Previous SectionIndexHome Page

11.14 am

Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester): This debate is an important part of the healing process, although recent speeches show that there is still a long way to go. I wish to join the all-party consensus shown by the two Front-Bench speakers on the matter.

The perceptions and interpretations of this great tragedy will always be the subject of critical observation, and there will never be a unanimous point of view. I commend the previous Government on the speed with which they set up the Taylor inquiry, and the Home Secretary on setting up the judicial scrutiny.

No matter how we look at the documents and the evidence, the fact is that 96 people died. Although there are different versions of what led up to the tragedy, we are left with a statement that is broadly agreed by both sides of the House--the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control. I welcome the lasting improvements that the Taylor report brought to football--and many other professional sports--but I do not go along with the view that all-seater stadiums are necessarily the answer to problems of this nature. That was the conclusion of Lord Taylor's inquiry, but I wish to place it on record that I do not necessarily agree.

I do not wish to go over the points that have been made, but I wish to put on record my concern that there have been no criminal proceedings and my observations on police disciplinary procedures--or the lack of them, in this case. I welcome the changes mentioned by the Home Secretary, but I must ask why it is necessary to wait until April next year. I acknowledge the need to have the legitimate rights of police officers brought into any legislation or regulations, but April next year marks the 10th anniversary of the tragedy. Ten years on, we are still talking about taking action, which the public feel has been a long time coming.

The Granada Television programme "Hillsborough" could not be seen as an investigative programme, and it unnecessarily added to the anxiety of many people closely associated with the tragedy and of those who, for the first

8 May 1998 : Column 965

time, saw a vivid production of something based on fact which, with the best will in the world, was not 100 per cent. factual.

I welcome the Home Secretary's decision to appoint Lord Justice Stuart-Smith to conduct a judicial scrutiny. As the right hon. Gentleman said:

One assumed that that would be the answer. The scrutiny report expressed sympathy for the families--it understood their dismay that no one had been held to account and their disappointment with the report itself. It said that there was no basis for a further judicial inquiry or for reopening Lord Taylor's inquiry. It also said that the coroner's inquest was not flawed, and that, nine years on, no further inquiry involving witnesses could help.

Nine years on, however, are we getting any nearer to drawing the matter to a close? After the Taylor report and the judicial scrutiny, the Home Secretary is in an almost impossible situation--he cannot go against their conclusions that there is no reason for a further inquiry. However, justice has not been done, as no one has had to accept responsibility and pay a penalty for his failures and errors.

I understand that some of the families are considering whether to bring a private criminal prosecution. If such a case were upheld, it would be a terrible indictment of the whole system of justice and inquiry. I welcome the Home Secretary's announcement this morning that the police papers have been made available to the Hillsborough families--I am grateful to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) for drawing my attention to the fact that there are 12 boxes of police archive material. Will the Home Secretary confirm that all the police material and all other material are now available for full public scrutiny?

Although I know that the law does not permit a second inquest, I ask the Home Secretary to refer the inquest's decision to the High Court for judicial review, with a request that the original verdict of accidental death be replaced with an open verdict, on the ground that the inquiry had been insufficient. That would acknowledge, as Labour Members have said, that the deaths could have been avoided.

No matter how many inquiries, reviews or scrutinies are undertaken, no one will be brought back to life. I do not only sympathise with the families; I can empathise with people who have lost a young family member in tragic circumstances. I do not know how long the healing will take, but the process must be undertaken. Nine years is already a long time, but clearly there is still much healing to be done.

I conclude with some questions. When did the Home Secretary last meet with the families? What was the purpose and outcome of those meetings? Does he intend to meet them again, or is the Hillsborough book now closed for him?

11.22 am

Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling): I apologise to the House as, for reasons that most people know and of which I have informed Madam Speaker, I shall shortly have to leave. I make this short contribution as a Nottingham

8 May 1998 : Column 966

Member. I am sure that all the hon. Members who represent the area will support what I say--indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) is also present for the debate.

I was not at Hillsborough on that awful day, but I clearly remember hearing the almost unbelievable news. I remember seeing the terrible pictures on television that left us numb and helpless. I talked to many of my friends who had travelled to Hillsborough as supporters of Nottingham Forest or simply as football lovers. I particularly remember that my good friend Malcolm Griffiths took his son Gareth, a keen Liverpool supporter, to watch the match--indeed, Gareth is now at Liverpool university and is a Liverpool season ticket holder. To this day, Malcolm Griffiths remembers those events--he talks to me as a friend, and has written to my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood as his Member of Parliament, about the events of that day and the injustices that he feels as a citizen of Nottingham who has close affinities with Liverpool. People who survived have terrible memories, but at least they walked away, unlike the many others whose tragic loss is still felt so keenly.

I want to speak in this debate to say to the people of Merseyside that the people of Nottingham have not forgotten that day, and once again to express the sympathy and grief that we, too, feel--we share their sorrow. I remember being proud of the response of Nottingham Forest football club, the city and county councils and many other organisations. Above all, I was proud of the countless individual gifts and expressions of sympathy from the people of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire to the people of Merseyside. The counselling service that Nottinghamshire county council set up after the Kegworth air disaster, which took place shortly before Hillsborough, proved invaluable.

People sometimes say that words are not enough, but as some of my hon. Friends have said, they are sometimes all that one has. The expressions of support and sympathy that were given so sincerely at the time are reiterated now.

Like many in Nottinghamshire, I share the frustration and anger of the people of Merseyside and their representatives about the failings of the police on that day and the inadequacies of the judicial system in ensuring that justice was done and seen to be done. I am sure that my hon. Friends who represent the Merseyside area will be able to articulate those feelings far better than I can.

I hope that the Government will ensure that all the lessons of Hillsborough are not only fully learnt, but implemented, so that the necessary changes are made. I ask the Minister to deal with all the concerns that hon. Members raise today.

I conclude by once again offering, on behalf of the people of Nottingham and the other Nottingham Members, the deepest sympathy to those who lost loved ones, to the people of Merseyside and to all those who were affected. I know that the people of Nottingham have not forgotten, and will not forget, the terrible events of that day.

11.27 am

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): I commend the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) on the way in which they opened this very important debate, in which it is difficult to participate. As many will know,

8 May 1998 : Column 967

I come from the north-west--I represent a constituency in the north-west. I do not support Liverpool; I support Manchester United--

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): What a shame.

Mrs. Winterton: It is a shame. Manchester United, too, has had its share of tragedies, and I think that the hearts of everyone in the north-west of England went out to those Liverpool supporters who were so cruelly killed at Hillsborough and to their families, whose memories will remain with them for the rest of their days.

It is perhaps with the benefit of hindsight--which is always a great thing--that we can see that an incident such as Hillsborough was waiting to happen at a football ground or other stadium. What happened at Hillsborough came about, I believe, because of a combination of circumstances, not only because of the failure of police control, although I agree with the many hon. Members who have spoken about the police's failure of leadership and control on that fateful day, 15 April 1989, when 95 people tragically lost their lives.

As a result of the inquiry set up by the previous Government and chaired by Lord Justice Taylor--and the implementation of its recommendations--football was kicked into the 20th century by the sheer horror at the magnitude of the tragedy at the Sheffield Wednesday football ground.

I hasten to add that blame should not be laid at the door of the football clubs alone. After all, as early as 1989, some clubs had been sufficiently forward looking to introduce all-seater stadiums, but they then had to reverse that policy to a certain extent for a variety of reasons.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) said, many clubs needed a considerable injection of investment to introduce more adequate safety measures and to provide more comfortable facilities that were more in keeping with modern times. The fans and regular supporters were not treated as they should have been by the club management.

As a result of the tragic incident--the worst in the history of British sport in terms of the number of deaths--several investigations and other procedures were instituted, and those have been outlined in earlier speeches. A public inquiry, conducted by Lord Justice Taylor, was set up only two days after the accident, and an interim report was published on 1 August 1989. The final report appeared in January the following year, with a list of recommendations on the design and construction of stadiums and with chapters covering all the matters to be considered following the disaster.

That report also contained criticisms of the South Yorkshire police and the way in which they carried out their duties that day. The relatives of those who died have found it bemusing, to say the least, that there were no prosecutions. They have felt aggrieved at the verdict of the coroner's court of accidental death rather than unlawful killing.

The family support group's counsel has accepted that it is now impossible to have a fresh inquest, and I trust that the families will be comforted by the coroner's statement that a verdict of accidental death did not mean that the deaths occurred without fault. There was

8 May 1998 : Column 968

obviously fault, and it was highlighted in the Taylor report for all to read. I am sure, however, that the families and the House will welcome the Home Secretary's announcement of future changes to the coroner's inquest procedure when a full-scale inquiry is under way at the same time.

Bearing in mind the deep unhappiness of the afflicted families and the suggestion that fresh evidence not available at the time of the Taylor inquiry was forthcoming, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith was charged with conducting a scrutiny to ascertain whether such evidence existed and whether it had a bearing on the various legal procedures and decisions that had already been taken. His report, published this February, is comprehensive, clear and concise, and I congratulate the Home Secretary on commissioning it.

The true nature of the tragedy is brought home to everyone on reading the list of the names of those who made oral or written submissions, who attended the open session, or who met Lord Justice Stuart-Smith privately. It brings it home to everyone that individuals and families are involved and that it is not simply some amorphous incident that happened somewhere else, some time ago.

Perhaps now is an appropriate moment to consider the victims of the disaster and not to forget the names of two young men who did not die in the stadium but who were left with severe brain damage: Andrew Devine of Liverpool and Tony Bland of Sheffield. Both were diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state: a problematic label that has done nothing to encourage respect and care for those affected.

Tragically, Tony Bland's injuries created a situation that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) described as

for Tony Bland and for the state of the law, which should protect the most vulnerable members of society.

Tony Bland suffered twice from pneumonia, as well as a urinary fistula, and afterwards contracted septicaemia. Paradoxically, his doctors applied what might be considered aggressive treatment, only to apply to the courts later for permission to end his life by withdrawal of food and fluids: a scenario that the Law Commission has proposed to enshrine in statute.

I make absolutely no criticism of Tony Bland's parents, who agreed with that course of action, but I commend to the House the care that Andrew Devine's parents have taken of their disabled son.

Next Section

IndexHome Page