With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to 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.
Mr Speaker, 27 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. 96 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 to truly understand what they have been through. Not only in losing their loved ones in such horrific circumstances that day, but to hear finding after finding over 27 years telling them something that they believed to be fundamentally untrue. They have quite simply never given up.
I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Right Honourable Member for Leigh, who has campaigned so tirelessly over the years on their behalf, and also the honourable members for Liverpool Walton, for Garston and Halewood, for Halton, for Liverpool Riverside and for Wirral South.
Yesterday the fresh inquests 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 2 major new criminal investigations: one by the Independent Police Complaints Commission examining 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. It ran for more than 2 years and was the longest running inquest in British legal history. I am sure 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.
The jury’s determinations and findings
Mr Speaker, 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 2 questions specific to each of the individual deceased relating to the time and medical cause of their death.
I would like to put on 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?
96 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 that question: 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 FC (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 that question: Was there any error or omission by Sheffield Wednesday FC (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 & 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 have 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 fully understand 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.
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.
Mr Speaker, while 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 (CPS) on the basis of evidence gathered as part of the 2 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 Act 1974.
I know that those responsible for the police and Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) 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 their outcome in any way.
Family support package
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 3 ways.
Firstly, 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’ 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 re-constitute 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 2 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 also like to express my thanks to Bishop James again for his invaluable advice over the years. There is further work to be done so I have asked Bishop James to remain as my adviser and I am pleased to say he has agreed to do so.
Mr Speaker, 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 also 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 that 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. And we should also remember those who have sadly passed away while still waiting for justice.
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 the 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.