Two ex-prime ministers join chorus of calls for ‘Hillsborough law’ | Hillsborough disaster


Gordon Brown and Theresa May have thrown their weight behind the campaign for a “Hillsborough law”, designed to rebalance the justice system and ensure fairer treatment for bereaved families.

The former prime ministers joined speakers from academia, sport, journalism and the arts at an event on Friday afternoon to express support for measures aimed at preventing others from going through the fight for justice faced by the families of the tragedy’s victims.

Some of the most powerful testimonies came from people who lost relatives not just at Hillsborough, but also at Grenfell Tower, the Manchester Arena bombing and other major tragedies and scandals.

May said what happened at Hillsborough, “the death of 97 Liverpool fans failed by the state”, was tragedy enough for the families. “But what followed was injustice heaped on injustice. Years of beating their heads against a brick wall of government and the legal and judicial system which added untold pain and suffering.”

Brown said the Hillsborough law was needed now. “No delays. No prevarications. No excuses to secure justice for you [bereaved families] and everyone who in future may face the same challenges.

“No one. No one should ever have to go through what Hillsborough families have had to live through. No one should be denied the truth, as you were denied the truth. No one should have had to wait so long to be heard, as you waited so long. No one should be kept in the dark by bureaucratic indifference and deceitful lies, like your families.”

One strand of the new law would be a statutory duty of candour on all public servants during public inquiries and criminal investigations. “That means no cover-ups, no concealments, no closing of ranks,” said Brown.

A Hillsborough law would also make greater resources available to survivors and bereaved families after a major incident. It would aim to ensure their proper participation at inquests, through publicly funded legal representation, and the provision of a public advocate to act for families of the deceased after major incidents.

The Labour politician Lord Falconer, a former secretary of state for justice, said he had always trusted the law. “But the law deserves absolutely no trust in relation to what happened in the Hillsborough case. The extraordinary thing about it is that people kept going for 33 years … They did not get justice.

“Truth came out, but no justice. The law, in effect, damaged and destroyed people it was supposed to protect and it utterly ravaged and vilified families who were fighting for justice.”

Margaret Aspinall, who lost her son James in the Hillsborough tragedy, said the law would not do any good for the families. “What we are here today is for all of us to be united to change things, because those 97 victims who died at Hillsborough, they deserve the respect and a Hillsborough law in honour of their name. If that does any good for the likes of other people going forward, that’s all that matters. They have not died in vain.”

Most of the speakers, who included the Liverpool legend Sir Kenny Dalglish, appeared virtually from their homes and offices. A small number spoke in person at the event, held at the People’s History Museum in Manchester, co-hosted by the mayor of Liverpool, Steve Rotheram, and the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham.

Burnham asked why the galleries were so packed with artefacts telling stories of ordinary people struggling to fight for rights, fairness and justice. “It’s because when things go wrong in this country, the fight that people face is too long and too hard. When things go wrong, the authorities close ranks. They blame victims. They sometimes create false narratives that can be very hard to shift.”

He said access to justice was still linked to your class, your accent and whether you have access to a social connection, and praised Brown and May for their roles in helping to bring truth for the Hillsborough families.

The event, livestreamed on Facebook, was timed to build on the heightened awareness of the issue that has been revived by the powerful ITV drama Anne, which tells the story of Anne Williams’ fight for justice for her teenage son, Kevin.

Many of the measures being called for were contained in a 2017 report by Bishop James Jones titled The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power. It was commissioned by May and, the event heard, still has not received a formal government response.

Ninety-seven men, women and children died in the tragedy at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in Sheffield on April 15 1989.

New inquests, which concluded in 2016, found the victims were unlawfully killed. The match commander, David Duckenfield, was cleared of gross negligence manslaughter in 2019 and a trial of the retired police officers Donald Denton and Alan Foster and the former force solicitor Peter Metcalf, who were accused of perverting the course of justice, collapsed last year after a judge ruled there was no case to answer.



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