Hillsborough - 24th Anniversary

(April 15, 2013)

Steve & Hillsborough Families

What a year. What progress. What a city.

The ‘real’ Truth revealed, a cover-up exposed, but the battle for Justice still to be won.

As we prepare to commemorate the 24th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, these are my reflections on Liverpool’s fight for justice for the 96 over the past twelve months. It was a year in which I believe we have achieved more together than any other city and its people ever could. It is perhaps true to say that we have achieved even more than even we thought possible.

The publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report was a landmark moment in British legal history. It presented the country with what I called in the House of Commons, “the undeniable truth”.

It vindicated and validated the families, survivors and campaigners for their 23 year battle for truth and justice. As the Prime Minister said, “the findings of this report are black and white; the fans were not the cause of the disaster”.

David Cameron then went on to articulate the double injustice we have suffered. The loss of life combined with the dark cloud that has hung over our city, which has given rise to irreversible stereotypes and unbelievable collective pain for scousers the world over.

“It is not about retribution. It’s about responsibility” was how I finished my remarks to the crowds outside St George’s Hall on September 12th. I believed it. In fact I have believed that for 23 years. That’s why I wanted to say it. Now the wheels of justice are in motion to ensure those responsible really do finally, pay the price.

We’ve seen some evidence of this. The words “Sir Norman Bettison” are now synonymous with the most corrupt action of any police force in the country. Far from being heralded as a shining light of the police force, he is a disgraced former Chief Constable waiting gingerly for the phone call from the Director of Public Prosecution. In the last week Liverpool John Moores University has also stripped him of his honorary degree and I hope the forfeiture committee will remove his knighthood before long. And he isn’t the only one.

On December 19th 2012, crowds gathered on the footsteps of the Royal Courts of Justice to hear the news that the High Court had quashed the original inquests and that new ones were to be ordered. It was highly significant. The Attorney General in his role as the official guardian of the public peace, made the application personally. He mapped out in minute detail, the exact injustices that he perceived to have occurred. They mirrored the injustices that the families had spent a near quarter of a century fighting for.

In 1989, the inquests into the deaths of the 96 were the longest coronial inquest in history, lasting 80 days. It took less than 80 minutes to quash them; such was the weight of evidence. 

I couldn’t have believed that things would have moved as quickly as they have. The Government, in light of the overwhelming public reaction, has now changed the law in a virtually unprecedented way, to allow the Coroner to conduct the new inquests in a coronial division of his choosing. In other words, if the families didn’t think it was appropriate to head back to Sheffield, then they wouldn’t have to.

On April 25th we will learn more about this process, but given the eyes of the world are on the Deputy Coroner (the same High Court Judge that ruled on the inquest into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales) I think we can be confident that the inquests will this time be fair and transparent.

Sandwiched in between of course, was the Justice Collective’s Christmas Number 1, made possible by the outstanding effort of hundreds of people across the country giving up their time for free and recording a truly beautiful piece of music, coupled with hundreds of thousands of people buying the single and sending a message that the country was outraged by Hillsborough.

It wasn’t a gimmick. It was essential in demonstrating the depth of feeling that runs throughout the country. You see, as a Member of Parliament I have come to learn how it all works. The 24/7 rolling news channels, the political commentators, journalists and bloggers, the lunches and the coffees, the constant search for an exclusive or for breaking news. By itself, it might appear that news organisations and newspapers are desperate for stories to fill their papers. The reality is that they have too many. So in order to keep your place in the media agenda, you constantly have to find new ways of making the story newsworthy whilst at the same time never forgetting this great injustice and the 96 lives lost.

To each and every person that purchased the single, - thank you. Your efforts mean that all the money raised will go towards the families in their continued legal fight for justice.

And as we pause to reflect on the passing of Margaret Thatcher, amidst the understandable criticism from the left and exaggerated praise from the right, it is worth remembering one thing; politics matters.

Hillsborough campaigners have demonstrated some very important lessons. In the words of President Obama “When people are activated, when people are involved, when they shape the agenda, determine the framework of debate and when they keep their belief, then their voices will eventually be heard. No one can stop it. Not even the establishment. That’s when things happen”.  

So as we look forward with cautious optimism, it is worth remembering that with new inquests comes new challenges of the deeply personal kind. Indeed, the next year will be tough and traumatic for the families. With the medical evidence that has emerged, they will now find out exactly what happened to their loved ones. Could they have been saved? How did they die? What was the extent of the injury? It will be gruelling. It will be very personal. They will need the city and its voice more than ever to support them.

I look forward to seeing many of you this afternoon at Anfield and in the days, weeks and months to come as we finally achieve justice for the 96.

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