of the coroner and a subsequent judicial review. The panel states clearly that
“it is highly likely that what happened to those individuals after 3.15 pm was significant”
in determining whether they died.
The conclusions of this report will be very harrowing for many of the families affected. Anyone who has lost a child knows that the pain never leaves you, but to read a report years afterwards that says
“a swifter, more appropriate, better focused and properly equipped response had the potential to save more lives”
can only add to that pain
It is for the Attorney-General to decide whether to apply to the High Court to quash the original inquest and seek a new one. In that capacity, he acts independently of Government, and he will need to examine the evidence himself. It is clear to me, however, that the new evidence in today’s report raises vital questions that must be examined, and the Attorney-General has assured me that he will examine this new evidence immediately and reach a decision as quickly as possible. Ultimately, however, it is for the High Court to decide.
It is also right that the House should have an opportunity to debate the issues raised in this report fully. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will take forward a debate in Government time relatively quickly when the House returns in October.
I want to be very clear about the view that the Government take about these findings and why, after 23 years, this matters so much not just for the families, but for Liverpool and our country as a whole. What happened that day, and since, was wrong. It was wrong that the responsible authorities knew that Hillsborough did not meet minimum safety standards, yet still allowed the match to go ahead. It was wrong that the families had to wait for so long, and to fight so hard, just to get to the truth. It was wrong—quite profoundly wrong—that the police changed the records of what happened and tried to blame the fans. We ask the police to do difficult and often very dangerous things on our behalf, and South Yorkshire police is a very different organisation today from what it was then, but we do the many, many honourable policemen and women a great disservice if we try to defend the indefensible.
It was also wrong that neither Lord Justice Taylor nor the coroner looked properly at the response of the other emergency services. Again, these are dedicated people who do extraordinary things to serve the public, but the evidence from today’s report will make very difficult reading.
With the weight of the new evidence in this report, it is right for me today, as Prime Minister, to make a proper apology to the families of the 96 for all they have suffered over the past 23 years. Indeed, the new evidence with which we are presented today makes it clear, in my view, that these families have suffered a double injustice: 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. On behalf of the Government and indeed our country, I am profoundly sorry that this double injustice has been left uncorrected for so long.
Because of what I have described as the second injustice—the false version of events—not enough people in this country understand what the people of Merseyside have been through. This appalling death toll of so many loved ones lost was compounded by an attempt to blame the victims. A narrative about hooliganism on that day was created that led many in the country to accept that somehow it was a grey area. Today’s report is black and white: the Liverpool fans
“were not the cause of the disaster”.
The panel has quite simply found “no evidence” in support of allegations of
“exceptional levels of drunkenness, ticketlessness or violence among Liverpool fans…no evidence that fans had conspired to arrive late at the stadium”
“no evidence that they stole from the dead and dying.”
I am sure that the whole House will want to thank the Bishop of Liverpool and his panel for all the work they have done. I am sure that both sides of the House will join me in paying tribute to the incredible strength and dignity of the Hillsborough families and the community that has backed them in their long search for justice. While nothing can ever bring back those who were lost, with all the documents revealed and nothing held back, the families, at last, have access to the truth. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and join him in remembering the 96 people who died at Hillsborough, the hundreds more who were injured and all their families and friends. Today we also remember all those who had to suffer the trauma of being there that day.
Let me state right up front an uncomfortable truth for us all: it shames us as a country that it has taken 23 years to get to the truth about what happened at Hillsborough. The Prime Minister was right today to offer an unreserved apology, but all Governments during this period bear their share of responsibility for the failure to get to the truth, so we on the Opposition Benches also apologise to the families that we did not do enough to help.
What brings us here today, as the Prime Minister said, is not just the tragedy of Hillsborough; it is that the victims of the tragedy and the people of Liverpool were systematically smeared and portrayed as its perpetrators. Imagine for a moment waving a loved one off as they go to a football match, and then the impossible grief of that loved one not returning. Then imagine being unable to grieve in peace, but facing two decades of torment, a cloud of suspicion, innuendo and downright lies spread about the person you loved—lies about rushing the gate, lies about ticketless fans, lies about the drunkenness of the victims. That is what the Hillsborough families have had to endure from day one of this tragedy, and while they spoke the truth to power whenever they could, the powerful did not hear.
Nothing could compensate for what the families have suffered, but I pay tribute to all the victims’ families for their 23-year campaign for the truth. Without the efforts of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and Hope for Hillsborough, the truth would have remained hidden and we would not be here today. I also commend the work of the Liverpool Echo, which kept the campaign going, as well as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and my hon. Friends the Members for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) and for Halton (Derek Twigg). Most of all, I pay tribute to all the people of Liverpool and the people across the country who have stood with the families in the dark times, and to every single person who campaigned for this day to come.
Rightly, as the Prime Minister said, it is the families who have had first access to the report. People will want, over many days, to scrutinise properly all the documents that have been released, and I welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to have a debate in October. Some things, though, have been clear for a long time and will be clearer after the publication of the report today, and I want to put them on the record.
The tragedy was caused not by fans but by an unsafe ground and terrible mistakes and negligence in policing. There was a systematic attempt by some in the police to cover that up after the event and, disgracefully, to spread the blame to the fans, and they were aided and abetted by parts of the media. Finally, it is clear that the original inquest was hopelessly inadequate, declaring the so-called 3.15 cut-off on the assumption that all those who died had sustained fatal injuries by that time, when in fact the post-mortem records show that not to be the case and, tragically, that some of the victims could have been saved.
The picture is not one of irresponsible victims, but innocent victims let down by the South Yorkshire police, the emergency services, the Sheffield coroner and the wider public authorities. It is a picture not just of a tragedy, but of a gross injustice. The victims were not only blamed by those who were supposed to protect them, but they were blamed by those who were themselves responsible for the disaster.
After truth must come the best justice that can be provided 23 years late, so let me ask the Prime Minister three questions. The first is about the possibility of new inquests. I welcome what he said about the Attorney-General, but will he reaffirm the urgency, which I am sure he and the Attorney-General recognise, of making that decision? Secondly, today’s revelations also raise profound questions about the behaviour of the public authorities and the police, so what steps does he imagine those authorities might be able to take in response to the panel’s findings and does he believe that there is any way to hold those who were responsible to account? Thirdly, does the Prime Minister agree with me that, just as he has apologised on behalf of the Government and so too has Sheffield Wednesday on behalf of Hillsborough, the same should be forthcoming from all those who wronged the victims, their families and supporters, including those in the media, particularly The Sun newspaper?
This is a day that has been far too long in coming. To the families we say: we are deeply sorry for your loss and deeply sorry for the pain you have suffered. We sincerely hope that today marks a day of truth, so that, finally, you can grieve in peace.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said and the way in which he said it. As he put it, this has taken too long, but all parties have had to come together and work together to make this happen. He is absolutely right to commend the local groups, the local press and the local MPs for keeping this issue alive and making sure that we reached this point.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, after truth should come justice, and I shall try to answer his three points as best I can. On the inquest, yes, it is absolutely urgent. We have to look at the Coroners Act 1988, which says that once an inquest has been held a fresh inquest can be held only if the High Court quashes the original inquest and orders a fresh one. The High Court will consider an application only if it is made by the Attorney-General or with his consent. That is a key decision-making role for him: he has to stand aside from Government to do so, but all the things that I said in my statement are relevant.
As for what other authorities are responsible, and whether further steps should be taken, again, in this country we have, quite rightly, independent authorities for prosecution and the rest of it. They will want to study what is in the report and come to their own conclusions.
On the point about apologies, the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say what he said. The important thing about making an apology is to think very carefully why one is necessary. In this case, it is absolutely necessary: there is new evidence which is vital in reaching this conclusion. The other point about making an apology is that you should make one only when you really mean it. My understanding of this long history is that apologies have sometimes been given that have not been fully meant, and not been properly made. My advice to others—and it is their decision—is think it through, and understand the extent of hurt, not just of the families but on Merseyside more widely, then do it properly.
May I thank the Prime Minister for his statement? His statement and the release of the papers will be welcome not just on Merseyside but across the country. He is aware of my constituent, Mrs Anne Williams, whose 15-year-old son, Kevin, died on that awful day in April 1989, and her 23-year battle to find out the truth behind her son’s death, and in particular, to overturn the 3.15 cut-off time in the original inquest. She has made several requests to the Attorney-General that have been turned down, and has gone as far as the European Court of Human Rights. Now that the report by the independent panel has been published, will my right hon. Friend encourage the Attorney-General to look favourably on ordering a new inquest into Kevin’s death?
May I offer my condolences again to Mrs Williams and to all the family members affected by Kevin’s tragic death, which was one of the many that were originally dealt with in that single inquest? As I have said, now that the report is out, there is an opportunity for the Attorney-General to study the evidence and make that recommendation to the High Court, which many people, including Mrs Williams, will want to see.
I thank the Prime Minister for every single word of his statement today—their value in Liverpool simply cannot be calculated.
The statement comes far too late for many, of course, but finally, the full horror of Hillsborough has been revealed: a catalogue of negligence, appalling failure and sheer mendacity; a tragedy that should have been prevented, lives that should have been saved; devastating truths made far worse, not better, by the passage of time; a crude 3.15 cut-off, with no legal, medical or moral justification; parents hearing only today what happened to their children, because people whose job it was to protect them turned against the victims and the bereaved to protect themselves; a monumental cover-up, and a sickening campaign of vilification against victims, grieving families, traumatised survivors and a city in shock.
Does the Prime Minister agree with me that today the names of the 96 and of the Liverpool supporters who were at Hillsborough have been emphatically cleared? In thanking him and the Home Secretary for supporting the disclosure process that I initiated, may I ask him to continue to work with us to right these wrongs and, at long last, to bring justice for the 96?
I absolutely will continue to work with the right hon. Gentleman on this issue. He is right that the names of the 96 have been cleared. Above all, I pay tribute to the work that he has put in with huge passion and dedication on this issue—it was a brave and right decision to set up the panel; it was not easy, as there have been previous inquiries, judicial reviews and the rest of it, but it was undoubtedly the right decision—and to what he has done to help people understand the nature of what I call this double injustice. There was an injustice about fact—about these dreadful things that happened that were not properly accounted for—but also an injustice of narrative and an inaccurate version put around which, as he put it quite rightly, means that the passage of time has made these things worse, not better.
I thank the Prime Minister for his full and robust statement. I join him in paying tribute to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and his colleagues, who have helped us get to this place today.
I hope that the Prime Minister agrees that today’s evidence clearly vindicates not just Liverpool football club, the families and the campaign, but all those who supported Liverpool and the people of Merseyside in saying that football supporters on that day behaved normally, and they were abused and vilified without justification. I hope that we have learned two lessons. First, when reports are conducted, as they were in two previous years into that ground, someone needs to make sure that they are implemented and not left on the table. Secondly, it should not take 23 years in this case, or a similar period in the case of the Marchioness, for victims to be able to put their case to the public and for a proper inquiry to take account of all those who have something to say. We do not do public inquiries and inquests well in this country; we need to do them much better in future.
I agree with my right hon. Friend. On the specific point about learning the lessons of health and safety reports and of safety inquiries, I have not had time to study everything in the report, but I think that there will be new, detailed evidence about that issue. On the more general point, it is very important, as I said in my statement, for the people of Liverpool and Merseyside to see that the rest of the country understands why the sense of injustice is rightly as strong as it has been for all these years.
This is a momentous day. On behalf of the people of Liverpool, I thank the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for their statements of support to the families, supporters and the people of Liverpool. Finally, we have the undeniable truth; a truth that we know now means that many innocent people could and should have been saved; a truth that unequivocally confirms that Liverpool fans were not the cause of the disaster and that drink was not a significant factor; a truth that both vindicates and validates a 23-year campaign for truth and justice. Despite the criticism levelled at us of a “self-pity city”, we were right that there was a deliberate attempt to shift the blame and instigate a cover-up at the very highest level. It is not about retribution—it is about responsibility.
Today, we have made history, but now we must change history, so may I ask the Prime Minister to ensure that the Government co-operate fully with any potential police investigations into the actions of senior police officers and civil servants involved in the 1989 cover-up? Will he personally write to the families of all 96 victims and apologise? Most importantly, I urge him to work with the families, MPs and the Attorney-General so that an application may be made to the High Court to quash the original unsound verdicts of accidental death and to order a fresh coroner’s inquest. Only then will justice be seen to be done.
Let me pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who was not only there on that dreadful day but has the home of Liverpool FC in his constituency. He has campaigned very, very long and hard on this issue, including securing last October’s parliamentary debate, which was a key point in this developing issue and in getting it right.
On the hon. Gentleman’s specific points, I will look carefully at his extremely good idea of writing to the families. It has been vital that they have had this report before anybody else. Of course the Government will co-operate with any investigation. As I have said, all the Government papers that were given to the inquiry—a full trawl was done—will be published, including the Cabinet minutes. That has not been done in cases of peace and war, but it is absolutely essential, in this case, that it is. He is right that this is about responsibility; it is also about respect, and I think that that is what people have rightly earned today.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary and pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and the hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) and for Halton (Derek Twigg), who were actually at the tragic event. The truth is now out, and it is clear that the families of the 96 were right all along. Will my right hon. Friend please make sure that justice is done, and that justice is seen to be done?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is right. Justice is being done by the full revelation of all the documents. As I put it in my statement, obviously we cannot bring back those who have been lost, but what we can do for the families is have the full revelation of all the facts and all the documents. In that way, people can rightly see that they have access to the truth. It will take us all a lot of time to study exactly what has been revealed, but, as I tried to outline in my statement, we can see very clearly from the introduction to the report that some of the key points that the families have been making year after year have been thoroughly vindicated.
May I reiterate the appreciation expressed to the panel and the excellent secretariat and thank the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for their words and for the apology? The families and the people of Merseyside have known all along that the hearts of the people of Sheffield have been with them, as demonstrated on that terrible weekend by the help and support that was given by my own wife, Margaret, who treated some of the injured, and I visited others in hospital. No one in their right mind could have blamed the victims for what happened that afternoon, given where they were in the ground and the consequences for them. May I say to the Prime Minister that one of the lessons that has to come out of this is surely that cover-ups can only cause, and continue to cause, the greatest hurt and harm to those involved, and that in a democracy transparency and openness must be, and always will be, the right way forward to get to the truth?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point that echoes what my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) said. In holding inquiries and inquests, both of which were held in this case, not enough was done to reveal the full picture, and that is what this report does.
I reiterate that it is very important that all parliamentary colleagues study the report before making more detailed comments on it. For example, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the role that people in Sheffield played in helping those who were injured. Let me read one small segment of the report:
“Viewed entirely as an operation to deploy ambulances to the stadium, and to transport casualties as quickly as possible to hospital, the…response was rapid and efficient.”
But it then goes on to say that
“this ignores a significant component of the response to a major disaster set out in the”
“major incident plan: the provision of appropriate assessment, prioritisation and treatment on site.”
What I am trying to say is that when it comes to criticism of the police, the ambulance service or other emergency services, it is very important to look carefully at what the report itself says.
It is not quite as simple as that. All the documentation was made available to the panel, and I understand from the panel that it was very pleased with the co-operation it had from everybody—from the Government to the South Yorkshire police to the media. It feels it was given every document it needed to see—over 450,000 documents. The overwhelming majority of those will be published. The only documents that will not be published—this is set out in the way the panel was originally established—are those needed for individual data protection, so some will not be revealed. However, the panel has set out the process by which that will be judged. Let me emphasise that it is a decision for the panel, not for the Government. We have not held back anything.
This is the day when the 23-year-old campaign led by the bereaved, the traumatised and the injured was vindicated. I pay tribute to the work of the Bishop of Liverpool and his panel in demonstrating so conclusively what had been suspected for so long—that there had been a major and systematic cover-up. Can the Prime Minister give us an absolute assurance that in the three key areas—who was responsible for what happened, whether sufficient lives were saved, and the critical issue of the inquest—he will keep Parliament informed about progress that can be made so that those who were bereaved and those who remain traumatised will at least start to feel that they are at the beginnings of receiving some kind of justice?
I can certainly give the hon. Lady that assurance. I think that the panel has done an excellent job, but, to be fair to it, it is not a coroner. Only the coroner can carry out a proper inquest. As I have said, there is very important evidence here for the Attorney-General to consider and to put in front of the High Court, but the panel cannot reach those judgments. Paragraph 60 says:
“It is not possible to establish whether a more effective emergency response would have saved the life of any one individual who died.”
But it then goes on to say, as I quoted in my statement, that
“a swifter, more appropriate, better focused and properly equipped response had the potential to save more lives.”
In the end, you need the precision of coroners’ reports to go into that sort of level of detail, but I think that the panel has done an extremely good job with what it had.
The Prime Minister has talked about getting it right.
Fourteen people were crushed to death around me at a funeral in El Salvador before this happened. As a Minister, I had to pay our respects to the 39 dead bodies at Heysel stadium.
Both at Hillsborough and at Heysel, people knew that the grounds were inadequate, and people had spoken about that in advance.
Could the Prime Minister say to people who want to be whistleblowers and alert people to dangers that they should be persistent and that their voices should be heard, and that when people afterwards find they have made a mistake, they should be prepared to say so early on?
My hon. Friend is entirely right in what he says. I think that this will be one of the things that come out of the report. It has been said before, and it has been known before, that there were problems with the ground, but the full extent of the fact that previous events had had similar problems and that there were quite detailed reports about the failings at the ground will be a very important part of the report. As he says, we do need people to whistleblow and to point these things out.
I also welcome the content and the tone of the Prime Minister’s statement. If, having studied the papers, either he or the Home Secretary finds that there is a case to be made for referring the conduct of the police to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, will he not hesitate to do so?
I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that people need to study the evidence in the report. The panel had access to all the documentation from the South Yorkshire police that it wanted. It is very important that politicians play their proper role in these things and the independent authorities play their proper role. There will be a lot of evidence that people want to look at before reaching those decisions.
I welcome the publication of the report and the Prime Minister’s statement, like many families in Liverpool and across the north-west, but what lessons will be learned about shaping the scope of future inquests and making sure that they have access to all relevant information?
My hon. Friend asks an important question. I think that to answer it properly I will have to go away and look at all the things that have changed in the nature of establishing inquests and public inquiries, because we have probably made quite a few steps forward. However, to be fair to Lord Taylor and his report, it came down to what the families and others saw as the right conclusion—that a mistake by the police was the principal cause of the problem. One of the deeper problems in this whole case was that after that public inquiry, there was then the questionable inquest and the media narrative that sought to undermine what Lord Taylor had found. My hon. Friend makes the important point that we should try to learn the lessons about how, broadly, to hold inquiries and inquests and how important it is to make sure that they have access to all the information at the time.
I, too, add my voice to those who have thanked the Prime Minister, not just for his statement but for the sincerity with which it was made, and for the revelation that the appalling vista has become the atrocious truth. However, the sad fact remains that there is no effective sanction against an unwise and careless media. That issue still has to be addressed, and The Sun still has to be faced with the lies that it heaped upon the heads of the bereaved.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The Leveson inquiry is separately looking at the whole issue of how the press is regulated and how mistakes that are made are properly corrected. I think that everybody, including those in the press, recognises that the current system is not working and needs to be strengthened. There is then the whole question of whether that happens through strengthened self-regulation, independent regulation or statutory regulation, but that is what Leveson is there to look at.
I am a very large football fan from a family of football fans, and a number of Members in the Chamber also go to football matches and other sporting events. The hurt and the tragedy of waving loved ones off to a football match, only never to see them again, was compounded by the defamation of their characters afterwards. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister ask the Attorney-General to seek to bring a defamation charge against anybody who was found to have spread these vicious lies? Does he agree that an appropriate starting point to help heal the wounds of Hillsborough would be for tomorrow’s front page of The Sun to feature a picture of the Liverpool football club crest with one word, “Sorry”, written across it in bold?
I am sure that the Attorney-General will listen carefully to what my hon. Friend says. As I have said, a number of apologies have been made over the 23 years by police, newspapers and others. I think that what matters is that you have to properly think through what has happened, what went wrong, what was got wrong, what it is necessary to apologise for, and then really mean it when you do so. I feel that it is very important the Government apologise as clearly and frankly as I have today because there is proper new evidence showing that the families were right, that an injustice was done, and that that injustice was compounded by the false narrative that, if we are frank, I think lots of people went along with: we all thought there was some sort of grey area and asked why all this was going on. That is why it is necessary to pay tribute to those MPs, newspapers and family groups who kept the faith and kept campaigning because they knew an injustice had been done, they knew it was wrong and they suffered in the way they did. It is for newspapers to decide what to do themselves, and I think it is important that they really think it through and feel it before they do it.
I join others in thanking the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for the way in which they have apologised on behalf of all of us for what has happened over the past 23 years. I know that it will be of some relief to the families. Even for those of us who have campaigned on this issue for many years, this report is profoundly shocking. Is it not indicative of the utter failure of our legal system that it has taken the suggestion by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and me of a wholly exceptional arrangement to bring out, into the public domain, documents, truths and facts that were already there? This is new evidence only in the sense that it has been published. Does this not have a profound implication for how we deal in future with disasters and things that go wrong? What lessons can we all seek to learn from that?
The hon. Lady makes an extremely important point. It deserves a proper, thoughtful, considered answer, which is what we should try to address in this debate in the House of Commons. As has been said, there was a public inquiry, a coroner’s inquest and, quite rightly, by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), a judicial inquiry into what had happened, yet these processes did not turn up what the Bishop of Liverpool and his patient panel, with the full disclosure of information, have turned up. We need to ask ourselves why that happened. What needs to change when we investigate these things? I do not have the answers today, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary can think deeply about it before the debate in October.
I thank my right hon. Friend and the Leader of the Opposition for their courageous statements and apologies. Tears of sadness will still be shed in Liverpool, but tears of relief will also be shed that the unvarnished truth is finally out. I remember being a schoolgirl in Liverpool and people were shell-shocked by what happened that day, and that feeling will continue for many years to come. I am equally shell-shocked by the suggestion that 164 statements were doctored by the police, which suggests a level of criminal conspiracy that is absolutely shocking. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister ask the Home Secretary and whoever else can make this decision to start pursuing criminal charges against the people involved?
I know that my hon. Friend had a school-friend who died on that terrible day and I quite understand why she speaks with such power and force about it. The figures on the police statements are shocking. We all need to take time and read the report in full and try to see the full detail of what happened on that day. Obviously, any decisions about prosecution are for the relevant authorities but, as Members have said, it is shocking to read this. In the time that I have had this morning, I have not been able to go through it in great detail—I have seen the overview of what the panel has found and had a meeting with the Bishop of Liverpool last night—but even that completely takes your breath away when you read some of the things that he has found.
No words in the English language are good enough to describe the dignity, grace and courage shown by the families of the 96 loved ones we lost at Hillsborough. The police failed them, then the legal system failed them, but they never failed. Today we come together to receive the truth, so I thank the Prime Minister for his apology. Will he join me in hoping that all those who still suffer find some relief today and that all those who have lied and worsened that suffering feel shame in their hearts and say sorry? Will he confirm that the Government will now help us to move from the truth to justice, whether through a new inquest, accountability or further apologies? May it happen quickly.
The hon. Lady speaks with huge force and power and I agree with her every word. After truth has to come justice. For the families, nothing can bring back the loved ones they have lost, but I hope that, by revealing all this information and by the panel’s patient work in highlighting just how many things they were right about and the authorities were wrong about, they will be able to find greater peace in their hearts about their appalling losses. You never get back the loved ones you have lost, but at some stage you want at least some of the clouds to part and to see that you have got to the truth.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on an incredibly moving statement—as on the Saville inquiry, he struck exactly the right tone—and the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) on setting up the panel. When the Government have had a chance to study the full report, will the Prime Minister report back to the House on whether it sheds any light on why the Taylor inquiry did not have access to all the documents; why it did not examine the response of the emergency services; and what went wrong with the original inquest? Surely one of the ways in which we can honour the memory of the 96 is to ensure that, when future tragedies occur, people do not have to wait this long to find out the truth about how their loved ones died.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising the key questions, which are for Government to consider, because we are responsible for how these processes work. I do not have the answer today. Public inquiries and coroners’ inquests are supposed to get to the truth. They did not on this occasion and we have to answer why.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on his statement and on the fulsome apology that both he and the Leader of the Opposition have made today. The families fought long and hard for truth and justice, and they have glimpsed today the truth, which is unpalatable, disgraceful and frightening. May I therefore ask the Prime Minister to act urgently on this matter, because it needs to be redressed? Families in north Wales were, unfortunately, also affected by this terrible tragedy. Nothing less than justice will suffice, because they now believe that the moral authority of the state is at issue. It is that important.
I completely understand how those families will feel, now that, through the disclosure of these documents, we have got as close to the truth as I think we ever will. We have to understand, however, that in a democratic country governed by the rule of law it is not politicians who order prosecutions or apologies from others. Everyone has to take their own responsibility, and prosecutions and decisions of that kind must be taken in the proper way.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for their moving statements. On this day of truth, I am prouder than ever to be a Member of this House. Does the Prime Minister agree that the impact of this report will be felt not only in Liverpool but by Liverpool fans up and down the country? Many Liverpool fans in my constituency contacted me after the debate last October, and they too will see today as the first day of truth regarding the Hillsborough tragedy.
I hope that my hon. Friend is right that Liverpool fans the country over—the world over—will feel that way. As I have tried to explain, however, there is something else they need to feel, and that is not just that they have got to the truth but that the rest of the country now understands what this search for the truth was all about. That is so important in righting the wrongs of the past 23 years.
The Prime Minister delivered his statement with the clarity and sensitivity of somebody who knows what it is to lose a loved one. With Mr and Mrs Joynes, who then lived in my constituency, I attended a day of the inquest. It was one of the most harrowing events I have ever attended and it was offensive for the reasons the Prime Minister set out, but it was also ineffective, because of the deeply flawed decision on the 3.15 cut-off point. I accept that the Attorney-General has to follow the proper process, but I hope that when he considers the matter he will take into account just how deeply flawed the process was.
The right hon. Gentleman speaks with much power, having attended the inquest. The point is not only that it was 23 years ago and that inquests and the coroners’ system have moved on, but specifically that the decision on the 3.15 cut-off point, as detailed in the report, seems beyond defence. This has to be done properly, of course, but I hope that those who make the decision will consider that point carefully.
I thank my right hon. Friend and the Leader of the Opposition for their sensitive and entirely proper apologies. On hearing the grim revelation that many statements were deliberately altered, two potential criminal offences came to my mind—misconduct in public office and perverting the course of justice. Does my right hon. Friend share my expectation that any criminal investigation into these matters will be thorough and efficient?
I say to my hon. Friend, who has experience in these matters, that it is up to the authorities to study the report, what happened, why it happened, what police officers were told they were doing and were meant to do, and all the rest of it. That has to be carefully looked at by the correct authorities.
This is a hugely significant day for my constituents in Liverpool, and on their behalf I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his comments. He spoke about being sorry for a double injustice and about apologies over the past 23 years. I thank him and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for the evident sincerity of their apologies today. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking and paying tribute to the bereaved families and other campaigners for justice for their tireless campaign for truth and justice?
I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the families. When someone loses a loved one in the way the 96 families did, it must be tempting for them to try to put it behind them and move on—to find closure in some other way—so the fact that they have bravely campaigned for justice, knowing that they have not had the truth, is huge testament to them. I am grateful for his comments about what the Leader of the Opposition and I said. I feel strongly about this, like lots of people in the country, because until this matter was looked at carefully and really understood, too many people were willing to go along with the line, “Well, it’s all a grey area, it’s all terribly difficult. There’s been an inquiry and a coroner’s report. We’ve had a judicial review.” This shows that they were not good enough. This is not just for the people of Liverpool; it is for the rest of the country to understand what the people of Merseyside have been through.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. Everybody has to study the report and think about the consequences of what they did. What is new in the report is that it is not just about what the newspapers, particularly The Sun, did, but about where the information came from, how it was gleaned and the rest of it. People will want to consider that carefully before working out what to do next.
I have several constituents who lost loved ones, and I was in the stadium on the day, so may I thank the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for the tone of their statements and their apologies? We should also recognise the work of the previous Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), and the current Home Secretary, who ensured that the documents were actually delivered. What we have heard is shocking—I have had a brief glimpse at the report—but it is equally shocking that on almost every single thing that the family challenged, whether on the inquest, the 3.15 cut-off point, the post mortems or the police conspiracy, they have been proved right. That is a scandal. I welcome the fact that there will be a debate, but may we also be kept up to date on what is happening as a consequence of the report, any actions being taken and any lessons learned? The Home Secretary might want to start that when she makes her statement. The key thing is that we are kept up to date. Any documents relating to future decisions must also be made public and made available to the families and others who want to see them.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The Home Secretary and the Attorney-General are sitting here and saying that they will keep the House up to date—the Attorney-General with the decisions that he has to make and the Home Secretary with the lessons-learned exercise, which is clearly vital.
The report has highlighted so many areas where things went tragically wrong, but most importantly it has cleared the victims of any blame. I hope that this will bring relief to the families. Does the Prime Minister agree that the despicable journalism following the tragedy has had a devastating effect on the families, whose loved ones were smeared? Does he, like me and, as we just heard, my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke), hope that there will be a full front-page apology in tomorrow’s The Sun and from its proprietor to the people of Liverpool and Liverpool fans everywhere?
What my hon. Friend says is important. I have answered the question about how others need to face up to their own responsibilities. The newspaper reporting, the false police narrative and all those who coalesced around it not only did damage to Liverpool and the families but led to many in the rest of the country accepting that narrative. So this is not only an apology to Liverpool and Merseyside. It is an explanation to the rest of the country that these families were right and have been vindicated. They should be proud of that.
Is the Prime Minister aware that the author of the article referred to, “The Truth”, Kelvin MacKenzie, is still going around Britain standing by that story and has been employed by the BBC and other media outlets? Does the Prime Minister think that he is a suitable person to be employed by anyone?
Kelvin MacKenzie needs to face up to his own responsibilities. I have not had time to look at the detail of the media aspects, but we now have an account of what happened, where these false allegations came from, how they got into the newspapers, and what the newspapers, particularly The Sun, did to give them that prominence. Now it is all there, anyone with responsibility needs to face up to their responsibilities, and I very much hope that they will do so.
The events in Hillsborough stadium that day were undoubtedly a shocking tragedy. The subsequent investigation, cover-up and media coverage were a shocking travesty. To gain something positive from these awful events, what assurances can the Prime Minister give the House, and what have we learned, to ensure that these failings will not, and cannot, be repeated in the future?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Obviously, in terms of safety at football grounds, huge steps have been taken with all-seater stadiums, much better rules, far better knowledge about how to police football matches, and all the issues with crowd safety and the rest of it. There are no longer a lot of those terrible cages and things that were there in the past, and I think that we live in a different world. In learning from these inquiries, when a disaster such as this takes place it is important that we look at its causes and at what happened, rather than muddle it up with a whole lot of other issues, which I think is what far too many people did in this case.
I associate myself with the many tributes made this afternoon to the families and survivors of Hillsborough, whose tireless search for the truth has led to the publication of the report today. I also welcome the apologies from the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. The documents released confirm what has long been suspected by many: for 23 years a concerted cover-up based on smears and lies was conducted by the police, and others, against the victims and survivors of a terrible, terrible tragedy.
We know that the Prime Minister has had little time this morning to go through the report, but will he please commit to going through it after this debate, so that the families of the 96 know that the pursuit of justice is taking place at the highest level?
I can certainly give the hon. Lady that assurance. I received the report at 9.30 am. I had a briefing from the Bishop of Liverpool yesterday afternoon, which was very helpful, but I was not able to read the report until this morning before Prime Minister’s questions. I have read the summary, which I recommend to all Members of Parliament. It is a very good summary of what individual chapters find, and it links to the information that has been revealed. I am sure, however, that certain bits will require much closer study. Mention has been made of the alteration of the police reports and the importance of the media narrative, and we must also understand how so many of those things were left to lie for so long.
I am sure the Prime Minister will agree that the shocking findings that he revealed in his excellent statement show how right it was to establish the panel, and how right the families’ campaign has been over the years. I was present at Hillsborough on that day, and I was also leader of Sheffield city council. It is therefore relevant for me to reiterate today an unreserved apology on behalf of the city council for its failings in that terrible tragedy.
I revealed and released all my personal papers and documents to the panel, and I am sure the Prime Minister will join me in giving great credit to Ken Sutton and the panel’s support team for the helpful and professional way in which they have gone about their business. That contributed greatly to the production of this detailed and comprehensive report.
I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in praising Ken Sutton and the team who helped to put the report together. They have done an outstanding job in my view, and I think the way the report was released to the families first was absolutely right.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned that he was leader of Sheffield city council at the time, and it is greatly to his credit that, like others, he revealed all his papers, public and private, to the report. This is not a public inquiry or a coroner’s report. The inquiry is a proper trawl though all the relevant documentation in order to draw conclusions. There may be lessons that we can learn for other cases. Because everything is revealed, a report of this nature could be the right way to get to the truth, rather than a public inquiry.
One of those who died was 18-year-old Christopher Devonside. Christopher’s father, Barry, will welcome what the Prime Minister had to say about a potential new inquest, because that is something he and his family have called for, along with many others.
I add my voice to those who have already mentioned accountability and potential criminal proceedings. As a result of what we have heard today, and what is no doubt detailed in the report, Barry and many other families will think such proceedings entirely appropriate.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of accountability, and there are processes through which that is meant to happen. In this case, the chief constable of South Yorkshire offered his resignation right at the beginning, but it was not accepted by the South Yorkshire police authority. We must think through how we can hold public authorities to account and the processes by which that happens. Even 23 years on, it is completely open for the authorities to look at the new evidence and to draw the conclusions they choose.
On behalf of my constituents who lost members of their family, I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, the contents of which this House and the country will find chilling and must hold huge lessons for public services, particularly the police.
The Prime Minister rightly says that there is now a huge amount of information that those of us with an interest in this matter can read and think about carefully, and that obviously includes the Government. When the Government have completed that process, and the Prime Minister is clearer in his mind about the next steps to be taken, will he come to Liverpool and meet the families—given the catastrophic effect that this whole event had on Liverpool and the surrounding region—and tell them first what those next steps will be?
I have listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman. There is a lot of merit in what he has said so let me consider it. From everything that I have read so far, the most important next step concerns the role of the Attorney-General and consideration of an inquest. The report has identified a huge number of faults along the road, but in a tragedy such as this, the key determinants of the truth should be the public inquiry and the inquest.
Let me repeat that in the view of the families and of what we subsequently know, Lord Justice Taylor came to the right conclusion about the culpability of the police. The inquest is where major question marks arise, and that is where I think families will rightly focus. If we are thinking about next steps, there are lessons for the Government and a debate in the House, but consideration of an inquest is the most important next step to be taken. As I have said, that is a matter for the Attorney-General, and he has to stand aside from Government. In the end, an inquest can be ordered only by the High Court. That is how the processes work, and it is important that everyone, including the families, understands that.
I join those who have paid tribute to the members of the panel, and to the thorough way they have discharged their duties. I also pay tribute to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for the dignified manner in which they have led the House in its initial response to the findings in the report. The original inquest took place in the city of Sheffield, and the families of those who died will have bitter memories of the process and the conclusions drawn. I therefore ask the Prime Minister to ensure that if and when a new inquest is authorised, it does not take place in Sheffield. It is absolutely imperative that we minimise the distress to the families involved.
I join other hon. Members in welcoming the full and fluent apology from the Prime Minister, and the profound words of the Leader of the Opposition. Those words are authoritative because they rest on the diligent work of the panel that the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) was so right to establish. The Prime Minister will know that Bloody Sunday families and survivors in my constituency have a profound empathy with those Hillsborough families that have struggled with grief compounded by grievance, and endured injustice, insult and indifference. Does the Prime Minister recognise that this report will not only mean that Hillsborough families are overcome with a sense of vindication, but that it will also provoke many other mixed and difficult emotions and issues? Will he ensure that relevant services are supported and supplemented to help the families and survivors of Hillsborough with those needs?
I am sure that with his experience of Bloody Sunday and the Saville inquiry, the hon. Gentleman is completely right to say that the families will need a lot of support and help as they digest what is in the report. The commonality, as it were, of the two things, is that a Government should not make an apology just because something bad happened some time ago. The apology should be in respect of the fact that there is new information that injustice took place and was allowed to lie for far too long, and that false stories were got up about what happened. That is why an apology is not only right, but the necessary and correct thing to do, and that is where there is common ground between the two issues raised by the hon. Gentleman.
On behalf of my constituents who lost family members and friends, I thank the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for the dignified way in which they have dealt with this very difficult statement.
One of the first questions raised with me by a constituent when I was first elected some 20 years ago was this: who gave the authority to start the misinformation through the police to the media and so on? Is the Prime Minister satisfied that he can identify those persons, and those persons who were subsequently involved in the cover-up to protect the person who started the misinformation? That is a key question. The hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) put it exactly right: there ought to be prosecutions on that point.
The hon. Gentleman asks the right question. It is necessary to study the report. The families have long believed that, although the Taylor inquiry came to the correct conclusion about police culpability, there was then a move engineered by some police officers—I believe there is evidence in the report about this—to try to put forward an alternative narrative, which was wrong, deeply insulting and very hurtful. That and new evidence on it is contained in the report, which is worth while.
I echo the sentiments of the statements of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, and thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) for setting up the inquiry. Those who have died cannot come back, but does the Prime Minister agree that their families can be assisted by two things at least? First, although I accept that politicians cannot make the emergency services and public officials apologise, perhaps the Prime Minister could ask the Mayor of London for an apology for the derogatory comments he made about the people of Merseyside many years ago as a result of the Hillsborough disaster. Secondly, in the light of the clear dereliction of duty and negligence by the emergency services and the police, will the Prime Minister consider setting up a compensation fund to make ex gratia payments to the victims’ families, so that they do not have to go through a lengthy legal process to get compensation?
The hon. Lady makes a number of points. On what the Mayor of London or others have said, the report is important. As I have said, for people right across the country, whether they are in positions of power and influence or not, the report is the proper explanation of what happened. People who thought that something else happened need to come to their senses and realise what actually happened. One of the moments that struck me in trying to understand what happened was when the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) gave that address to the fans on that anniversary. When those of us who are not from Merseyside and who have not followed this as closely as others saw just how many people turned out on that day, we also saw just what an enormous sense of outrage and injustice remained. That was an important moment. It is now for others to understand that the truth is out. Everyone needs to come to terms with it and to make the right arrangements.
I thank the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition very deeply for their comments and apologies, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) for establishing the inquiry in the first place. It will come as some comfort to the families of my constituents who died at Hillsborough on that day.
The issue of accountability is central to the debate today. Has the Prime Minister had any indication as yet on which police force could take forward any future investigation? What process does he expect to undertake to bring to account those who have allegedly taken part in criminal activity?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question, but we received the report at 9.30 am, so it clearly has not been possible to make those considerations. The Government often—not always—get a public inquiry report and are able to consider it and put more into lining up all the elements that must come next. In this situation, the report was rightly given to the families first. I have had time for a very brief look and some explanation, but the sort of questions he asks will take longer to answer.
In welcoming the Prime Minister’s statement and thanking him and the Leader of the Opposition for what they have said, may I raise one point with the Prime Minister? He has mentioned “new evidence” and “new documentation” a number of times, but the truth is that it is not new—the vast majority was old but buried and concealed. We have heard that the Prime Minister at the time was advised by her private secretary that
“the defensive and…‘close to deceitful’ behaviour of senior South Yorkshire officers was ‘depressingly familiar.’”
We have also been told that the report says that no Government have tried to conceal the truth. The real question for politicians is this: what failures did politicians create in not trying to expose the truth?
Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on it. When I said “new evidence”, I suppose I meant “newly published evidence”. The inquiry has not uncovered things that did not previously exist—they existed but were not published, so their publication is what is new today. The really important point he makes will take careful consideration, and those in government at the time will want to think this through and provide their own answers. The sense I get from the limited look I have had at the report is that advice went to Ministers that the behaviour was “depressingly familiar” and that the chief constable should resign. The question then is whether the output of that advice resulted in enough action by that Government and subsequent ones to blow away the false narrative that was building up. That is a very important question that people will want to consider.
The Prime Minister has done a good thing today and he has done it well. Surely to God the role of the media should have been to uncover the corruption and the lies, and not to try to mask the corruption in the police or effectively to perpetuate it. I know the Prime Minister is very reluctant to tell people who should make apologies, but I have tried so many times on television and radio programmes to get Kelvin MacKenzie just to say the simple word “sorry” unambiguously, because every ambiguous apology hurts more than saying nothing. Surely to God The Sun tomorrow should just say sorry. Surely to God Kelvin MacKenzie, if he is to go on any media outlet at all, should be saying sorry. For that matter, surely The Spectator should say sorry too.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. We should not forget that some media publications stood up for the families, examined the issue and helped to get to the truth. We should therefore not try to blacken the name of everyone in one go. Clearly, The Sun has always been up there because of that appalling article—“The Truth”—and the appalling things written in it. My view is that Kelvin MacKenzie needs to take responsibility for that and he should be very clear about it, but it is for others to decide. My understanding is that The Sun and the police have apologised in the past. Lots of apologies have been made, but the point is that we now have a definitive guide to what happened. Now is the time for not only the proper, heartfelt “I’m sorry”, but the “Here’s what I got wrong and here’s what I regret.” It is like what we say when we deal with our children: sorry is not good enough unless people understand what they screwed up in the first place.
It is clear from the Prime Minister’s welcome and important statement that the prevailing cultures in the Murdoch press, the police, and health and safety, played their part in the disaster and the injustice that followed. Will the Prime Minister undertake to reflect soberly and seriously on health and safety to ensure that there is never a return to the slack culture that led to this tragedy?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. When we talk about trying to deregulate and take small businesses out of health and safety, it is not to say that we do not need higher standards of safety when there are important issues such as large crowds in big public gatherings. However, in recent years, we have had too much form over substance. What really matters in health and safety is the substance and looking at real risks rather than thinking that some micro-business that has nothing to do with health and safety needs the same sort of regulation as a football ground.
I welcome the important statements from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon. Notwithstanding the point that the Prime Minister made about the process, may I reiterate to him the inadequacy of the inquest? Up to 59 of those 96 people could have had a different outcome, judging by the statement he has made today. The people who have been affected will not feel a sense of justice being begun to be done while that flawed, inadequate and shoddy inquest remains on the record.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. There is an entire chapter in the report—chapter 8—on the coroner’s inquiry. There is also an additional entire chapter on the 3.15 cut-off—which is an important point that hon. Members will want to look at carefully—and it seems, from a preliminary reading, to be extremely powerful.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and for speaking not just for the Government, but for the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We are deeply indebted to him for that. I was aware of some of the issues, but on TV this morning there was one lady who had lost two children and another lady who had lost one child. The rawness of what took place 23 years ago was clear in their faces, and it is clear from the families of the 96 victims, who live with the grief of what took place. Whenever another inquiry or inquest takes place, as it will, what assurance can the Prime Minister give the House that the sensitivity that is needed for the families, who are still grieving today, 23 years later, will be ensured?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I am sure that the Attorney-General, the Home Secretary and others will listen closely to it. If the decision to hold a fresh inquest goes ahead, clearly an enormous amount of thought would have to be put into where it is held, how it is held and how to deal with what are incredibly sensitive issues after 23 years. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that, and if that were to happen, we should discuss it nearer the time.