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Volume 715: debated on Tuesday 15 December 2009


My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Alan Johnson) has today made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Hillsborough tragedy on 15 April 1989 at the FA Cup semi final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest was the worst disaster in British sporting history. 96 people died and hundreds more were injured. The tragedy was of such national and international significance that it served to act as a watershed in the subsequent minimisation of safety risks at football matches and similar sporting events.

There have been a number of examinations of the circumstances surrounding the disaster over the years. Following the 20th anniversary of the tragedy in April 2009, the Prime Minister asked the then Secretaries of State for the Home Office and for Culture, Media and Sport, and the Justice Secretary, to consider how to bring about maximum possible public disclosure of governmental and other agency documentation on the events that occurred and their aftermath. In order to bring about this disclosure I am today announcing the creation of the Hillsborough Independent Panel.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel will work in partnership with government and other public agencies to oversee the disclosure process. It will also consult those most affected by the disaster: the Hillsborough families. The panel will be chaired by the Right Reverend James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool. The appointment of the rest of the panel will take place over the coming weeks in close consultation with the Hillsborough families and will be announced in due course. The panel will meet for the first time in Liverpool as soon as possible in the New Year.

The independent panel will be provided with access to Hillsborough documentation held by Government and local agencies relevant to events surrounding the tragedy in advance of the normal 30-year point for public disclosure. The fundamental principles will be full disclosure of documentation and no redaction of content, except in the limited legal and other circumstances outlined in the full terms of reference and disclosure protocol which will be placed in the Library of the House and made available on the Home Office website.

Recognising the volume of material that must be catalogued, analysed and preserved, the panel will seek to complete its work within two years.

The remit of the independent panel will be to:

oversee full public disclosure of relevant government and local information within the limited constraints set out in the disclosure protocol;

consult with the Hillsborough families to ensure that the views of those most affected by the tragedy are taken into account;

manage the process of public disclosure, ensuring that it takes place initially to the families of the victims and other involved parties, in an agreed manner and within a reasonable timescale, before information is made more widely available;

in line with established practice, work with the Keeper of Public Records in preparing options for establishing an archive of Hillsborough documentation, including a catalogue of all central governmental and local public agency information and a commentary on any information withheld for the benefit of the families or on legal or other grounds; and

produce a report explaining the work of the panel and the extent to which disclosure adds to public understanding of the tragedy and its aftermath.

Where Government records are covered by the well established convention on access to papers of a previous Administration—in particular papers which indicate the views of Ministers, such as Cabinet material or ministerial policy advice—representatives of the previous Administration are being consulted and their consent to the release of those papers sought.