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10.35 am

Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who has made time for today's debate. She was inundated with requests and responded to them in difficult circumstances. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for his role in placing in the House of Commons Library some 12 boxes of hitherto unseen material consisting of statements and other documents from the South Yorkshire police archive. I have had the opportunity to look through most of that material and I shall comment on it later in my speech.

Let me say first that I am here as a representative of the city of Liverpool, as a football supporter and a Liverpool supporter. No one who combines those three qualities could be anywhere other than here today representing the interests and feelings of their constituents.

I represent bereaved families--Mr. and Mrs. Jones, Mr. and Mrs. Pemberton and Mrs. Hicks. Mr. and Mrs. Jones lost their son and his fiancee, Mr. and Mrs. Pemberton lost their son and Mrs. Hicks lost her two daughters. I hope that they will forgive me if I do not spend what little time I have trying to convey to the House the way in which that loss affected their lives and their families.

As I said, I have looked through most of the 12 boxes of police statements and materials placed in the Library, gaining some insight arising from my practical experience as a solicitor. Let me set out my initial conclusions.

First, South Yorkshire police behaved abominably leading up to the Taylor inquiry. They orchestrated what can only be described as a black propaganda campaign which aimed to deflect the blame for what had happened on to any one other than themselves. They were not preparing a case for the inquiry; they were preparing a defence, and there is a subtle psychological difference between the two. The fans--who include the victims and the club--were the main target. If one re-reads Lord Taylor's interim report, it is clear that he implicitly agrees with that assessment.

Secondly, I discovered that there was a liaison unit, which appears to have consisted of the chief constable, the deputy chief constable, Chief Superintendent Wain, Chief Superintendent Mountain, Superintendent Bettison and Detective Chief Inspector Brooke. The role of the liaison unit appears to have been to orchestrate that campaign.

Thirdly, there was a systematic attempt to change police statements to emphasise the slant on the defence that the police wanted to develop. It failed because of the sheer volume of self-serving statements and the shortage of time in which they had to get them to the Taylor inquiry. The attempt became impractical and thus most of the alterations to the statements were not significant, although Lord Justice Stuart-Smith accepts that some were not insignificant. More tellingly, one can see the intention of the police from solicitors' annotations on the

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unamended statements. That attempt to put a slant on evidence failed also because Lord Taylor saw through it. His report condemned in the strongest possible terms the strategy and tactics of the senior management and legal team of the South Yorkshire police. When reading the report, one cannot but be impressed by the strength of his condemnation.

Fourthly, that campaign continued after the Taylor inquiry reported, when it should have stopped. The life of the liaison committee also extended beyond the end of the inquiry to the generic inquest, and who knows whether it extended further? It would be interesting to have an answer. The committee's purpose changed from supplying black propaganda to achieving historical revisionism, but its aim has always been the same--to deflect blame. It is time that that stopped.

I have dug out many references from the boxes of documents, and I do not have time to set out a full case to support what I am saying, but I shall make some points. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith referred to the self-serving, self-written statements in paragraph 79 on page 78 of his report, where he said that it appeared that Chief Superintendent Wain was asking the serving police officers for factual statements. However, the boxes of documents contain a letter with comments at the end that have been added using a different typewriter. I wonder whether Lord Justice Stuart-Smith saw them. One addition asks:

Does that request a factual statement? Another comment says:

    "Officers should include in their statements their fears, feelings and observations",

and, referring to the actions of the stewards, the letter asks:

    "were they doing their jobs?"

That does not ask for a factual statement; it asks for an individual officer's opinion about what happened.

Lord Justice Stuart-Smith says that officers were seeking to take only factual statements and, according to the first five points in the body of the letter, that is exactly what they were doing, but was something else going on?

I have already said that it is not the alterations to the statements that are important, but the annotations on the unamended statements. If one goes through the boxes of evidence and reads the solicitors' annotations in the margins of the unamended statements, one can see developing a shorthand that flags up certain points in the statements. Some of the annotations are sensible. They say "Outs LL", which means outside Leppings lane, and "Ins LL", which means inside Leppings lane, and "Gym". They flag up what happened at certain locations, which is no more than good organisation when annotating a statement. There are others, such as "Fan Beh", which is a shorthand for fan behaviour, and "Fan no tick", which is short for fans without tickets. If one reads all the unamended statements, one can see that those points are being flagged up.

One must then consider how the police presented their case at the Taylor inquiry. Their case was that fans turned up with no tickets; fans behaved badly; fans were drunk; fans tried to storm in; and they caused the crush. One can see on the unamended statements how the defence team of solicitors and the liaison committee who were reading them flagged up those points for use at a later stage.

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Lord Taylor spotted that. I do not expect that he saw the annotations on the statements, which were made on the understanding that they were legally privileged, although Lord Justice Stuart-Smith says that they were not. There was no reason for the people who annotated those statements to think that they would ever be seen outside the force. Lord Taylor, whether or not he saw the annotations, saw through what was happening. He severely criticised the conduct of the police at the inquiry.

The Stuart-Smith report repeats paragraph 285 of the Taylor report, which states:

That is exactly what one can see in the annotations on the unamended statements. The report continued:

    "It was argued that the fatal crush was not caused by the influx through gate C but was due to barrier 124A being defective. Such an unrealistic approach gives cause for anxiety as to whether lessons have been learnt. It would have been more seemly and encouraging for the future if responsibility had been faced."

At the end of the inquiry, Lord Taylor delivered a devastating indictment of the behaviour of the police and their conduct at the inquiry. At that point, the chief constable should have been held to account for the way in which he was leading that force and for the presentation of such a case to the inquiry. That he was not is a matter of regret. I know that it is not easy to sack chief constables, but he should have been sacked at that point for his poor leadership. It is now too late, of course--he has gone.

What happened after the inquiry is also interesting. What happened at the generic inquest? One would have thought that, by that stage, the police, having read and purportedly accepted the Taylor report, would have changed their tactics, but in the boxes of statements in the House of Commons Library, there are police reports containing day-by-day summaries of the inquest. They look like the self-serving statements, and I am not sure that they were supposed to be in those boxes, but they have now been placed in the Library.

The summaries were all prepared by one man who attended the inquest--Police Constable Kenneth Greenway--and it is clear that he reported back to the force on each witness. Referring to the Liverpool fans, he reported whether they had a ticket when they arrived, whether they had had a drink and whether they saw bad behaviour or other people drinking. Only after that did he report where those witnesses were and what happened to them. So that police mentality existed after Lord Taylor had rebuked it in the most stinging fashion.

There is a list of the distribution of those reports. They were sent to the chief constable, the deputy chief constable, Chief Superintendent Wain, Chief Superintendent Mountain, Superintendent Bettison, Detective Chief Inspector Brooke and the liaison committee. The committee still existed and was doing exactly the same job that it had tried to do during the Taylor inquiry, which was rebuked in Lord Taylor's interim report.

The liaison committee was still doing its job at the generic inquest. That is why the families say that the inquest overturned the Taylor verdict. Of course, in law it

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did not, but they felt that the arguments that had been so stingingly rejected by Lord Taylor were used again at the inquest and, because the police were so pleased with the verdict, the families believed that the police had had a victory. The police should not have advanced those arguments at the inquest, but they are still doing so.

Page 97 of Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's report refers to a structural engineer's report, which was prepared by the South Yorkshire police for the contribution proceedings. The structural engineer, Mr. Burne, was not called at the inquest and his evidence was not available to the Taylor inquiry, perhaps because it was not relevant. Nevertheless, he gave evidence at the contribution proceedings. The first point to note--which any lawyer will have spotted--is that Mr. Burne was instructed in July 1989 and his report was dated August 1990. That means that there were many draft reports that were not disclosed. I should like to see those draft reports. However, on page 99, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith says:

The substance of Mr. Burne's evidence is that it was perhaps better to blame the club more because the barriers were worse than Lord Taylor had thought they were.

    "Lord Taylor might, if he had known of them, have criticised Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, their consultant engineers, and those responsible for licensing the ground in more stringent terms than he did, but I do not consider that there would have been any question of his changing his central conclusion, borne out as it is by the overwhelming mass of the evidence, that the primary cause of the disaster was a failure of police control. However, if the responsibility of the other parties was somewhat greater than had earlier been appreciated, that might have a bearing on any reconsideration of criminal proceedings against police officers."

Obviously, someone at South Yorkshire police is conducting exactly the same sort of rearguard defensive campaign as they have conducted all along.

Interestingly, on page 96, paragraph 7, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith says:

Is that liaison committee still operating?

I conclude by asking several questions which I should like my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to consider when he replies to the debate, although I accept that he may be unable to answer them today. Why did the South Yorkshire police have Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's report before all the other effective parties did? In view of the history, it did not give the families confidence that the police were being treated no differently from all the other parties. On television, the current incumbents in senior management at South Yorkshire police were happy to boast how long they had had the report.

May we publish the--still secret--percentage split of liability agreed at the contribution proceedings? Although South Yorkshire police have said sorry, they have not said mea culpa. We want them to accept that they were to blame. They caused this. It would be helpful for us to know the split of liability agreed.

Finally, as all the people who originated the policy have gone, will the Under-Secretary look to the new incumbents at South Yorkshire police? Will he get them

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to face up to their responsibility in its full force--to accept, not that they contributed and others were to blame as well, but that they were to blame? Will he persuade them to consider making serious efforts at reconciliation with the families? Until that happens, those families will be unable to proceed from the anger and anguish that they feel to grief, and they will be unable to continue their lives.

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