With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the Hillsborough stadium disaster, the determinations and findings of the fresh inquests presided over by Sir John Goldring, and the steps that will now take place.
Twenty-seven years ago, the terrible events of Saturday 15 April 1989 shocked this country and devastated a community. That afternoon, as thousands of fans were preparing to watch the FA cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, a crush developed in the central pens of the Leppings Lane terrace. Ninety-six men, women and children lost their lives as a result. Hundreds more were injured, and many were left traumatised.
It was this country’s worst disaster at a sporting event. For the families and survivors, the search to get to the truth of what happened on that day has been long and arduous. They observed the judicial inquiry led by Lord Justice Taylor. They gave evidence to the original inquests, which recorded a verdict of accidental death. They have seen further scrutiny, reviews and a private prosecution. They suffered the injustice of hearing the victims—their loved ones and fellow supporters—being blamed. They have heard the shocking conclusions of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, and they have now once again given evidence to the fresh inquests presided over by Sir John Goldring.
I have met members of the Hillsborough families on a number of occasions and, in their search for truth and justice, I have never failed to be struck by their extraordinary dignity and determination. I do not think it is possible for any of us truly to understand what they have been through—not only in losing their loved ones in such horrific circumstances that day, but in hearing finding after finding over 27 years telling them something that they believed to be fundamentally untrue. Quite simply, they have never given up.
I also take this opportunity to pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who has campaigned so tirelessly over the years on the families’ behalf, and also to the hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), for Halton (Derek Twigg), for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) and for Wirral South (Alison McGovern).
Yesterday, the fresh inquest into the deaths at Hillsborough gave its determinations and findings. Its establishment followed the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, chaired by Bishop James Jones. The contents of that report were so significant that it led to the new inquests and to two major new criminal investigations: one by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which examined the actions of the police in the aftermath of Hillsborough, and a second criminal investigation, Operation Resolve, led by Jon Stoddart, the former chief constable of Durham.
Since the fresh inquests opened in Warrington on 31 March 2014, the jury has heard 296 days of evidence. They ran for more than two years and were part of the longest running inquest process in British legal history. I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in thanking the jury for the important task it has undertaken and the significant civic duty the jurors have performed.
I will turn now to the jury’s determinations and findings. In its deliberations, the jury was asked to answer 14 general questions covering the role of South Yorkshire police, the South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service, Sheffield Wednesday football club and Hillsborough stadium’s engineers, Eastwood and Partners. In addition, the jury was also required to answer two questions specific to each of the individual deceased relating to the time and medical cause of their death. I would like to put on the record the jury’s determinations in full. They are as follows.
Question 1: do you agree with the following statement, which is intended to summarise the basic facts of the disaster?
“Ninety-six people died as a result of the Disaster at Hillsborough Stadium on 15 April 1989 due to crushing in the central pens of the Leppings Lane Terrace, following the admission of a large number of supporters to the Stadium through exit gates.”
Question 2: was there any error or omission in police planning and preparation for the semi-final match on 15 April 1989 which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed on the day of the match?
Question 3: was there any error or omission in policing on the day of the match which caused or contributed to a dangerous situation developing at the Leppings Lane turnstiles?
Question 4: was there any error or omission by commanding officers which caused or contributed to the crush on the terrace?
Question 5: when the order was given to open the exit gates at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium, was there any error or omission by the commanding officers in the control box which caused or contributed to the crush on the terrace?
Question 6: are you satisfied, so that you are sure, that those who died in the disaster were unlawfully killed?
Question 7: was there any behaviour on the part of football supporters which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles?
Further to question 7: was there any behaviour on the part of football supporters which may have caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles?
Question 8: were there any features of the design, construction and layout of the stadium which you consider were dangerous or defective and which caused or contributed to the disaster?
Question 9: was there any error or omission in the safety certification and oversight of Hillsborough stadium that caused or contributed to the disaster?
Question 10: was there any error or omission by Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and its staff in the management of the stadium and/or preparation for the semi-final match on 15 April 1989 which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed on the day of the match?
Question 11: was there any error or omission by Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and its staff on 15 April 1989 which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed at the Leppings Lane turnstiles and in the west terrace?
Further to question 11: was there any error or omission by Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and its staff on 15 April 1989 which may have caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed at the Leppings Lane turnstiles and in the west terrace?
Question 12: should Eastwood and Partners have done more to detect and advise on any unsafe or unsatisfactory features of Hillsborough stadium which caused or contributed to the disaster?
Question 13: after the crush in the west terrace had begun to develop, was there any error or omission by the police which caused or contributed to the loss of lives in the disaster?
Question 14: after the crush in the west terrace had begun to develop, was there any error or omission by the ambulance service, SYMAS, which caused or contributed to the loss of lives in the disaster?
Finally, the jury also recorded the cause and time of death for each of the 96 men, women and children who died at Hillsborough. In all but one case, the jury recorded a time bracket running beyond the 3.15 pm cut-off point adopted by the coroner at the original inquests. These determinations were published yesterday by the coroner, and I would urge the reading of each and every part in order to understand fully the outcome of the inquests.
The jury also heard evidence about the valiant efforts made by many of the fans to rescue those caught up in the crush. Their public spiritedness is to be commended and I am sure that the House will want to take this opportunity to recognise what they did in those terrible circumstances. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]
Clearly, the jury’s determination that those who died were unlawfully killed is of great public importance. It overturns in the starkest way possible the verdict of accidental death returned at the original inquests. However, the jury’s findings do not, of course, amount to a finding of criminal liability, and no one should impute criminal liability to anyone while the ongoing investigations are still pending.
Elsewhere, the jury noted that commanding officers should have ordered the closure of the central tunnel before the opening of gate C was requested, as pens 3 and 4 were full. They should have established the number of fans still to enter the stadium after 2.30 pm, and they failed to recognise that pens 3 and 4 were at capacity before gate C was opened.
Although the inquests have concluded, this is not the end of the process. The decision about whether any criminal prosecution or prosecutions can be brought forward will be made by the Crown Prosecution Service on the basis of evidence gathered as part of the two ongoing investigations. That decision is not constrained in any way by the jury’s conclusions.
The House will understand that I cannot comment in detail on matters that may lead to a criminal investigation. I can, however, say that the offences under investigation include gross negligence manslaughter, misconduct in public office, perverting the course of justice and perjury, as well as offences under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
I know that those responsible for the police and Independent Police Complaints Commission investigations anticipate that they will conclude the criminal investigations by the turn of the year. We must allow them to complete their work in a timely and thorough manner, and we must be mindful not to prejudice the outcome in any way.
I have always been clear that the Government will support the families in their quest for justice, so throughout the ongoing investigations we will ensure that support remains in place in three ways.
First, the family forums, which have provided the families with a regular and structured means of engaging with the investigative teams and the CPS, will continue. They will remain under Bishop James Jones’s chairmanship, in a similar format, but will reflect the fact that they will be operating after the inquests. The CPS, the IPCC and Operation Resolve will remain part of the forums.
Secondly, now that the inquests have concluded, it is the intention to reconstitute the Hillsborough article 2 reference group, whose work has been in abeyance during the course of the inquests, under revised terms of reference. The group has two members: Sir Stephen Sedley, a retired lord justice of appeal, and Dr Silvia Casale, an independent criminologist.
Thirdly, we want to ensure that the legal representation scheme for the bereaved families continues. This was put in place, with funding from the Government, following the original inquests’ verdicts being quashed. Discussions are currently taking place with the families’ legal representatives to see how best the scheme can be continued.
In addition, I am keen that we understand and learn from the families’ experiences. I have therefore asked Bishop James, who is my adviser on Hillsborough, to write a report which draws on these experiences. This report will be published in due course to ensure that the full perspective of those most affected by the Hillsborough disaster is not lost.
I would like to express my thanks to Bishop James again for his invaluable advice over the years. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] There is further work to be done, so I have asked Bishop James to remain as my adviser, and I am pleased to say that he has agreed to do so.
The conclusion of the inquests brings to an end an important step since the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report. Thanks to that report and now the determinations of the inquests, we know the truth of what happened on that day at Hillsborough. Naturally, the families will want to reflect on yesterday’s historic outcome, which is of national significance.
I am clear that this raises significant issues for the way that the state and its agencies deal with disasters. Once the formal investigations are concluded, we should step back, reflect and act, if necessary, so that we can better respond to disasters and ensure that the suffering of families is taken into account.
But I want to end by saying this. For 27 years, the families and survivors of Hillsborough have fought for justice. They have faced hostility, opposition and obfuscation, and the authorities, which should have been trusted, have laid blame and tried to protect themselves, instead of acting in the public interest.
But the families have never faltered in their pursuit of the truth. Thanks to their actions, they have brought about a proper reinvestigation and a thorough re-evaluation of what happened at Hillsborough. That they have done so is extraordinary. I am sure the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to their courage, determination and resolve. We should also remember those who have, sadly, passed away while still waiting for justice. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]
No one should have to endure what the families and survivors have been through. No one should have to suffer the loss of their loved ones through such appalling circumstances, and no one should have to fight year after year, decade after decade, in search of the truth.
I hope that, for the families and survivors, who have been through such difficult times, yesterday’s determinations will bring them closer towards the peace they have been so long denied. I commend this statement to the House. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]
I thank the Home Secretary for her powerful statement and her kind words. At long last, justice—for the 96, for their families, for all Liverpool supporters, for an entire city. But it took too long in coming, and the struggle for it took too great a toll on too many. Now, those responsible must be held to account for 96 unlawful deaths and a 27-year cover-up.
Thankfully, the jury saw through the lies. I am sure—to repeat what the Home Secretary said—that the House will join me in thanking the jury for their devotion to this task and for giving two years of their lives to this important public duty.
When it came, their verdict was simple, clear, powerful and emphatic, but it begged the question: how could something so obvious have taken so long? There are three reasons: first, a police force that has consistently put protecting itself over and above protecting people harmed by Hillsborough; secondly, collusion between that force and a complicit print media; and thirdly, a flawed judicial system that gives the upper hand to those in authority, over and above ordinary people. Let me take each of those issues in turn, starting with South Yorkshire police.
Can the Home Secretary assure me that there will be no holding back in pursuing prosecutions? The CPS has said that files will be submitted by December. While we understand the complexity, can she urge it to do whatever it can to bring that date forward?
Of course, the behaviour of some officers, while reprehensible, was not necessarily chargeable, but, through retirement, police officers can still escape misconduct proceedings. In her Policing and Crime Bill, the Home Secretary proposes a 12-month period after retirement where proceedings can be initiated, but one of the lessons of Hillsborough is that there can be no arbitrary time limits on justice and accountability. Will the Home Secretary work with me to insert a Hillsborough clause into her Bill, ending the scandal of retirement as an escape route and of wrongdoers claiming full pensions? Will she join me in making sure that that applies retrospectively?
The much bigger question for South Yorkshire police to answer today is this: why, at this inquest, did they go back on their 2012 public apology? When the Lord Chief Justice quashed the original inquest, he requested that the new one not degenerate into an “adversarial battle”. Sadly, that is exactly what happened. Shamefully, the cover-up continued in that Warrington courtroom. Millions of pounds of public money was spent retelling discredited lies against Liverpool supporters. Lawyers for retired officers threw disgusting slurs around; those for today’s force tried to establish that others were responsible for the opening of the gate. If the police had chosen to maintain their apology, this inquest would have been much shorter. But they did not, and they put the families through hell once again. It pains me to say it, but the NHS, through the Yorkshire ambulance service, was guilty of the same.
Does the Home Secretary agree that, because of his handling of this inquest, the position of the South Yorkshire chief constable is now untenable? Does she further agree that the problems go deeper? I promised the families the full truth about Hillsborough. I do not believe they will have it until we know the truth about Orgreave. This force used the same underhand tactics against its own people in the aftermath of the miners’ strike that it would later use to more deadly effect against the people of Liverpool. There has been an IPCC report on Orgreave, but parts of it are redacted. It has been put to me that those parts contain evidence of direct links between Orgreave and Hillsborough.
This is a time for transparency, not secrecy—time for the people of South Yorkshire to know the full truth about their police force. So will the Home Secretary accept the legal submission from the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign and set up a disclosure process? This force has not learned and has not changed. Let me be clear. I do not blame the ordinary police officers—the men and women who did their very best on that day and who today are out there keeping our streets safe—but I do blame their leadership and culture, which seems rotten to the core. Orgreave, Hillsborough, Rotherham: how much more evidence do we need before we act? So will the Home Secretary now order the fundamental reform of this force and consider all potential options?
Let me turn to collusion between police and the media. The malicious briefings given in the aftermath were devastatingly efficient. They created a false version of events which lingered until yesterday. No one in the police or media has ever been held to account for the incalculable harm they caused in smearing a whole city in its moment of greatest grief. Imagine how it felt to be my constituent Lee Walls, who came through gate C just before 3 pm with his friend Carl Brown. Carl died but Lee survived, but days later he had to read that he was to blame. Given the weakness of the press regulatory system back then, the survivors of this tragedy had no ability to correct the lies. But is it any different today? If a tragedy like Hillsborough were to happen now, victims would not be able quickly to undo the damage of a misleading front page. Leveson recommended a second-stage inquiry to look at the sometimes unhealthy relationship between police and press. I know the Hillsborough families feel strongly that this should be taken forward. So will the Government end the delay and honour the Prime Minister’s promises to the victims of press intrusion?
I turn to the judicial system. I attended this inquest on many occasions. I saw how hard it was on the families: trapped for two years in a temporary courtroom; told to show no emotion as police lawyers smeared the dead and those who survived—beyond cruel. I welcome Bishop James’s new role in explaining just how cruel this was to the House and to the country. The original inquest was similarly brutal, but that did not even get to the truth. Just as the first inquest muddied the waters after the clarity of the Taylor report, so this inquest, at moments, lost sight of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report. One of the reasons why it produced a different outcome, though, is that this time the families had the best lawyers in the land. If they could have afforded them back in 1990, history might have been very different. At many inquests today there is often a mismatch between the legal representation of public bodies and those of the bereaved. Why should the authorities be able to spend public money like water to protect themselves when families have no such help? So will the Government consider further reforms to the coronial system, including giving the bereaved at least equal legal funding as public bodies? This, the longest case in English legal history, must mark a watershed in how victims are treated.
The last question is for us in this House. What kind of country leaves people who did no more than wave off their loved ones to a football match still sitting in a courtroom 27 years later begging for the reputations of their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and fathers? The answer is one that needs now to do some deep soul-searching. This cover-up went right to the top. It was advanced in the Committee Rooms of this House and in the press rooms of 10 Downing Street. It persisted because of collusion between elites in politics—on both sides—police and the media. But this Home Secretary stood outside of that. Today I express my sincere admiration and gratitude to her for the stance she has consistently taken in righting this wrong.
But my final words go to the Hillsborough families. I think of those who did not live to see this day: of the courageous Anne Williams; of my constituent Stephen Whittle, the “97th victim”, who gave his own ticket to a friend on the morning of the match and later took his own life. I think of people like Phil Hammond, who sacrificed his own health to this struggle. I think of the many people who died from outside Merseyside, recognising that this was not just Liverpool’s but the country’s tragedy. I think of Leigh lad Carl Brown and his devoted mum Delia who still visits his grave most days. I think of Trevor and Jenni Hicks and their heart-breaking testimony to the new inquest. But I think most of my friend Margaret Aspinall. She did not just sacrifice everything for her own son James: she took on the heavy burden of fighting for everyone else’s loved ones—and, by God, didn’t she do them proud? It has been the privilege of my life to work with them all. They have prevailed against all the odds. They have kept their dignity in the face of terrible adversity. They could not have shown a more profound love for those they lost on that day. They truly represent the best of what our country is all about. Now it must reflect on how it came to let them down for so long. [Applause.]
May I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his words, and particularly for his kind words about myself? May I, as I said in my opening statement, once again commend him for the way in which he has stood by the families for so long and carried their cause in this House, and indeed in government when he was in government?
I will respond to some of the right hon. Gentleman’s specific points, but first to the final point that he made. It is absolutely right, as was reflected in the statement that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made after the independent panel’s report came out, that what the families faced was a combination of the state in all its various forms not believing them, all the various attempts, as the right hon. Gentleman said, to cover up what had really happened, together with other agencies—the media and others—and indeed, dare I say it, most of the general public believing the stories that they read about the fans. To have stood against that for so long shows steel and determination but also an affection for their lost loved ones and a passionate desire for justice for those who died that is, as I said, extraordinary. I think we will rarely see the like again.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s individual questions, he asked me about the time for the files to be prepared by the two investigations. Both Operation Resolve and the IPCC say that they expect to have those case files prepared by the end of the year—I recognise that for the families this is a further wait—and there will be then be a period of time for the Crown Prosecution Service to consider them. I think everybody recognises—including those bodies, because they do of course interact with the families through the family forums—the importance of doing this in a timely fashion, but it is also important that it is done properly and thoroughly. I do not want to see anything in the way of this being done in the right way.
On the retirement of police officers, I have always felt that it is wrong that police officers should be able to avoid misconduct or gross misconduct proceedings by being able to retire or resign. That is why we have already changed the disciplinary arrangements; and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, we have a clause in the Policing and Crime Bill. I, or the Policing Minister, will be very happy to meet him or the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) to discuss the various issues in relation to that matter.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Orgreave. Together with the hon. Members for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) and for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), I met representatives from Orgreave last year. I then received a submission from Michael Mansfield QC on behalf of the relevant group, and that is being considered.
We have always said that a decision on Leveson 2 will be made when all the investigations have been completed. Some cases are still being considered, so that point has not arrived.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the availability of funding for families at inquests. That is precisely the sort of issue that can be encompassed in the work that Bishop James Jones will do in hearing from the families about their direct experience and reflecting that to Government. As I said, it is right and appropriate that we then take a clear look at what further action we need to take.
Nobody should be in any doubt about the experience that the families had to go through at the inquests in not being able to show any emotion. The right hon. Gentleman referred to that. Also, for 27 years, many people did not know what had actually happened to their loved ones. They did not know how or at what time they died. Those details have come out only through the inquest. It must have been particularly difficult to sit through that, but I hope that the families have now found some peace through the truth coming out.
I am very pleased that the efforts of the families and of the independent review panel, which did such outstanding work, have contributed to the outcome that entirely vindicates the position that they both adopted. I am also pleased if the small Department that I led at the time played a role in bringing that about.
The key issue is not that people make mistakes, because in human society mistakes will always be made, sometimes with catastrophic consequences. The real issue that should concern the House is that, in a society that counts itself as civilised and subject to the rule of law, it appears that for such a long time it was impossible to get redress and a proper examination of the issues. I regret to say that this is not a unique event, as there have been other occasions in the House when we have had to consider the implications of similar events in other circumstances. Bloody Sunday springs to mind.
The lesson that the House needs to take away is that we must subject ourselves and our institutions to quite a lot of self-examination and maintain that if we are to ensure that we do not have a repetition of this deplorable episode. I am not sure about the best way to do that. I simply say to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—she has done everything right in respect of this, and I commend her approach—that it is a question not just of the systems that we have in place but of some of the underlying attitudes. When uncomfortable truths float across the horizon, there is a temptation to try to brush them away because they confront us with difficulties that make us uncomfortable. If we tackle that, we can ensure not only that we do justice to the families in this matter, but that, in so far as is humanly possible, we do not repeat this.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his remarks and for the role that he played in ensuring that fresh inquests could take place. He is right: it is a question not just of systems but of attitudes. I have seen that in other areas, for example, in the work that we are doing on deaths in custody and in hearing from families in those cases. As I said, often, the institutions that should be the ones that people can trust to get to the truth combine to protect themselves. They have a natural instinct to look inwards and protect themselves rather than doing what is right in the public interest. My right hon. and learned Friend is also right that we can change the systems all we like, but it is really about changing attitudes and saying that those institutions are there to serve the public and that they should always put the public interest first.
I thank the Home Secretary for her immensely dignified and thorough statement. I also welcome the jury’s determination and findings.
On behalf of the Scottish National party, I would like to acknowledge the heroic struggle for justice of the friends and relatives of the 96 dead. I also acknowledge the heroic struggle for justice of the shadow Home Secretary and others on the official Opposition Benches.
Today, we must also remember the 96 dead: decent people from all walks of life who were failed by the police and the emergency services—the very ones who should have been there to help them in their hour of need. Yesterday’s verdict follows 27 years of concealment of the truth and mudslinging at dead innocents. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) that Hillsborough must rank alongside Bloody Sunday as one of the most disgraceful establishment cover-ups of our time.
The ruling confirms that some police officers behaved abominably and I note the shadow Home Secretary’s words about their being from the same force that so brutally repressed the miners’ strike. I was very pleased to hear what the Home Secretary said about that. Will she acknowledge the impact that the behaviour of some police officers has had on public confidence in the police and assure us that such actions can never happen again?
I am sure that elements of the media will also have learned a lesson, but, as the shadow Home Secretary said, will they ever be held to account? I think that the Conservative party has learned a lesson from this because, as has been said, the Home Secretary’s actions have been exemplary when compared with the attitude of the Cabinet at the time. Will she assure us that such a miscarriage of justice will never be allowed to happen again?
Justice delayed is justice denied. Now we have the truth, but accountability must follow, so what happens next is crucial. Does the Home Secretary agree that, where there are strongly founded allegations that police officers may have perverted the course of justice, or given misleading information to the media, MPs and this Parliament, or perjured themselves, appropriate action and prosecutions must be seen to follow swiftly?
I also echo the shadow Home Secretary’s comments about concerns that 30 police officers avoided disciplinary action by retiring to enjoy a full pension. Will the Home Secretary take steps to ensure that that cannot happen again?
I welcome the Home Secretary’s intention to reconstitute the Hillsborough article 2 reference group—article 2 of the European convention on human rights. Without the Human Rights Act and the procedural obligation on the state to investigate deaths properly under article 2 of the ECHR, the second inquest would never have happened, and the families might never have got justice. Will she and the Government please bear that in mind when they consider their attitude towards human rights and the ECHR in this Union of nations?
The hon and learned Lady mentioned public confidence in the police and it is correct to say that this shattered some people’s confidence in the police. The representative from the IPPC made the point to the media yesterday that for some people in Liverpool, their trust in the police was severely damaged, if not destroyed, as a result of what they had seen. However, in talking about the actions of police officers at Hillsborough that day, we should recognise that some officers actively tried to help the fans and do the right thing.
On police responsibilities and attitudes, the College of Policing has introduced a code of ethics for police. We need to ensure that that is embedded throughout police forces, but it is an important step forward.
The hon. and learned Lady asked about ensuring that prosecutions take place where there is evidence of criminal activity. Of course, that is entirely a decision for the CPS. We must leave it to make that decision independently, as we must leave the police investigation and the IPPC investigation to prepare their cases independently.
On the hon. and learned Lady’s final point, I simply observe that we have had the coronial process in the UK for a considerable time, and the right to request an inquest and to request fresh inquests long before the ECHR was put in place.
May I, too, pay tribute to all those who worked so hard to see that justice was done in this case, and to the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary for their very balanced approach?
Does the Home Secretary agree that it is important that we learn lessons? For example, although the court process is inevitably stressful for victims and witnesses, as I know, none the less in this case the coroner and the jury did their duty and have proved that the jury system can be capable of grappling with the most complex and distressing of cases. That is to the system’s credit.
Will the Home Secretary also look at ensuring that there is proper equality of arms with regard to access to justice on such matters? That is fundamental to our rule of law? The Crown Prosecution Service must now consider and deal with a considerable volume of work and material. I note, for example, that some 238 police statements are said to have been altered in one way or another. Will the Home Secretary therefore discuss with the Treasury and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General whether some blockbuster funding could be made available to deal with the pressures of resourcing the Crown Prosecution Service in this case, and whether the approach could be similar to that taken towards the Serious Fraud Office when it has to undertake major and unexpected inquiries?
My hon. Friend will have noted that the Attorney General is sitting on the Treasury Bench and has therefore heard what he said about funding this sort of case. On my hon. Friend’s first point, he is absolutely right about the importance of the jury system. This shows the value of our jury system, and I repeat what I said in my statement: for people on the jury to have been prepared to take two years to ensure that justice was done in this case is absolutely commendable. They have shown considerable civic duty and our thanks go to them.
May I say first of all that the response by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) to the statement will reverberate throughout Merseyside and all around the country? I also praise the Home Secretary for all she has done to bring about yesterday’s momentous decision: thank you from the families.
On 15 April 1989, as fans walked away from an FA cup semi-final in Sheffield, we knew then that the disaster was not our fault. Almost immediately, however, lies and smears were being peddled, and within hours an orchestrated cover-up was in full swing. It took political intervention to force the judicial process of this country to take 27 years to recognise what we knew from day one—that Hillsborough was not an accident; that fans did not open a gate; that drunken and ticketless fans did not turn up late, hellbent on getting in; and that it was not caused by a drunken, “tanked-up mob”. Instead, 96 people were unlawfully killed.
Those who doubted must now recognise the true story of the efforts of my fellow supporters and their acts of self-sacrifice and heroism as they battled to save the lives of their fellow fans, and consign to the dustbin of history the lurid tabloid headlines that vilified them.
Despite the inquest being adversarial, not inquisitorial, yesterday’s verdict was unequivocal: Liverpool supporters were totally absolved of any blame and did not contribute to the disaster in any way. As someone once said:
“I cherish the hope that as time goes on you will recognise the truth of what I say.”
Will the Home Secretary join me in paying tribute to the families, survivors, campaigners and supporters who fought for truth and justice; to the solidarity of those who stood shoulder to shoulder, whether red or blue, for nearly three decades; and to the men and women of a proud city who never gave up until they got justice for the 96?
I am very happy to join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute not only to the families and the way in which they kept the flame of hope for truth and justice alive over 27 years, but to the city and people of Liverpool, who have shown solidarity and will continue to do so over the coming days. As the hon. Gentleman has said, regardless of their footballing affiliations they recognised the injustice that had been done. They came together, they supported the families, and truth has now been found.
What we can learn from the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) who raised the question of the Stephen Lawrence investigation is that people can come to Members of Parliament—either as families or as members of the professional services, including the ambulance service and the police—and if there is some kind of cover-up going on, we can hope that the leaders of any professions involved, including the police and the NHS, will pay attention when an MP comes along with them to say that action needs to be taken.
There was a series of three mistakes at Hillsborough. The first was allowing the game to take place in a stadium when people knew it was not right. The second was the actions that happened then, which may have been mistakes, and worst of all was the cover-up. How can more than 230 statements by the police be changed, presumably in the police service, without people being able to say to Members of Parliament, “This is wrong: there is a cover-up and it needs turning over and investigating”? Such things need to be brought out into what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health calls intelligent transparency. I think that that is the lesson from now on.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Of course, as a Member of this House he has taken forward causes that others have stood against and tried to resist, and he has been successful in that work. He is absolutely right. What came out of the independent panel report was astonishing. People were truly shocked by the fact that they had heard that statements had been altered in order to show a different picture from what had actually happened. That is appalling and it should never happen again.
May I put on the record my thanks to the Home Secretary for her statement, and praise the magnificent courage and steadfastness of the families of the 96 in their campaign?
After the publication of the 2012 independent panel report, I reread my match-day programme from 15 April 1989 and was struck by this comment by the chairman of Sheffield Wednesday football club:
“As you look around Hillsborough you will appreciate why it has been regarded for so long as the perfect venue for all kinds of important matches.”
Such statements underline the complacency and total disregard for the safety of football supporters.
I have two brief questions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) mentioned the current chief constable of South Yorkshire police. Is the Home Secretary aware that the statement he made in 2012 apologising to fans is still on the website? He said:
“I am profoundly sorry for the way the force failed…and I am doubly sorry for the injustice that followed”,
and yet the fools representing the police at the inquest went over the same argument again, putting the families through torture.
Finally, of course we should focus on South Yorkshire police, but what about West Midlands police? It was responsible for the investigation and, as we have seen from yesterday’s result, it was a sham, complacent and a complete waste of time. What is the Home Secretary doing to make sure that it is held accountable for what it did?
As the hon. Gentleman says, the comment from the match-day programme shows the extraordinary complacency. As I indicated in my statement, there were several questions that related not just to Sheffield Wednesday football club, but to the engineers who designed the stadium. The jury was very clear that there were problems with the design of the stadium and with the certification process. There are some very real questions for those in authority of various sorts who allowed a game to take place in a ground with those particular problems.
Obviously, the IPCC is looking at the aftermath of the event. Operation Resolve is looking at the lead-up to the deaths of the 96 men, women and children. In doing so, it will, of course, look across the board at the work of police officers. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my understanding is that the evidence taken will cover things done by West Midlands police as well as South Yorkshire police.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend and to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), but particularly to the families of the 96 victims, for their herculean efforts to bring about the result that we saw yesterday. Does my right hon. Friend agree that slurs were made against the families; that those were an injustice; and that it is right that they are now recognised as smears?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, those slurs were not just made at the time; they continued for far too long. The families and supporters had to endure not just the terrible tragedy itself, but the further injustice that, consistently, the Liverpool fans were blamed for something that was not their fault. The verdict that came out yesterday was absolutely clear: the fans did not contribute to this disaster.
The inquest verdict proclaimed the truth and exposed the deceit, including the wicked lie that the fans were responsible for their own deaths. We should never, ever forget that the truth has been finally exposed only because of the commitment of the bereaved families, who were supported by the city of Liverpool—whatever the rest of the country might have thought—in their determined campaign for truth. I, too thank the Home Secretary and the former Attorney General for the decisive steps that they have taken to make sure that justice has now come out. Following the Home Secretary’s very supportive comments about the action she intends to take to support the bereaved families as we move from exposure of the truth to accountability, will the Home Secretary do all in her power to ensure that now that we have the truth, real accountability will follow?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments, and she is absolutely right. The city of Liverpool stood by the families when the rest of the country took a different view about what had happened in that terrible tragedy. I am very clear that we need to ensure that the proper processes are followed for the investigations and for the Crown Prosecution Service decisions about whether criminal charges should be brought. The truth was there with the independent panel’s report, and I hope that people feel that justice has been seen with the verdicts that came out, but accountability is the next step, and that rests with the independent investigations and the Crown Prosecution Service.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, and I think that she and the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) have been beacons of hope during this tragic period. The strength of the families makes me proud to be a Scouser. There is a lot of talk about justice, but I do not think it is justice that it has taken 27 years for the fans to be found not guilty of something that was not their fault. It is not justice that the city, the fans and families were kicked when they were on their knees and at their lowest point. It is not justice that there was an establishment cover-up. Does the Home Secretary agree that real justice starts when the individuals responsible are personally prosecuted?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, and he is right. It must be very difficult for the families, who have suffered over those 27 years but have kept true to their cause and their belief in the reality of what happened at the Hillsborough stadium in 1989. They must have felt terrible when they were, as my hon. Friend said, kicked constantly over those 27 years. This is not just about finding the truth; it is about accountability. As I just indicated in response to the previous question, that process of accountability is now in the hands of the two criminal investigations and the Crown Prosecution Service.
The inquest findings were very clear that on the day of the disaster, South Yorkshire police failed completely in a number of respects. Even more alarming, in some respects, were the attempts to cover up those failings afterwards. May I reflect on the comment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) that this is no reflection on the important work done by the ordinary community officers of South Yorkshire police on a day-to-day basis for the safety and security of my constituents and the residents of South Yorkshire? Will the Home Secretary therefore offer complete support to the PCC in South Yorkshire to take the force through a very difficult time, recognising that the complete command structure of the force will change, in one way or another, during the next year, and that it will need every bit of outside support it can get from the Home Secretary and others?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. He is absolutely right to say that we should recognise the work that is done daily by South Yorkshire police officers to keep their communities safe and to cut crime. May I also take this opportunity to recognise the support that was given by people living in Sheffield to the fans and others who suffered from this tragedy on the day?
The hon. Gentleman is right that the South Yorkshire police force will not only have to deal with the outcome of the Hillsborough findings; the report on Rotherham raised a number of issues around the South Yorkshire force. The hon. Gentleman asks me to provide support to the police and crime commissioner. Next week, the people in the South Yorkshire force area will go to the polls to elect the police and crime commissioner for the next four years. We will talk thereafter to the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable about the future of the force, but it is for those two individuals, primarily, to look at the structures that they need and to ensure that the force is doing the job that it needs to do on a daily basis.
I commend the Home Secretary and the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) for what they have done on the matter. I also commend all the Members from Liverpool who have taken part in debates. Everyone knows my connection with football and with what happened on that day, which I have spoken about in the House. Football suffered massively on that horrible day. The family of football looked on that tragedy and changed many things, from stadium safety to how things are placed around football games.
Following on from the point made by the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), I am concerned about the culture that still exists in South Yorkshire police. From statements on its website and statements that it has made, I fear that it still has not learned all the lessons of that tragedy all that time ago. Will the Home Secretary comment on what is going on in South Yorkshire police force?
I think everybody will be disappointed and, indeed, concerned by some of the remarks that have been made by South Yorkshire police today. There was a very clear verdict yesterday in relation to the decisions that were taken by police officers and the action of police officers on 15 April 1989, and I urge South Yorkshire police force to recognise the verdict of the jury. Yes, it must get on with the day-to-day job of policing in its force area, but it needs to look at what happened—at what the verdicts have shown—recognise the truth and be willing to accept that.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement and, in particular, for her decision when she came into office in 2010 to allow the work of the Hillsborough Independent Panel to continue. That has been absolutely crucial to this outcome. When I was first elected in 1997, my constituents Phil Hammond, Doreen Jones and Jenni Hicks were some of the first people to come to see me. They were then part of the executive of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, and between them, they lost five family members. They came to see me about the disaster, and I have campaigned with them ever since to have the truth acknowledged and to have justice done.
We all knew the truth; it just seems to be the legal system in this country—I speak as a lawyer—that has been unable to get to the truth and accept the truth. For 27 years, it failed the victims at every turn. Almost everything that could go wrong in a legal case went wrong in those 27 years. Yesterday, the legal system finally did its job, but it has more to do to hold to account those who we now know for absolute certain are responsible. The Home Secretary has more to do to deal with the appalling culture and behaviour of South Yorkshire police, which persists to this day.
This disaster was filmed live and shown on television, and within months the interim report of the Taylor inquiry put the blame squarely where it actually lay—it did not get everything right, but it was substantially correct—yet for 27 years the families of those who died have had to defend every day the reputations of their lost loved ones and of their friends and other people living in Liverpool who have been blamed for what happened.
It was only the panel taking this out of the legal system that has led to the truth being acknowledged more widely than it was, and to its then being fed back into the legal system. There is a deep issue about our legal system, so will the Home Secretary now commit to supporting Lord Michael Wills’s Public Advocate Bill to ensure that the victims of public disasters—there will be more in future—are never again forced to spend decades of their lives fighting smears, lies, official denials, indifference and cover-ups from public authorities? We have to make sure this can never ever happen again.
The hon. Lady is right that we need to stand back and ask what it is about our system that actually enabled this to happen and enabled people to suffer in this way over those 27 years. One of the reasons why I have asked Bishop James Jones to work with the families, to hear from them their experiences, is obviously to try to learn from that and to see what steps we need to take in response.
One of the things that has come of this is that the panel model is one that can be used elsewhere. I have indeed used that model, with fewer members, in relation to the necessity of looking into the killing of Daniel Morgan, where again the legal system, through a number of cases, has failed to get to the truth. I think it is a method that we could use on other occasions.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the statement she has made today. It is painfully clear that, for over 20 years, hon. Members in this place did not take the opportunities available to them to bring the matter to this Chamber and therefore to spread the light of transparency on something terrible that had happened. I just want to put on the record the role played by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), who is far too humble to talk about his role. When we were first elected in 2010, he very quickly took a group of us in front of the Backbench Business Committee in a Committee Room and secured a debate that made sure light was shone on what was a terrible incident, and we have arrived where we are today. I thank him for that.
My hon. Friend has recognised the particular role played by a single Member of this House. I might say that, over the years, a number of Members of this House have raised this issue. The fact that authority did not listen to the issue being raised is entirely separate.
May I, too, add my thanks to the Home Secretary for the crucial role she has played in bringing this matter to a reasonable conclusion at this point? May I ask her, alongside others, to consider the extent to which the lazy, dishonest, inaccurate stereotyping of football fans, in collusion with some sections of the media, gave some credibility—wrongly—to the original failed inquest? I attended one day of the inquest. It was agony for the families to sit there and listen day after day to their loved ones who had died being denigrated in the way that the questions were put. Does she agree with me that many other failures result from the lazy assumption that football fans in general and the people of Liverpool in particular were in some way culpable in a matter that was completely beyond their control? When she asks the bishop and others to look at the implications of all this, will she ask him to look at this question: why is it that some sections of the media and some sections of the public services, including the police and the ambulance service, still feel that they can casually disregard the truth by accepting lazy stereotypes?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. He is absolutely right. There was an image of football fans that people held to regardless of what they saw going on in front of their very eyes. I was struck when I heard the commentary—I think on Radio 2 —that was taking place at the time, as the tragedy unfolded. Even at that time, some of the commentating and some of the assumptions being made were about unruly fans, rather than about people who were crying out for help as they were dying. To see the police actually being lined up to form a line against public order problems when there were people whose lives were being lost at the time shocks and appals us all now. He is right that we should never allow casual stereotypes to get in the way of the truth.
I obviously do not represent Liverpool, but I was so fortunate to live there for the best part of the 1990s. It is a wonderful city, with decent people—thoroughly decent people—and I believe that the way in which the families have conducted themselves over nearly 30 years has demonstrated that to those of us who knew it and to everybody else. I was very fortunate to take over one of the student unions in Liverpool in the ’90s, and I was told in no uncertain scouse terms why we did not stock all newspapers in the student union shop. I have never forgotten that, and many shops and stores in Liverpool still do not stock the full complement of newspapers, as Liverpool Members will know.
What does the Home Secretary think is the main lesson that we should learn from the state’s failure to do justice for the 96? Does she think that some elements of the British press—they have apologised several times since, although I think that that means little to many, or probably all, of the families in Liverpool—should take a long, hard look at themselves?
I think that that is important. It is important when information is spread to the public through the media that the veracity of that information is an issue that must be considered. My hon. Friend asks me what the overall, abiding lesson that we need to take from this is. I think it is about the whole issue that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) referred to, which is the culture and the attitude that is taken. It is about public institutions whose job is to work in the public interest, who should be institutions that can be trusted by the public and whose job is often to protect the public not, when something happens, instinctively wanting to protect themselves instead, but always having the view that whatever has happened and whatever the answer, they must actually find the truth for the public.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I hope the House will forgive me, but at the risk of stating the obvious, if colleagues are concerned about being able to make their own contribution, let me say that I will of course call every colleague. This is a little different from other days, and there is therefore some latitude: Members must say what they want to say. I am sorry if people have other commitments, but if Members stay in the Chamber, they will be heard.
May I put on the record my thanks to you, Mr Speaker? You have been incredibly supportive. May I, especially as chair of the all-party group on the Hillsborough disaster, thank the Home Secretary and her staff, and all those—officials, and the staff of Members of Parliament as well—who have worked to help our group function over the past four years?
Finally to know the true verdict—that these killings were unlawful—is just a huge weight lifted, but there is one more issue. The campaign for justice has never been for Liverpool fans alone. Shirts of all different teams were worn at the memorial service. For the 25th anniversary, Members of this House from all parts of the country sent with me to Anfield the scarf of their local team. That is why, at the recent memorial service, Trevor Hicks was absolutely right to ask football fans to be “united in grief”, though rivals in the game.
I have one last thing to say: the “Murderers, murderers” chant has got to stop now. Does the Home Secretary agree that there are no excuses—we have the truth—and that those who have suffered because of the Hillsborough disaster have, frankly, now suffered enough?
I agree with the hon. Lady. For those who have been through everything that they have for 27 years we now have the truth. They have suffered enough. Although part of the process still remains, to ensure accountability, I hope, as I said in my statement, that the peace that they have been so long denied will now come to them. I hope that they will be able to take from the verdicts some comfort that at last what they knew on that day has been shown to be true.
Weaver Vale is part of Merseyside, and I have many Liverpudlians in my constituency who have welcomed the jury’s determinations. For me, it is a case of there but for the grace of God go I. Those of us who went to football matches in the ’70s and ’80s know that the facilities were terrible and crushes were regular. I remind the House that at the Hillsborough 1981 FA Cup semi-final—the Tottenham Hotspur-Wolverhampton game—there was a very similar crush. The police allowed the fans on to the pitch. It looked very similar to the scene years later in 1989. That tells us that lessons clearly were not learned. The hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) was at the 1989 game; as he said, that facility was never fit for purpose.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, in particular the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who made the speech of his parliamentary career, and the hon. Members for Halton, for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) and others, who have consistently campaigned on behalf of their constituents for justice. Will my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary assure the House that the lessons will be learned? I welcome Bishop James Jones’s report, but no family should ever have to go through this kind of tragedy again.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Sadly, the example he gave us of the game in 1981 shows that at that time lessons were not learned. Whatever comes out of the work with the families, and from the panel’s report and all that we are now seeing, we need to make sure that we learn the lessons, and that we do not just say that we are doing that but put what is necessary into practice.
The jury has determined that what happened on the day was negligent, unlawful and criminal. It was also tragic and unintended. The 27 years since have not been unintended; there have been deliberate lies and deception. When the Home Secretary is researching the variety of criminal charges that may be brought, will she ensure that appropriate emphasis is placed on perversion of the course of justice, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and perjury, because that is where the real evil lies?
As I indicated in my statement to the House, the question of perversion of the course of justice and perjury will be looked at, but it is for the independent Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether to bring those or any other criminal charges.
I start by paying my tribute to the families who, since before some people now in this House were even born, have had to fight the state, quite frankly. That is appalling. I thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for everything she has done, and all of the Members locally who have worked for so many years. I pay particular tribute to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and the hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) and for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), who have been in communication with me about the support I could offer, even as a west Yorkshire MP.
To those who wonder why MPs not related to the area have found this so hard and so difficult, I say that it is because we all have families. We all have parents, uncles and aunts, and some of us have children. We all go to events to which hundreds of thousands of people go every year. If someone goes to an event, perfectly legally, we have the right to expect that the authorities will look after them. The people who died at Hillsborough on that tragic day got there early, by definition, because they were at the front of those pens. They were ticketed. It will be a stain on this society for ever more that the state said it was their fault. It was obvious from day one—from the very moment—that it could not be their fault.
I have a huge amount of respect for the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), who is no longer in his place—indeed, we have debated this. He is absolutely right to say that police officers on the frontline for South Yorkshire police do an outstanding job every day and deserve our respect. But the behaviour of South Yorkshire police during this inquiry, and the subsequent comments since the verdict—a verdict that can leave no doubt in the mind of anyone in this country that those people were unlawfully killed—have been a disgrace. There is a stain on the name of South Yorkshire police that I am not sure can ever be erased.
Therefore, as controversial as this is, may I ask my right hon. Friend, working with other Members on a cross-party basis, to go away and consider—I do not expect an answer today—very seriously whether the only way of bringing back faith in policing in south Yorkshire, and of making sure that the officers in south Yorkshire who dedicate themselves to protecting the public can really move forward, is perhaps to merge all four Yorkshire police forces and to get rid of the name “South Yorkshire police”?
My hon. Friend has asked me a question that I suggest goes slightly wider than simply the issue of South Yorkshire police, as he talked about merging all four Yorkshire forces. He is absolutely right to identify that at a football match or any other public event where arrangements have been put in place by organisers to ensure people’s safety and where there is policing, fans who have gone along expect those arrangements to keep them safe and secure. They expect arrangements to have been thought through and made properly and carefully, and the right decisions to have been taken. As he and others have said, many people who are not Liverpool fans recognise what those families went through on that day, as they themselves go to similar events, week in, week out, hoping to enjoy themselves and not expecting the sort of terrible tragedy that befell families and supporters on that terrible day.
My hon. Friend has asked me to reflect on an issue. I think he knows the Government’s position on merger of forces. As I have said, South Yorkshire police will need to look very carefully at the verdict and accept it.
I commend the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) on all the work they have done, along with all hon. Members of this House. It is often the role of a Member of Parliament to give a strong voice to the weak, and this has been an example of that. May I also say a word of gratitude for the kind words of the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) about some of the work I have done in the past? There are comparisons between what happened to the family and friends of Stephen Lawrence and what happened to the Hillsborough families. They have certainly been strong voices and advocates for themselves, and an example to us all. They were signatories to the letter sent to the Prime Minister earlier this month asking him not to renege on his promise to implement Leveson 2. Given that it relates to the relationship between the police and the press, it would seem even more imperative that we go ahead with that part of the Leveson report. Will the Home Secretary perhaps have a word with the Prime Minister to ask him to expedite that as quickly as possible?
Some of the issues about the relationship between the media and the police were identified in Leveson 1, and the police have taken some actions to change some of their approaches to the media as a result. As I said earlier, we have always been very clear that any investigations taking place needed to be completed before a decision was taken about Leveson 2. Some investigations are still being undertaken, which is why at this point of time it is not appropriate to take a decision about Leveson 2.
Days like this really make us think in this place. Will my right hon. Friend commit to making sure that all the resources required to bring the criminal investigations to a speedy and thorough conclusion are brought to bear, because these families have suffered for far too long already?
I assure my hon. Friend that the Home Office has made funding available for Operation Resolve, and it is ensuring that the IPCC has what it needs to conduct these investigations, which will then go to the Crown Prosecution Service. Families deserve a proper, thorough process that is undertaken in a timely manner and provides them with the accountability they want.
May I add my thanks to the Home Secretary for her statement and commitment, and thank all my colleagues for their work over so many decades on this terrible atrocity? After 27 years of pain, torment and suffering, both for the families of the 96 people who tragically lost their lives and for the survivors, at last a dark cloud is lifting. After this statement, Merseyside MPs will travel back to Liverpool to commemorate what has happened on St George’s Hall plateau, and I have no doubt that the solidarity that prevailed in Liverpool will shine bright this evening.
I pay tribute to the campaigners who have fought tirelessly and never given up. They have endured the unendurable, and they should not have to wait any more. A moment ago the Home Secretary spoke about the work of the IPCC and the police, and the investigations that are being completed, and I echo the call from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) that the handover of files should happen as quickly as possible. Will the Home Secretary also commit to ensuring that the CPS has whatever resources it takes to expedite its work? We have the truth and we have justice; now we need accountability.
The Attorney General is present and has heard the hon. Lady’s comments regarding his responsibility in relation to the CPS. We want this to be done in a timely fashion, and to ensure that it is done thoroughly and properly. Having visited the work of Operation Resolve and the IPCC, I know the significant amount of material that it has had to go through. Until now, it has been supporting the coroner in the inquests, and now its focus will be on preparing those files to give to the CPS.
Although I have always lived at the other end of the country, I have been a passionate Liverpool fan all my life. I remember vividly watching the start of that game and feeling gutted that I was not able to be there—a feeling that quickly turned to relief. Although nothing can compare with the grief, pain and sense of injustice suffered by families who lost their loved ones, it is also true that on that day Liverpool fans across the country—indeed, all football fans—were smeared by what was said in its aftermath. On behalf of all football fans, I hugely welcome the fact that at last the truth is known: football fans were not responsible for what happened that day. It is, however, an absolute scandal that it has taken 27 years to get to the truth. Does the Home Secretary agree that not only must we never forget the 96 who died that day, but we must never be allowed to forget that those in authority chose to cover up their responsibility for this tragedy, and to smear the name of a great football club, a great city, and football fans everywhere?
My hon. Friend is right, and as he recognised, in the rest of the country and around the globe there are not just football fans, but there are also Liverpool supporters. I cannot reiterate enough how appalling it was that it was not just organs of the state and other agencies that were involved in this. There was a general public feeling that somehow the fans must have been responsible. Question 7 of the verdict yesterday and its supplementary question were clear. The jury was asked whether there was any behaviour on the part of the football supporters which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles, or which may have caused or contributed to that situation. The answer was clear: no.
The verdicts yesterday are momentous and long overdue, and I join other Members in paying tribute to the campaigners, families, friends and survivors of what happened in Hillsborough. I warmly welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and the incredibly powerful response from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham). I join him and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) in urging the Government and the Home Secretary to do everything possible to press the CPS to make its decisions as quickly as possible. That is certainly what the families and survivors want.
It is certainly the Government’s desire, intention and hope that the CPS will make its decisions as quickly as possible, commensurate with it exercising proper independent consideration of the facts.
What hits home about this tragedy is that anyone who has been an away fan or stood on a terrace can picture themselves in that tunnel, on the way to the pen, looking forward to the match, hoping to see their team win, but it ending up in tragedy. Therefore, when those fans were smeared, all of us were smeared. It could have been our club, town or city—only the finger of fate meant that it was Liverpool. Does the Home Secretary agree that looking back, steps could have been taken to avoid this tragedy? When I spoke to Coventry City fans who attended matches at Hillsborough in 1987, they recounted some of the issues that they experienced during those games but that were not addressed, with tragic consequences. After 27 years it is time for some of the organisations involved to stop the denials, accept the verdict and the truth, and move on to ensure that those responsible are finally held to account.
My hon. Friend is right to refer to the issues relating to the stadium, and many people will think it not just surprising but incredible that a game of that size took place in a stadium which, as I understand, did not have the proper safety certification. People will question forever how the relevant authorities can have allowed that to happen, and there are issues not just about the police and ambulance service, but about the football club and the design of the stadium.
As a Merseyside MP and a Liverpool supporter, I thank the Home Secretary for what is almost the last chapter of an unbearably sad book. She must recognise that in this world, justice does not compensate for loss and grief. Apart from the judicial process, what more needs to be done to support the families and for closure?
Obviously, the next stage of the investigation and the CPS is important for the families, and I hope that they will continue to work with Bishop James Jones through the family forums, and on his work to hear about their experiences. That process is important for the families, and also for us, so that we ensure that we have heard their experiences and can take away from that any lessons that need to be learned and any action that the Government need to take.
May I add my thanks to the Home Secretary for her excellent statement, and for her work on the Orgreave truth and justice campaign? I look forward to her response on that. Having served as a special constable in the Metropolitan Police Service, I recognise the institutional defensiveness that was mentioned yesterday by the families, and I fear that that problem is not unique to South Yorkshire. As part of her review of lessons learned, will the Home Secretary consider ending the practice of officers conferring together when recording statements?
The hon. Lady is right, and there are issues not just for policing but for public sector institutions generally about the desire, which I described earlier, to look inwards and protect themselves. I will reflect on her comment.
I thank the Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) and other Merseyside colleagues for their determination in pursuing this matter over many years. The Merseyside victims came from Bootle, Birkenhead, Crosby, Liverpool, Runcorn, Knowsley and other Merseyside communities, but as my right hon. Friend said, supporters also came from all over the country—Cheshire, Essex, Leigh, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, Middlesex, Wrexham and London among other places. Will the Home Secretary join me, Merseyside MPs, and the people of Merseyside in remembering those supporters and their brave families, wherever they came from on that dreadful day, because they are now part of the Merseyside family?
I am very happy to join the hon. Gentleman in doing just that. He is absolutely right to draw our attention to the fact that many of the supporters came from all parts of the country. As he said, they are now part of the Merseyside family.
Does the Home Secretary accept that, although she gave us a long, miserable litany of organisations that failed—organisations whose very essence is supposed to be about securing our safety—one institution shines through gloriously? That is the family, and particularly the families of those who were killed at Hillsborough. Does she accept that whatever we try to say in this House, we say it inadequately, but that we share in the sympathy and admiration of the whole country for those families who had to fight throughout this case? I would like to thank her, the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and the then Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, for making the triumph of these families possible.
Concluding her statement, the Home Secretary read out the list of possible charges that might now follow. Although this will be a chilling task in itself, it will be an even greater chill for us if—as I hope, please God—we see through the necessary reform programme for great institutions that we thought were unquestionably on our side, but which were on somebody else’s side on that fateful day.
The right hon. Gentleman raises a number of points. He is absolutely right that it will be necessary for us to stand back and look at how this happened and why 27 years have been allowed to pass before we have come to this point. This might mean taking a very difficult look, as he said, at some of the institutions that people expect to protect them but simply did the opposite on this occasion.
As a Doncaster and South Yorkshire MP, I want to express my disgust and that of many people in South Yorkshire at what the services that we are meant to trust did on that day in Sheffield. I also express our disgust at the manipulation and delaying tactics that have contributed to 27 years of heartfelt pursuit and grief by the families of those killed, but also the survivors, including 730 people who were injured on that day, many with life-limiting injuries that they have had to live with and face the consequences of since then.
I believe in the rule of law and I believe in justice, but it cannot take 27 years to achieve the outcome that we saw yesterday—an outcome that has not only validated the actions of the families and others who pursued justice, but has called into question the very faith we put in procedures to bring public services to account for failure.
Will the Home Secretary pick up two issues that were raised earlier? The first is about equality of access to justice. From what I have seen and heard, having money to access legal services made a big difference to the cause of these families. Secondly, we need to look at whether it continues to be right to have police forces investigating other police forces or hospitals investigating other hospitals. Perhaps this is the time to look at having a more independent body for overseeing and investigating when, sadly, our public services fail.
The right hon. Lady raises two specific issues. On having an independent regime in place for inspecting public authorities, one thing we are doing in respect of policing is changing the arrangements for how complaints against the police are investigated so that serious and sensitive cases are not investigated by police forces themselves, but taken to the IPCC. We will be making changes to the IPCC in the Policing and Crime Bill that is going through the House. On the fact that the procedures did not allow for the truth to come out—and in some cases stopped the truth from coming out—for 27 years is a crucial point that underpins the whole debate. I hope that when Bishop James Jones is able to publish his review of what we need to learn from the experiences, it will cover the right hon. Lady’s second point and indeed other issues raised by Members today.
I echo the comments of those who have thanked and congratulated everyone, including the Home Secretary, who campaigned for yesterday’s verdict. The 18 people from the borough of Sefton who died are commemorated on a memorial in Crosby. As we remember all 96 who died, as well as the 730 who were injured, it is important to remember too that in these 27 years many more people have died who wished to see yesterday’s verdict but who sadly did not live long enough to do so, including Anne Williams, who campaigned so long and hard for her son Kevin, who was just 15 when he died at Hillsborough.
The Home Secretary spoke about a range of possible criminal investigations. Would she say a little about the potential for criminal investigations relating to those who reported, completely falsely, what they were fed by those in authority, which added to the cover-up, to the smear and to the downright lies told about fans and the people of Liverpool at that time? Those actions added hugely to the 27-year wait for yesterday’s verdict.
I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s point about the impression given to the public of what happened. I indicated some of the offences that are included in the work that is being done. The investigation is, of course, a matter for the two bodies set up to undertake the two elements of the investigation—Operation Resolve under Jon Stoddart and the IPPC. As I said in response to other hon. Members, decisions about any prosecutions that take place will be taken entirely independently by the CPS.
As a football fan, I will never forget 15 April 1989 and hearing the unimaginable news that 96 people—men, women and children—had gone to watch a football match and would never come home. It could have been any club, but in this case it was the proud club of Liverpool. Let me say that there were many, many football fans around the country who never believed the official verdict and always believed what Liverpool fans were saying. Let me also pay tribute to all those involved in the campaign. They are not only heroes of the proud city of Liverpool; for their extraordinary fight for truth and justice, which will go down in the history of our democracy, they are British heroes too.
In addition to dealing with the cover-up, will the Home Secretary give us a clear assurance that the appalling ways in which the families of the victims were treated in the aftermath of the disaster will never happen again? We saw police officers sitting eating chicken and chips in the gymnasium as the bodies were lying there, while families were told that they could not hug their loved ones in body bags because they were the property of the coroner. Worst of all, the initial coroner forced alcohol testing on all these victims—including children such as 10-year-old Jon-Paul Gilhooley—of this unlawful disaster. That was a disgrace, and we want to know that it will never happen to a single victim again.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to refer to what was done and how the families were treated. How appalling it must have been to learn that one of your loved ones had died in these appalling circumstances and to be unable to touch them, and then not to know the proper details of when and how they died—the cause of death. People have had to live with that for far too long. I hope that these sorts of issues coming out of the families’ experiences will be brought to light by the work that I have asked Bishop James Jones to do.
I thank the Home Secretary for the work she has done, but I wish to raise with her a point I raised in 2012 when she made the same statement: that the rest of the country fell for this story. The rest of the country did not fall for this story. Those of us who went to football matches expected to be treated like second-class citizens and expected the police to get their retaliation in first, even when people had done nothing wrong.
I also want to pick up on the point raised by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary about Orgreave, as I was there in June 1984. Seven years after that, South Yorkshire police paid £425,000 in compensation to silence 39 miners who were suing them for assault, yet not one of those police officers was even disciplined for what they had done. The police used public money to bury bad news on that day.
I come back to where we are now. The hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) made the point that so desperate were the police to cover up that they actually tested young children who were dead, and that shows how seriously they took this. But the real responsibility for what happened from then onwards cannot just be left at the doors of South Yorkshire police. I ask the Home Secretary to do what the Prime Minister did not do today in response to a question from the leader of my party and say what specific action will be taken to expose everybody—at every level in this country, elected official and appointed official, of previous Conservative Governments and of my party’s Governments—who played any role in this cover-up, either by omission or commission.
Those individuals are as guilty of making the people suffer for 27 years; many people went to their graves vilified when they would have been vindicated had this been sorted out at least a quarter of a century ago. We need to know that this will not just be laid at the door—rightly—of Duckenfield; other people must be called to account. Even if they did not commit criminal acts, they have done things that delayed the course of justice and they should be called to account for that.
Importantly, the independent panel’s report showed the truth of what had happened on that occasion. That work required a number of organisations that had previously been silent about what had happened to be prepared to come forward to give their evidence to the panel.
On the criminal investigations and the potential criminal prosecutions, obviously I have answered that point. I say to the hon. Gentleman that there has been a collective recognition across this House today, from all parts of it, that there were verdicts on what happened on that day in 1989 but that subsequently the procedures and processes that should have sought out and found the truth failed. We have to ask ourselves how that happened and what we can do to make sure it does not happen again.
Yesterday’s verdict was an historic one, and I thank the Secretary of State for her statement and, in particular, the emphasis she has put on the fact that the fans were not to blame. I was a young schoolteacher working in Liverpool in 1989 and I, like everyone in the city and right across Merseyside, remember that day well. I remember how the city was affected, both at the time and in the years that followed.
Twenty-seven years is a long time, and the families of the 96 who lost their lives at Hillsborough have had to fight for the truth. It takes a special kind of courage to fight for 27 years, and I pay tribute to the courage and determination of the families. There is nothing more powerful than the truth, and yesterday’s verdict delivered that to us. I hope that will be some comfort for the families and the friends who lost loved ones, and I know that the 96 will not be forgotten.
The hon. Lady is right: the 96 will not be forgotten. She is absolutely right to pay the tribute she does to the families, who have kept alive the hope of truth and justice. As I said earlier, I hope they will take some comfort from the verdicts yesterday.
May I pay tribute to the Home Secretary and the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), not just for the power, poignancy and import of their words here today, but for the decisive and responsive character they have both shown on this matter? Not only do I salute my fellow Members in this House who represent the families of the Hillsborough victims, but, on behalf of the Bloody Sunday families in my constituency, I want to salute the Hillsborough families. They have made that journey from victimhood, through vilification, to vindication—that tortuous journey to justice that my constituents faced. The right hon. Gentleman brought the Hillsborough families over to Derry to meet the Bloody Sunday families in advance of the panel report, for solidarity and mentoring, and I know that the Bloody Sunday families would give the biggest hugs they could possibly give to the Hillsborough families today.
We need to learn other lessons, rather than just comparing what has happened in this case and in other cases. Points have been made about what the families still had to go through even after what the panel report told us—the fact that they had to sob and seethe inside, and yet still show calm in the chamber as they listened to callous cynicism about the deaths of their loved ones, no less cruel from the paid lips of counsel.
We also need to address, once and for all, this insensitivity and arrogance of power, and this default setting of system defensiveness that the Home Secretary has rightly identified. The system tells us all when we raise these issues on behalf of families who come to us, “Move on, there is nothing more to know.” I know that that is exactly what the system was telling the right hon. Member for Leigh when he was in government and was making his decision.
On the questions about possible charges that arise, one issue occurs to me, and it arises from the Bloody Sunday experience as well. Could we get clarity soon on whether or not the law officers in this situation are applying the same rubric that they have applied to the Bloody Sunday situation: that any question of charges of perjury, perverting the course of justice or anything else cannot be considered until the issues of any possible charges relating to the events of the day have been? That rubric is deeply troubling to Bloody Sunday families.
I will take that point away and look into it. I thank the hon. Gentleman for the remarks he made about the importance of a justice system. We are rightly proud of our system of justice in this country, but sometimes it has failed to get to the truth, as we have sadly seen. On Hillsborough, it is once again the families who have been prepared to fight over 27 years who have got, first, to the truth from the independent panel’s report and now to the clear verdicts which have vindicated what they have said about the fans and about their loved ones all along.
As a teenager in the late ’80s, I followed my team in that stand on many occasions, and this was a victory for all of football today. The crime was exacerbated by the cover-up, so I wish to ask the Home Secretary this: apart from going to hell, what does she see as the consequences for those who bore false testimony?
Obviously, the question whether people have acted in a criminal way and whether charges should be made against those individuals is a decision for the CPS, after it has seen the results of the investigations.
Let me add my congratulations and commendations to the Home Secretary on her statement and her conduct so far and in particular to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) on his work over many years and on an outstanding contribution. May I recall his words of praise for Anne Williams, from Chester, who, sadly, did not live to see this day? I assure the Home Secretary and the House that Anne will be at the forefront of the minds of many of my constituents in Chester today.
Hillsborough was a tragedy. It might have remained a tragedy but instead it became a scandal. Does the Home Secretary share my concern about the toxic legacy of Hillsborough? A large proportion of people—a generation, indeed—not just on Merseyside but perhaps more widely in the north-west and, as hon. Members from other parts of the country have suggested, perhaps more widely across the country, have absolutely zero confidence in elements of the state and of the justice system. It behoves all of us in this House to help rebuild that confidence, based on the judgment yesterday.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman that we have a role to play in this House on this, as I said in response to a previous question. We have always felt huge confidence and pride in the justice system that we have in this country, but we need to make sure that it operates properly and that it does provide justice for people.
May I press the Home Secretary to recognise the importance of the European convention on human rights in securing justice in this case? The purpose of the reference group which she says is being reconstituted is specifically to protect the Hillsborough families’ article 2 rights. Because the coronial system does not always work as it should, victims’ families rely on article 2, which safeguards the right to life, to ensure that deaths that take place when people are in the care of the state are properly investigated. Will the Home Secretary think carefully before pursuing her desire, stated this week, for the United Kingdom to withdraw from the convention?
I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that human rights were not invented when the convention was granted. However, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General responded to an urgent question yesterday, and responded well to the many questions that he was asked by Members.
The whole question of deaths that happen when there is some involvement of some element of the state is one of the concerns that I have had, which is one of the reasons why, for example, I have set up an inquiry into deaths in police custody. I think that we see many examples in which it is not clear whether the system is actually getting to the truth as it should, and it is right that we should look into and investigate that.
This has been one of those occasions when I have felt very proud to be a Member of Parliament, and I commend both the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary for the roles that they have played. I also commend Liverpool football club, which I do not think has been mentioned yet. The club never told the fans that it was time to move on; it has always taken ownership of a terrible, terrible tragedy.
This was allowed to happen because, in the eyes of the establishment, football fans were less than human. As soon as the police and the establishment see groups of people not as individuals but as less than human, we enter very dangerous circumstances. Before these people, it was the miners who were less than human. Perhaps we should think about the way we treat disabled people, asylum seekers or the victims of child sex abuse today, and wonder whether we think that they, too, may be less than human. Perhaps that is a lesson for all of us to consider.
As soon as this tragedy unfolded, the first instinct of South Yorkshire police was to protect their institution and their reputation, and to think nothing of the people who died, and their families, because they considered those people to be less than human. That instinct that they experienced instantly in April 1989 appears to be just as strong 27 years later, given the way they have conducted themselves during this latest inquiry. I commend everything that the Home Secretary has done, but may I ask her to consider whether she believes that the people of south Yorkshire should have confidence in the current leadership of South Yorkshire police, and whether, indeed, she has confidence in the chief constable of South Yorkshire police? Might she take the opportunity of the final moments of this exchange, during which she has conducted herself so magnificently, to ask the chief constable of South Yorkshire police, from the Dispatch Box, to consider his position—not just for the sake of the families, but for the sake of all the people who rely on that police force?
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the leadership of South Yorkshire police. As I said earlier, people will vote for a police and crime commissioner next week, thus conferring that democratic accountability.
I responded earlier to questions from my hon. Friends about the wording of the statement issued by South Yorkshire police, but let me say again that I think it behoves them to recognise the import of yesterday’s verdicts. I hope that we will not see attempts to suggest that those verdicts were somehow not clear, or were in any way wrong. That jury sat through 296 days of evidence, and they were clear about the role of South Yorkshire police officers.
I thank the Home Secretary, the shadow Home Secretary, and all colleagues for what they have said, and for the manner in which the exchanges on the statement have been conducted.