Previous SectionIndexHome Page

12.23 pm

Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North): I am here for two reasons. The first is to represent my constituents who were badly affected by the Hillsborough tragedy and the second is that one of my close childhood friends died in the disaster.

I was brought up with my friend. We went to youth clubs, pubs and clubs and spent our first holiday abroad together. We both supported Liverpool football club. Like most childhood friends, we got married, moved away and lost touch. However, just weeks before Hillsborough, we met up again. We had a drink in a local pub and agreed to meet again a couple of weeks later. The second meeting never took place because, in April 1989, Liverpool played Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough and within minutes of my friend attending that match, he was fighting for his life in a tragedy that claimed the lives of 95 people and left 400 others requiring hospital treatment.

Like all hon. Members here today, when I heard of the disaster, I was shocked. I was even more shocked to discover that my close friend was one of the victims. Along with many other people, I attended his funeral. He was a popular man. As one would expect, it was a sad event. There was a great feeling of loss and we all wanted to know why such a disaster had happened. We took some comfort from the thought that there would be a full public inquiry to establish the causes of the disaster and hold those responsible to account.

We have now had a police inquiry, a coroners court inquiry, a public inquiry and a review of the first inquiry, but many bereaved families feel cheated and let down by the system. They feel that there is no justice. They also feel that the police seem to be far more interested in protecting their own backs than in seeking justice for the people who died. I understand those feelings.

It would be wrong of us not to acknowledge that some progress has been made. Thanks to Lord Taylor, who did an excellent job, we know the cause of the disaster. We cannot criticise him for not getting to the facts, a point to which I shall refer in a moment. We know who was to blame for the disaster and how to stop similar disasters in future, so the Taylor report resulted in positive action. Lord Taylor made it absolutely clear that he blamed the local council, the football club and, most of all, Chief Superintendent Duckenfield and the South Yorkshire police. He did not accept the scandalous allegations by the South Yorkshire police and The Sun newspaper. We know that Liverpool fans did not contribute to their own deaths, although the police attempted to blame their behaviour and accused them of being drunk.

8 May 1998 : Column 981

I believe that Merseyside people will never forget or forgive South Yorkshire police or The Sun newspaper. To this day, many newsagents in Liverpool will not take copies of The Sun. Disgusting and insensitive statements were made and the police showed themselves unfit to hold the position of trust in which they had been placed.

As I have said, we have now had a police inquiry, a coroners court inquiry, a public inquiry and a review of the first inquiry and we know who is to blame, but nobody has been held accountable--why? Is it any wonder that the families feel let down? They feel that nothing has been done and they have not received justice.

What can be done now? Unfortunately, I feel that it is not possible to hold people to account after nine years, for the reasons that we have heard. I also accept that it is impossible to turn back the clock and change the law retrospectively. However, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was absolutely right to order a further review of the first inquiry. He should be given some credit for taking that decision, although he knew that it might well be difficult for him. He should also be given credit for the action that he has taken so far. I fully support the proposed changes to the coroners court and the idea of stopping officers who are subject to disciplinary action taking early retirement to avoid that disciplinary action.

However, we need to make further changes. The families of the Hillsborough disaster had a right to justice. They had a right to expect that the police, the coroners court and the public inquiry would seek the truth. They know that South Yorkshire police tried to blame the Liverpool fans. It is clear from reading the police statements that there was a co-ordinated effort by the police to change the statements to give the wrong impression about what took place on that day.

The families want to know why the Director of Public Prosecutions took no action. As other hon. Members have said, we want to understand that decision. We want to know whether there is any possibility of producing the evidence on which counsel based that decision.

We should also like to know why the chief constable was not held accountable. I was amazed to find no more than a brief mention of the chief constable's responsibility. He had overall responsibility to ensure that the match was policed properly. He knew that Mr. Duckenfield did not have the expertise to do that and that, 12 months earlier, a similar accident was averted by correct action by police officers. He did not ensure that the officer in charge was briefed, understood his duties and was able properly to conduct the policing of the event.

The Home Secretary has tried to deal with many of the questions that have been asked, but the families remain uneasy about the police and legal system investigating themselves. That unease is heightened because the families know that, within the police, the legal profession and the Home Office, there is a secret organisation that serves itself. I make no accusations that the investigation was affected by that organisation, but its existence goes to the heart of democracy. We cannot tolerate a secret organisation operating in the police force, the Home Office and the legal profession. We need to ensure that every member of the public understands that the legal profession is independent and open. That goes to the heart of democracy.

I have the deepest sympathy for the families affected by the Hillsborough disaster. It is bad enough to lose a loved one, worse to be left with a feeling of injustice.

8 May 1998 : Column 982

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will note the comments made by hon. Members today and take appropriate action as soon as possible to restore the good name of the legal system.

12.31 pm

Mr. Joe Benton (Bootle): I want to place on record my complete appreciation of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for his conduct towards north-west politicians, his expressions of sympathy and his informative manner. We all understand his position. He has not made his decision lightly, and we appreciate that it was very difficult. I want also to place on record my appreciation of the Under-Secretary, who has also faced difficulties. It must have been torture for Ministers to go over those deliberations again and again.

However, I state categorically that the possibility of a new inquiry should be considered. I do not say that lightly. I have given the matter a lot of thought. The Home Secretary's logic is compelling and hard to refute. This morning, we have been debating many aspects of what may best be described as this tragic event--the huge loss of life and the families' sorrow.

I was very impressed when the shadow Home Secretary quoted William Butler Yeats. I found it a fitting description of grief and tragedy, because I happen to know the poem, and it is very moving--and that is important. Logic does not always figure in grief, and everyone grieves differently. I know from my experiences with the families that we could help them to grieve in a very positive way--although it goes against the logic of what the Home Secretary said--by ensuring, to echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara), that justice is seen to be done. Rightly or wrongly, in the families' eyes, justice will be seen to be done only if they achieve their stated aim.

Since the Home Secretary's statement to the House on 18 February 1998, I have had many discussions, and every family or grieving person to whom I have spoken about the Hillsborough issue has said, "Let us have another inquiry." That emotion--that feeling--cannot be ignored. I urge the Home Secretary to consider my remarks and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South, even if, at this stage, it appears that he cannot go back on his decision. An inquiry is the only way that I can see to alleviate or mitigate the feelings of the grieving families of Hillsborough.

In March 1998, I wrote to the Home Secretary; I know that my letter is receiving attention. At that stage, I formally requested that he reconsider holding a fresh inquiry. I have always understood the Home Secretary's raison d'etre for reaching his conclusion, which was sincere, and I appreciate it when he says that his main reason for not wanting another inquiry is that he does not want to put the families through the travail of all those horrible events once more. Anyone would recognise that feeling. However--to return to my theme of how grief is alleviated--I am assured by the families that they are happy to go through that travail in pursuit of what they perceive as justice. I take the opportunity to appeal once again to the Home Secretary to reconsider, taking note of all the comments and remarks that have been made this morning, because ultimately our concern must be how best to alleviate the grief of the families of those who were tragically killed at Hillsborough.

8 May 1998 : Column 983

We must also take into account the depth of feeling of the whole population of Merseyside. The three main Churches involved locally have made appeals for a new inquiry. The media have been appealing for a new inquiry. This morning, I add my voice to those appeals. I hope that it does not fall on deaf ears.

Next Section

IndexHome Page