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Mr. O'Hara: I have the deepest respect for the hon. Lady's views on life issues, although I do not share all of them, but does she accept that she is pursuing a minor premise in the context of this debate? She should concentrate on the death of the 96, not on the tragic situation of Tony Bland and the decision to switch off his life support machine. I think that she is taking unfair advantage of an opportunity offered by this debate.

Mrs. Winterton: I must surely be allowed to make my own speech. I am in order and I have expressed concern and sympathy for the fate of the 95, but I think that it is quite appropriate that the 96th, and the circumstances in which he died, should also be mentioned. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will join me in expressing regret

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about what happened to Tony Bland, as well as to all the other victims. I seek not to make any further point about that, but it is legitimate to talk about Tony Bland now, as he died as a result of the horrific accident at Hillsborough. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that view in the spirit in which it is intended.

I know that many hon. Members from the constituencies where the victims' families live want to speak, so I shall detain the House for only a short while longer, to say that the legacy of Hillsborough lives on with the families of the survivors and of those who died. As a result of improvements introduced following the tragedy, thousands of families attend football grounds to support their local team, and do so in greater safety because of the sacrifice of those who lost their lives at Hillsborough.

I have attended many football matches; I remember an incident at Manchester, when I was waiting to see Ian Rush get on the team coach, and was caught up in a great crowd. It was perfectly friendly, but I remember the dreadful feeling of loss of control as I was swept along, and I hate to think of what agonies the people who were caught up in the disaster at Hillsborough went through and what agonies their families have subsequently gone through when thinking of that day.

11.37 am

Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire): I add my thanks to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for arranging this debate, following representations from the north-west group of Labour Members, and giving us all the time to make a contribution.

History has played a dirty trick on the Hillsborough victims and their families. The personal tragedies experienced by so many people on and following 15 April 1989 have become intensified with the passage of time, as more and more details of the shambles, neglect of duty and disorganisation that brought about the disaster, and made its immediate aftermath worse, became clear.

Those details became clear partly because of the Taylor report and partly because of the work done by the victims' families. The boundaries of what it was possible to do to bring those at fault to account became more and more confined with the passage of time, while the concerns and detailed knowledge of those seeking answers and redress became wider and deeper.

Every hon. Member present fully appreciates the grinding frustration and anger that that bitterly ironic process has produced in so many of the family members concerned. It is not surprising to us that that anger has, in some cases, turned against us, as Members of Parliament who have been unable to deliver all the solutions Hillsborough families have sought. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has been the target of some especially unpleasant and undeserved attacks in some of the local media, which he has sustained with great character.

We have been well briefed by those families in our constituencies and also by my former colleague Professor Phil Scraton, in the book that he produced with Ann Jemphrey and Sheila Coleman called, "No Last Rites", and in the briefing he sent us on the Hillsborough scrutiny. At this point, I must join my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in putting on record the fact that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Welfare Reform, the

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Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy) are unable to take part in this debate because of their ministerial roles. On behalf of the north-west group of Labour Members, I must say that they have always been heavily involved in all our discussions about the Hillsborough affair and the Stuart-Smith report and, obviously, in discussions with their constituents.

As members of the north-west group of Labour Members, we have all sought to work together to represent the views of our constituents in the aftermath of the Stuart-Smith report. That has been difficult because constituents have different emphases and their demands about what should be done differ, depending partly on the circumstances of their relatives' deaths. We are agreed, I believe, on those areas of general public interest that arise from the events at and following Hillsborough. In opening the debate, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary dealt with all of them.

Several hon. Members have already discussed the configuration and management of stadiums. The outrageous means by which police officers who were responsible escaped the consequences of their failures and inadequacies have already produced action from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. The total failure of the coroner's court to deal at all adequately with the concerns of the families of victims or to consider the evidence that they wanted to present, coupled with the inadequate range of findings available to such courts, have also been raised by my right hon. Friend, with suggestions for remedies in the not-too-distant future. We also recognise the total failure of emergency planning in the case--there are many lessons to be learnt from that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) mentioned in detail, we are also aware of the alteration of police evidence.

Those are matters of huge public interest, which the families have campaigned about in a spirit of serving the community as well as their own family cases. The Government have moved on some of them quite quickly, and I trust that the sort of disaster that occurred is much less likely to occur again as a result.

I must press my hon. Friend the Minister a little about the alteration of police evidence, which was brought to my attention in specific cases by Phil Scraton and my constituent Mrs. Sefton, whose son Andrew was killed at Hillsborough. Frankly, I was amazed that officers were requested to write a free-form account of their experiences, rather than a formal statement. Having read some of them--I have not been into the boxes in the same way as my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Twigg) has--ignoring the later editing, I am glad that they were written and I hope that some day, they will all be published. In addition to what I am about to say, writing them could well have been beneficial to the police constables concerned.

I have not ploughed through all the boxes and will concentrate on an example that is readily available to everyone in appendix 6 of the Stuart-Smith report--the account by Police Constable Frost of what happened to him that day. It is an extraordinary piece of writing--vivid, honest, emotional and moving. It is also very revealing. It gives a picture of his mood swinging from

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jovial complacency at the beginning to open distaste and dislike of fans when he came into confrontation with them, panic--not surprisingly--when the disaster began and then desperation in his pleas for leadership, which never came, along with his account of the chaotic communications system.

The account is interesting and I will read one or two parts of it. As I said, at the start on page 199, PC Frost is jovial, writing:

of course, "strutted about" is crossed out by the later editing of the account. He goes on to say:

    "A number of fans had cans of beer and were asked to finish it off before entering the ground, no problem"--

"no problem" is crossed out. A few lines later he says:

    "Dick arrested a very drunken fan".

That is left in. He writes:

    "I returned to the turnstiles passing a number of my colleagues carrying, dragging 2 or 3 prisoners".

The word "dragging" is cut out. Obviously, carrying is all right, but dragging is not. On page 201 we read that the area

    "was also full of drunken, blood-covered fans"--

"drunken" is left in, but a few lines later,

    "I remember hating them for their mentality",

is, of course, crossed out. When the panic began, he states:

    "The radio was garbled and frantic",

which is important, given its part in communications on the day, but those words are crossed out.

On page 203 of the report we read:

The lawyers have crossed out, "It's about time." The account continues:

    "Notice for the first time gaffers are now about. Where have they been."

All that is crossed out. Later he writes:

    "Fit fans venting their anger, blaming us. 'You're all useless bastards.' Yes, they are right".

Those last three words have been crossed out.

That is not merely editing by police lawyers--the account of what happened on that day has been censored and has been radically changed as a result. I understand that the original request to write reports was peculiar and that the eventual statements were more normal in police terms, but nevertheless they are evidence. In particular, they are evidence of inadequate leadership, huge complacency, and attitudes towards Liverpool fans and assumptions about their characters, which were at least unsavoury and probably dangerous. That aspect of the conduct of the South Yorkshire police should be investigated. Also, we should know whether that creative writing exercise is unique and whether the level of coercion in altering the reports is usual.

I shall concentrate in my last few minutes on the concerns brought to my attention by the family of Andrew Sefton, a 23-year-old who died at Hillsborough. His family have been tireless and intelligent in the search for the truth about what happened to him and, to be honest, they are still no closer to it. The centre of their concern

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lies in what happened in the gymnasium after 3.15 pm. My constituent, Mrs. Sefton--Andrew's mother--managed to obtain a viewing of the police video taken in the gymnasium where many of the victims died. She has told me about this and has also written to me, saying:

    "I managed to obtain access to the video, though not from the South Yorks Police, and to my horror watched my son Andrew being pronounced dead, a procedure which took between 9-11 seconds.

    However, what is concerning me even more is that the Police had assumed death by covering my son's face prior to pronouncement of 'life extinct', the S. Y. P. also assumed absolute control of events in the gymnasium, thereby preventing aid by other agencies which could have saved lives."

Her summary of these events was that

    "the onus was placed upon the victims to prove they were alive by convulsing".

It is hard to imagine the perpetual pain of a mother who is convinced that her son could have been saved, but who knows that no serious attempt was made to seek life in him, let alone resuscitate him, while a fleet of ambulances stood outside.

Given what Mrs. Sefton has unearthed, we can readily sympathise with her anger, which is also felt in many other families, at the verdict of accidental death. I heard what the Home Secretary said about the legal definition of accidental death, but out there where it matters it is an insult. It will give the family pain for me to say for the record that it is more than possible that Andrew Sefton died in the body bag. That is not acceptable in any terms.

The case of Eddie Spearritt and others who survived, but who were placed alongside victims presumed to be dead highlights the need for the Government to ensure effective and efficient disaster and emergency planning. It also underlines the folly of the imposition of the 3.15 cut-off point by the coroner, which ensured that the families of many people, including the Seftons, have not had their questions answered. The coroner rightly sought merely to determine the cause of death; that is his job. If someone died at 3.30 or later, the crush in the west stand may not have been the only or immediate cause of death. Some means must be found of examining properly the events after 3.15. Many families will never be able to mitigate their anger and sorrow while they remain in deep uncertainty about how and when their relatives died.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary inherited a mess that had been allowed to fester for eight years. I have studied carefully what he has undertaken since coming to office and I cannot see what other legal measures he could have taken. Above all, he has been remarkably open with us and with the families in everything that he has done, and has been particularly robust in his attitude to the matter of police discipline.

I hope that the two factors I have mentioned will be investigated and will be addressed when the Minister winds up the debate. The events after 3.15 in the gymnasium and elsewhere, and the alteration of police records by the South Yorkshire police should be re-examined. There will be continuing anger and distress until those two matters have been properly exposed.

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