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12.10 pm

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby): Ninety-six people died in Hillsborough and the law says that that was an accident. I have heard the definition of the word accident today. However, that is totally inadequate to describe what happened at Hillsborough. Each family was affected in a different way by the tragedy and has found a different way in which to try to cope with it. No two families have exactly the same concerns. Our duty in the House is to respond in the best way that we can to those individual concerns.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) for her contribution. She articulated many of the technical matters from a professional position. It is an ability that I envy and an ability and competence that I do not have, but I am not alone in that ignorance: I share it with many of the families who started down this road, looking for justice. However, my specific duty today is to focus on the eight families who live in my constituency who were affected by the Hillsborough disaster.

I discern three groups among those families; I think that it is important to understand that there are three groups. First, there are those who are actively campaigning for justice by banding together. Many of those people are with us today and travelled down with me on the 5.45 train. Those are the members of the support group. Secondly, there are those who continue their campaign as individuals outside that group. Thirdly, there are the silent families; the ones who have chosen, for their own reasons, to try to forget and to get on with their lives.

We have to represent the interests of all three groups. I have had lengthy discussions with four of the families who come into the first two groups and I shall try to articulate their concerns. I felt that it was inappropriate to intrude on the privacy of the families who have not approached me. Nevertheless, I have a duty to represent their interests, which must not be forgotten.

Silence may mean many things; for some families, it may mean the need to move on. However, my major concern is that it may be because of an inability to articulate their feelings within the judicial process. Many people feel totally disempowered by the process that they have had to confront to realise the justice for the families whom they have lost.

I now return to the verdict of accidental death. The families know that, whatever is done, their loved ones cannot be brought back. The majority also accept reluctantly that the law cannot be changed retrospectively, but they want two things. I have had extensive conversations with the families. I cannot emphasise too strongly the fact that at least one family comes to see me at every surgery that I hold. It ties up an inordinate amount of time, but it shows the House that the subject preoccupies many families completely and utterly.

First, my families want to feel that the authorities have been as frank and open as possible, but the evidence confronting them clearly shows that that is not the case. They want to be addressed as individuals, not as an amorphous group. They are not an amorphous group;

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they are people, and unless we make every effort to address the issues for each family, we shall not start to solve the problems.

Secondly, the families want practical steps to be taken to ensure that the inadequacies and complete failures brought to light by the Hillsborough tragedy are not repeated. The people whom I represent want an open dialogue and reassurance that things will change. They want legislation to back that reassurance--words are fine, but legislation is a different matter. If those two conditions can be satisfied, the death of their loved ones will not seem quite so in vain and utterly pointless.

I welcome many of the initiatives already undertaken, especially that undertaken by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall). He has written to all the families, inviting them to express their concerns and their needs. That was vital. Out of that has come a letter from one of my silent constituents. We think it is the first time that the person involved has put into words how they feel. It was a worthy initiative, but what happens to the letters? What happens to the specific inquiries? My impression is that they are dealt with in a global fashion by some sort of mass reply which is supposed to satisfy all their needs but does not. The points need to be tackled one by one.

My constituents ask many questions, and I ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to deal with them. I ask these questions on behalf of my families, who have raised them with me. I put them before the House now. After conflicting and changing medical evidence over the years, why can there not be a fresh inquiry for Kevin Williams? He was not dead at 3.15 pm or at 3.30 pm. He died of neglect, somewhere. A verdict of accidental death does not say that. Why cannot the parents of Gary Church be allowed to pursue a pre-death trauma claim, when the facts show clearly that Gary suffered horribly before he finally succumbed?

Why has no individual been brought to account for the death of Paul Hewitson? Was his life so immaterial that it did not even justify a rebuke of any significance? Following the death of his only son Christopher, can Mr. Barry Devonside look forward to the establishment of a corporate responsibility law to cover such incidents in the future? He has gone beyond wanting an individual done for this atrocity, because an individual can devolve responsibility to others, and the greater others in this instance--Sheffield football ground and the authorities--have not been brought to justice. The corporate responsibility that means that those people can be brought to account does not exist.

Would the inquest jury have given a verdict of accidental death in the case of Steve Robinson if it had known about the negligence, lies and altered statements of the police? I guess not. Those facts were recorded in the Taylor report but not put before the inquest jury. I am just a normal person, and I do not understand that.

Were any of the judiciary, coroners or senior police officers freemasons? If so, which ones? Those people were not held to account, and other people do not understand why. However, hon. Members are held to account in this place, and we shall not be allowed to relinquish or redeem our responsibility until reasonable questions are answered with acceptable reason.

How could the 3.15 pm cut-off be allowed to stand in the face of very clear evidence that it was complete nonsense? Why was the key independent witness,

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Mr. Houldsworth, not called by the Stuart-Smith scrutiny? I have heard reasons why he was not called--that, although his evidence was considered, it was not thought to be worth recalling.

Mr. Straw: It is important that my hon. Friend should understand that Mr. Houldsworth gave detailed evidence to the Stuart-Smith inquiry. If she turns to page 133, she will see an extensive transcript of his evidence, which goes on for many pages.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: My apologies for that.

Why was the verdict of accidental death not reconsidered?

Those are some of my constituents' questions. After nine years of receiving answers to those questions, they still do not know the truth. There is something wrong with the answers that they have been given. We are not dealing with a group of people who are illiterate. They are not illiterate; they are reasonable and honest, and they deserve a response that they can understand and accept. They have been asking the same questions for years, and those questions need to be answered.

What should happen now? For each individual family, there has been an individual tragedy. It is simply unacceptable for families to think that their loved ones have not been dealt with by the system as individuals, but rather that the system has operated like a sausage machine. Like my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I do not see the point of another full-scale judicial inquiry. However, I think that two things need now to be done.

The first is to make a commitment to change the system for the future. We have seen much evidence of change, which I welcome, as do my constituents. The Home Secretary has already announced that he will stop the escape route of early retirement for police who are under investigation. The appropriateness of the inquest system for large-scale disasters is also under review. In addition to those changes, a notion of corporate responsibility should be introduced whereby a chief constable or chairman of a football club, or whoever has authority, is made personally liable for the operation of proper safety procedures.

Secondly, the individual questions that the families wish to ask should be answered personally. When confronted by the complexity and unfamiliarity of the legal system, most people feel inadequate and intimidated. Some of the active campaigners on the issue have now, perforce, developed a formidable expertise in the law, albeit nine years too late.

Many of the families have felt some guilt that they have not been able to do justice to their lost relation. No one should feel guilty or inadequate because they do not know the minutiae of legal procedure, or cannot write a persuasive letter or articulate their feelings. Our judicial system must be sufficiently robust to accommodate those who are disadvantaged by ignorance.

I should like every Hillsborough family to be offered a home visit by an official, who will discuss the families' concerns and help them to present in writing their concerns and unanswered questions. Those documents should then be collated, so that all the concerns and questions are identified. Subsequently, the questions and

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concerns should be presented to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and to Home Office Ministers for answer. Each family should receive a detailed and personal letter, dealing with their concerns.

Even at that point, I do not think that all the agitation would cease. Issues on which action can be taken should be addressed. When no further action can be taken, the family of each individual should receive a personal--I stress personal--explanation of why that is so.

Many of my constituents have written letters that have still not been answered. If the actions that I have mentioned are taken, humanity will have entered into the process--something that, for many years, it has not done.

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