Previous SectionIndexHome Page

11.51 am

Mr. Eddie O'Hara (Knowsley, South): I regret having to begin by referring to the remarks of the righthon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire

8 May 1998 : Column 973

(Sir B. Mawhinney). His comparison with Myra Hindley and the Titanic disaster and his apologia for the police were completely out of keeping with the tone of the debate. He said that the police made an apology. Page 92 of Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's report shows that there was no apology. It contains expressions of regret, which to me fall short of an apology. The now chief constable of South Yorkshire police says sorry on page 93, when he says that we cannot bring those children back. By God, I should hope he is sorry, but that is not an apology as far as I am concerned.

Remarks were made about the behaviour of the crowd and, by implication, the contribution of those who were killed to their own deaths. When my three children were of primary-school age, I often took them among Liverpool football crowds, which were packed, robust and enthusiastic in their support of their team. I always felt that my children were completely safe among them: Liverpool football crowds are like that, but one needs to come from Liverpool to understand.

In contrast to the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary hit the right note when he said that it is difficult for us to appreciate the anguish of the Hillsborough families. Those of us who come from Merseyside are better placed than most to appreciate their anguish. It is echoed and magnified across Merseyside, not least in my community of Knowsley, South. It is a burning feeling not just of anguish, but of anger and injustice about the Hillsborough disaster. It is not about what happened and why it happened, although those are matters of great concern, but about what is seen to this day to be a wholly unsatisfactory response to the tragedy from the moment it started to unfold until now in this Chamber.

The speed of response to the plight of those who were trapped, having the life crushed out of them at the Leppings lane end, the access afforded to the emergency services, the treatment provided to those who were mortally injured, the treatment of the family members who had to identify the bodies, the availability of evidence to the subsequent Taylor inquiry, the treatment of the evidence that was available and the evidence that was not made available and is still coming to light to this day or is still being sought, and the conduct of the inquest have all been unsatisfactory. I hear what the Home Secretary says about the 3.15 cut-off point, but it is not satisfactory and there must be a further examination of what happened after 3.15.

The verdict of accidental death cannot be accepted by the families of the Hillsborough victims. The fact that no one has ever been held to account for the events on that awful day, 15 April 1989, is even more unacceptable. This debate affords the best opportunity we have had so far adequately to address these complex and sensitive issues. I do not deceive myself that I or anyone else alone can do justice in this debate to all the issues, but collectively we may succeed better than ever before. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) made a valuable contribution. Her investigation into the 12 boxes of documents in the Library throws new light on the issue. I ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to defer judgment on what further action he takes on this matter until he has fully considered the points raised in the debate.

8 May 1998 : Column 974

As I cannot hope to cover all the issues, I shall speak on behalf of one family in my constituency who lost a son in the tragedy. James Aspinall had a bright life before him, a secure and loving family, a job that he enjoyed and that offered prospects, and a joy of life. He went to a football match to support his beloved Liverpool and he was killed. I know that his parents would approve of that choice of word. His parents' last image of him is a photograph of him lying on his back alone with a coat being thrown over him, seemingly even before a doctor could get to him to certify him dead. They asked, "Did no one help him?" They have never received a satisfactory answer. What a question never to receive an answer to.

James's parents suffered the indignity of tests and questions about the level of alcohol in his body. Why? It happened that James did not have excessive alcohol in his body, but what if he had had? Alcohol was not a contributory factor to the deaths of those who were killed. In any event, it is not a crime to have a drink before going to a football match, and it is certainly not a crime punishable by death.

Why, ask Mr. and Mrs. Aspinall, were drink tests not carried out on those whose response to the unfolding tragedy was so woefully inadequate? They resent the fact that the police officers judged to be responsible for the tragedy were allowed to escape disciplinary action by taking early retirement on grounds of ill health. They appreciate that the Home Secretary is taking steps to make it more difficult for that to happen in future, but they cannot come to terms with the fact that many of those who were responsible for causing the tragedy--or who were implicated in its shameful aftermath--may be leading lives of ease, comfort and pleasure, with the assistance of large sums from early retirement settlements or from compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Aspinalls cannot understand why the Director of Public Prosecutions could not find sufficient evidence to prosecute on any count--great or small--those who were so clearly found responsible. They cannot understand why, even if the senior police officers in operational control on the day were able to evade the consequences of their actions, vicarious responsibility did not pass to South Yorkshire police, and, ultimately, to the chief constable, Mr. Wright. They seek an explanation of why the Health and Safety Executive was not involved in investigations after the event, regarding the responsibilities and liabilities of not only the police, but Sheffield Wednesday football club, Sheffield city council and the Football Association.

It must be said that Mr. and Mrs. Aspinall are cynical about the availability of information, and the inquiry's treatment of what information was available. They will be satisfied with nothing short of a fresh inquiry into all the evidence, including that which has subsequently been made available. When I tell them that Lord Justice Stuart-Smith has effectively done all that they ask, they are dismissive of his investigation. They were dismissive from the time of his public relations fiasco, when he made unfortunate remarks about Liverpool supporters being typically late. They point out that they were early for their appointment with him, but the media circus made him late to meet them. They remind me that James was killed because he arrived early to watch Liverpool play Nottingham Forest.

8 May 1998 : Column 975

I explained to the Aspinalls that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was reluctant to put the Hillsborough families through the pain of another inquiry when his best advice was that the outcome would be no different. They replied that they could not suffer any more pain than they had suffered since 15 April 1989--pain that they continue to suffer.

I said earlier that I hoped my right hon. Friend would defer consideration of what more might be done about the Hillsborough disaster until after he had fully considered our debate. He says that nothing could be achieved by a further full investigation. My constituents ask to be allowed to be the judges of that. As far as they are concerned, justice has not been done, and it certainly has not been seen to be done.

More can be done. My hon. Friend the Member for Garston has pointed out that there are the strongest possible grounds for a further investigation into the behaviour of South Yorkshire police from the moment of the Hillsborough disaster up to today. As she said, the force should at least be made to say, "Mea culpa"; I would prefer it to say, "Mea maxima culpa." A subsequent inquiry might find that there are people who are still in post who could be held to account.

There are grounds for investigating the workings of the DPP at the time. Neither the families nor I are satisfied that all questions have been answered there. In addition, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) said, there are certainly grounds for closer investigation into events after 3.15 pm.

I suspect that some people are still in post and liable for disciplinary proceedings, or other proceedings, for what happened that day, or subsequently. The fact that they may have got away with cover-up and deceit for nine years is no reason for continuing to evade action. I ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to consider carefully after the debate whether there may be specific events or factors that he could investigate further, even if that investigation goes short of a whole new public inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster.

12.3 pm

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): When the House was given the welcome news that the events surrounding the Hillsborough tragedy were to be scrutinised, I asked my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for an assurance that the feelings of those who were most concerned would be fully considered. I had in mind feelings of anger and distress, but also the mounting sense of injustice. It is nine years since the tragedy, and we have had Lord Taylor's unequivocal statement that the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control. What happened was preventable, and organisations and individuals were responsible; some issues raise the question of a possible attempt to pervert the course of justice. Despite all that, nothing has happened.

Nine years on, and after the publication and consideration of the scrutiny, there have still been no prosecutions or disciplinary actions. That is unacceptable. The verdict of accidental death stands, but that is also unacceptable within the normal meaning of the term. Police statements were changed and police influenced the

8 May 1998 : Column 976

changing of statements by others, but it seems that the significance of those changes was minimised. Video tapes were stolen from a secure, controlled area, but answers to questions about that have never been given, no inquiry into the matter seems to have proceeded and to this day, the tapes have not been recovered. That is also unacceptable.

The coroner's decision to impose a cut-off time of 3.15 pm, whatever his reasons in terms of the inquest's conduct, was certainly seen to devalue the lives of those who lived after that time, and perhaps it assisted in avoiding the issue of the care of those who were still alive. I use the word "care" with its normal meaning.

It would be wrong to say that nothing has changed in the past few months. Were it not for the scrutiny that resulted from the Home Secretary's decision, we would not be debating the issue and the matters that have been raised could not have been brought to the House with the same strength of feeling, based on facts. Disciplinary codes are to be changed, and we can anticipate changes in the conduct of coroners' inquests in similar circumstances. Safety at matches in general has been improved, but none of the changes deals with retrospection or affects the lives, feelings or views of those who were directly involved.

I return to where I began--the feelings of those who were involved when the scrutiny was announced. Will the Minister make it clear that he appreciates that a purely legalistic approach to the way that matters have developed cannot assuage the anger, the stress and the other deep feelings of those who were involved? Does he agree that there should be a recognition of at least the possibility that the lack of action against the police who were involved is unjust and perhaps against natural justice? Has he considered the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions at the time of the events and since? Will he place on record in a form that he feels appropriate a statement that Hillsborough was no accident in the normal meaning of the term, that culpability was clearly established and that there is regret that it is not possible to take retrospective action to deal with those matters? Could he make it clear that his decision about the problems of a future inquiry relates to the legal judgment by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, who states that that would serve no purpose--no purpose, that is, in a legal sense? I ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to put it on record and to make it clear that, although he accepts that ruling as a legal ruling, which has been made clear, he understands the feelings of those involved that the purpose of any future inquiry would be to ensure that no stone was left unturned.

It appears that no further legal action can be taken, although I urge my right hon. Friend to consider whether there are any other ways in which any of the specific points that have been raised can be considered further. I certainly urge him to make statements that set out the reasons for his decisions, and an appreciation of the feelings, anger and grief that are involved and the concerns that are still mounting.

Those feelings of anger are justified. I understand the legal system and I think that it must be a cause of deep regret for all of us that retrospective action on these cases has not appeared to be possible but, if it is not possible for a judicial system to deal with feelings of legitimate anger, with people thinking that their concerns have been considered properly, that judicial system has failed. Therefore, I welcome the steps that are already being

8 May 1998 : Column 977

taken to remedy that situation and ask my right hon. Friend to consider that system further, so that nothing like this can ever happen again, and such feelings of grief and injustice cannot occur again.

Next Section

IndexHome Page