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10.52 am

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford): I do not wish to delay the House long, because I know that Labour Members want to make a major contribution on behalf of their constituents. I congratulate the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) on the exemplary way in which they presented the case this morning. This is a serious and heart-rending situation, which is difficult to resolve. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire said, dreams have been trodden on. The lives of very young people have been destroyed as a result of that hideous event at Sheffield, Hillsborough so long ago.

Regrettably, we cannot undo what happened on that day; but we must help the families to come to terms with what has happened, to start to dissipate their anger and to turn it into a constructive objective for the future. It is the only way forward for them, for the House and for the country.

I start by observing, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire did, that the Hillsborough disaster did not have its origin on that day alone. There had been a long, disturbing history of extreme violence at football grounds. There had been examples of lack of crowd control at many football grounds throughout the country, which was extremely worrying for football clubs because it was reducing attendances at matches, with financial results.

For many years, many stadiums had badly lacked capital investment. Football clubs had used their money to invest in hideously high transfer fees for players, and had neglected to look after the fans who supported them--fans who needed proper seating and decent facilities, and whose safety needed to be safeguarded by properly constructed stands, entry gates and turnstiles to ensure that the huge numbers attending did not become a danger to themselves. Those safeguards had not been provided.

In the House at the time, we faced the fact that violent behaviour at football grounds had led the country as a whole to have a hideous reputation internationally for extreme bad behaviour at soccer matches. Barriers were among the measures used to prevent soccer pitches from being invaded by the crowd, and to prevent scenes of major violence and disorder from being repeatedly displayed to those present and on television. Those barriers, against which the people at Hillsborough were crushed, were the cause of death in that case, and the barriers were there as a result of previous behaviour at soccer matches throughout the country.

It is necessary to place the matter in that context. Although I agree whole-heartedly that the police failed to control the crowd properly and adequately--indeed, as emerged from the subsequent evidence,

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behaved abominably, as the Taylor report pointed out and as Lord Justice Stuart-Smith agreed--none the less, no policeman went to that football ground wishing to see that crowd get out of control.

We must maintain a balanced view. Although the police were wrong in several respects, they did not cause the deaths of those young people. We must put that in perspective. However, there is a very serious problem.

Mr. Eddie O'Hara (Knowsley, South): What evidence can the hon. Gentleman present to show that that crowd was out of control? Does he not accept that it is disgraceful to put the blame for what happened at Hillsborough on those people who were crushed? They were not out of control; they were hapless victims, and they were victims of the actions of the police, who guided into them people who should have been directed elsewhere in the ground.

Mr. Wells: I do not disagree with anything that the hon. Gentleman has said. I agree with him that the crowds were not responsible for the deaths of the young people at Hillsborough either, but I am saying that, equally, I do not think that we can heap on the heads of some senior police officers the entire blame for the incident.

Mr. O'Hara: The hon. Gentleman has not read the report.

Mr. Wells: I have read the report. I am merely saying, let us get this into perspective, as far as we can in these emotional and difficult circumstances. It was not the crowd's fault--I could not agree with the hon. Gentleman more--but we must place the matter in perspective if we are to resolve it.

The police, in connection with this incident, should be the subject of very serious investigation by the Home Secretary. A group spirit emerges within the police, which makes them try to defend one another at the expense of the public and of justice. The police are accountable only to themselves. The police boards that control them do not control them, and have no means of doing so. What we have seen in this whole sorry story is the South Yorkshire and West Midlands police defending themselves. That has to be addressed. I hope that, when he comes to announce the measures that he proposes to put before the House, the Home Secretary will find a means by which the police can be objectively assessed and not allowed to get away without the responsibilities that are properly theirs.

It is a sad and difficult matter, full of emotion, with which we are dealing this morning, as the intervention of the hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) and the reaction of the House have demonstrated. The sympathies of all of us are with those who lost their loved ones at Hillsborough. I join them in feeling their grief and I feel for them for the future.

11 am

Mr. Derek Twigg (Halton): First, I shall put some facts to the House. I was at Hillsborough on that day. I am a lifelong Liverpool supporter and season ticket holder. I gave a statement to the West Midlands police. Those are my interests.

I shall start by describing my recollections as briefly as possible--we have limited time, and many people want to speak in the debate. I travelled out that day with three

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friends. I drove rather than going by train because my wife was heavily pregnant. So I was not drinking. Given the issues around drink on that day, it is perhaps worth mentioning that. I have a fairly clear recollection of what was going on during the day. I arrived fairly early. We had a look round the ground. I had a long time to take in what was happening.

My three friends were in the Leppings lane end, but fortunately not in pens 3 and 4. They were in the other pen. I was in the north stand. There is a picture much used by medical journals showing the crush just before 3 o'clock. I was a little closer to the pitch than that, but the picture shows clearly the crush that was taking place.

It is important to say that Liverpool football club is the most successful club in this country. I say that for this reason. The supporters have experienced many great moments--European cup finals, FA cup finals, championships and so on--and had been to the semi-final the year before the Hillsborough disaster, and Liverpool had won the double in 1986. So although it was an important occasion, there was nothing particularly special about the day that made Liverpool supporters react differently from their previous good behaviour, with the exception of what happened at Heysel. From some of the police reports and statements, one would not think that what I saw on the day was the same as what police officers saw.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), I have been through many of the statements and other documents. It was a fairly sunny day. There was a decent atmosphere. It was jovial. People were happy going to the ground. There was nothing especially out of order that I could notice.

When I got to the ground at about 25 minutes to 3, the build-up of the crowd outside Leppings lane was beginning. It was clear to me that there was no real police presence other than some at the turnstiles. There was no effort by the police to channel supporters, to have orderly queueing or whatever. I cannot say what happened afterwards, but at that stage the crowd was well behaved and there was no real problem.

There have been examples over many years of success at Liverpool of crowds of 55,000 or 60,000, with 10,000 or 20,000 people locked out and massive queues of people going into matches. Never has there been a problem, because the police have organised things well. There has been orderly queueing and they have managed the crowd. The experience of the crowd is on record. However, the police at Sheffield that day did not seem to be bothered about getting involved with the organisation of the crowd outside the match.

There has been talk about people without tickets, but a lot of people had tickets that were not taken off them as they came through the turnstile. They were not checked that day. One gentleman next to me had such an experience. The control was not to the standards that one would expect.

When I got into the ground, I noticed almost immediately that the two middle pens--pens 3 and 4--were pretty full, but the side pens were probably only a third full, if that. That did not improve much during the next 10, 15 or 20 minutes. The point that I am trying to make is that although I was not within 100 yd but a bit further away, I could see what was happening. What were the police officers in the control room and facing the

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crowd doing at that time? How did they fail to notice the build-up to dangerous levels of the crowds in pens 3 and 4? How did they fail to do anything about it? How come the information was not relayed to officers outside the ground? I find it incredible.

One thing that sticks in my mind--I am not sure what time it was, but I think that it was around the kick-off--is that people started trying to climb over the fence and people were pulled up from the back stand. I remember policemen pushing people back in off the pitch. The understanding then, according to some of the police records, was that people were trying to invade the pitch, but police officers must have seen that people were in abject suffering or even dead in front of their eyes and just a few yards away from Chief Superintendent Duckenfield. I cannot comprehend why this disaster happened, given that the evidence was there to enable the police to prevent it.

I know that the opening of the gate and the build-up of the crowd outside has been called a monumental blunder by Taylor, but how was it that the police inside the ground, knowing the situation in the pens, did not relay a message to the superintendent outside the ground? Why did no one take the trouble to go between the turnstiles and the entrance into pens 3 and 4 and direct the crowd elsewhere? I cannot comprehend how that was not done. The evidence was there. The situation was before their eyes.

There is no argument but that the disaster could have been prevented and that the people to blame are the police. They were supposed to be in control and to be monitoring the situation.

Issues have been raised about crowd violence and concerns that there was some trouble in the crowd. Superintendent Greenwood went on to the pitch. His statement shows that he knew immediately that the problem was not one of crowd violence. He knew that there was something else going on. His statement was something like, "At this stage of the game, it did not even enter my mind that that was the case. I knew that something else was wrong." He knew that, yet we had statements later from police officers, politicians and others about crowd violence.

The police were clearly to blame. There is no doubt about that in my mind. Duckenfield basically abrogated his duty. He lost control of the situation. He was not around the pitch itself. In my eyes, he is the person, as the officer in charge, who is primarily to blame.

I want to touch on the aftermath before I go on to some of the other points. What has upset relatives of those killed, the people of Liverpool and those who have an interest in what goes on in the football club is the disgraceful lies about the blame for the disaster, and about the behaviour of the Liverpool supporters towards people who lay dead and dying. South Yorkshire police officers briefed the press shortly after the disaster. There were deceitful lies from Duckenfield himself. There were headlines in The Sun that can never be forgiven. In many ways, those things set the tone. The comments that Duckenfield made were going halfway round the world within a matter of minutes. His comments were reported by John Motson or someone else in the press. The die was cast in terms of the blame, and the disinformation started.

If South Yorkshire police had said, "We got it wrong. We made the main mistake," no one would have been satisfied, but their behaviour has caused so much

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additional upset and distress. The battle has been not only to find out the facts of why the deaths occurred, but to defend the reputation of those who died. Some of them were children. We must remember those who died and their families, as well as the supporters of the club and the city of Liverpool. I wonder whether, had another city been involved, the same rubbish would have been in the press at that time. All that meant that conflict developed, and my hon. Friend the Member for Garston referred to the disinformation.

I do not believe the sincerity of the apology from the police, as it had to be dragged out of them--even after Taylor. To this day, many people within the force do not accept any blame at all. Their version of events still exists. Also, there is no memorial at the Sheffield club for the Liverpool supporters who died there. I understand that supporters who went to a recent match at Sheffield were prevented from putting down flowers on the perimeter of the pitch. There is still a problem about recognising and accepting what went on, and we must understand why supporters and the people of Liverpool feel so strongly about what happened.

I wonder whether the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), the shadow Home Secretary--or the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who is to wind up for the Opposition--would condemn the remarks of people such as Bernard Ingham, who blamed drunken Liverpool fans and still espouses that view. Given that Bernard Ingham was Margaret Thatcher's press secretary, I wonder whether Conservative Members would condemn unequivocally his comments.

I wish to refer to the Stuart-Smith report. The state of the ground was important, because the club overestimated the number of people who could go into the pens. The signing was awful, the stewarding was not good and the crush barrier was found to be full of rust and faulty. That all had an impact on what happened on the day, without taking the major blame away from the police. The police still have a case to answer.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is aware of my concern at the decision not to prosecute, which I have raised with him personally in correspondence. I condemn the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions not to prosecute Duckenfield, the chief constable and others. I understand that the view of the DPP is that there is insufficient evidence. We do not know why that is the case because the DPP cannot publish the reason; it was said that it was the opinion of two counsels. That does not help me to understand why the decision was taken. Following a disaster of that magnitude, the families deserve--at the very least--a chance to test the case in court.

I understand that the Home Secretary has a particular position to keep, but I think, to this day, that the case should be referred back to the DPP and that those officers should face criminal prosecution. I am glad that police disciplinary procedures are being changed so that people cannot go off because of ill health. If a police officer is unable to face an inquiry or disciplinary procedures because he is not in the best of health, how come the families--who have campaigned for eight or nine years and who have suffered the horror of what happened--can still go on? There is some injustice there.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Garston referred to police statements, and I support what she said. I have dozens of statements here, and there is a clear intent to avoid blame. I also have a statement from Dr. Ed Walker, to whom I spoke briefly. His statement was signed by a police officer he never met. He raised the issue of the 3.15 cut-off and the treatment of victims on the day. On the 3.15 cut-off, there is still concern about what happened to the victims and those who were injured. I believe that another of my hon. Friends wishes to raise a particular case.

There are questions still to be asked about what happened, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will deal with them later. Reference has been made to the accidental death verdict. In a sense, there has not been a cover-up, in that we know who was to blame and why it happened. However, there are still some pertinent and important questions which need to be asked, and we need to know why no prosecution took place. That is why there is a continuing feeling of injustice.

The disaster should never have happened and it could, and should, have been prevented easily. I can never forgive those responsible for what happened on that day.

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