Liverpool City Region metro mayor Steve Rotheram and Manchester mayor Andy Burnham have joined forces to urge MPs to back a Hillsborough Law ahead of the 33rd anniversary of the disaster.
The mayors have written to all 650 British MPs, urging them to support proposed changes to the justice system for fairer treatment for bereaved families.
The loved ones of the 97 men, women and children who were unlawfully killed as a result of the Hillsborough disaster on April 15, 1989, fought for 27 years before an inquest finally revealed the truth behind the tragedy and the subsequent cover up by authorites.
A Hillsborough Law would introduce a statutory duty of candour on public servants during all forms of public inquiry and criminal investigation.
It also aims to ensure proper participation of bereaved families at inquests, through publicly-funded legal representation, and the provision of a public advocate to act for families of the deceased after major incidents.
The latest action from mayors Rotheram and Burnham comes in the wake of a major cross-party “Hillsborough Law Now” event in January this year, which saw bereaved families, former prime ministers Gordon Brown and Theresa May, and a host of high-profile public figures come together to call for a major re-balancing of the justice system to prevent others experiencing the same issues as the Hillsborough families.
The ITV drama Anne, which depicts how Liverpool mum Anne Williams challenged medical evidence following her son’s original inquest, refusing to accept the verdict of accidental death, had renewed the issue in the minds of the wider public when it was screened in January.
Mayors’ Hillsborough Law letter to MPs in full
Letter to MPs
We write to you in advance of the 33rd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster – one of the darkest events in British history – to ask for your support to make the Hillsborough Law a reality.
The story of Hillsborough goes well beyond football rivalries or party politics.
It is a story of immense loss, decades-long cover-up and the comprehensive failure of the British legal system to deliver truth, justice and accountability for bereaved families.
Ninety-seven innocent men, women, and children were unlawfully killed during an FA Cup match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on 15th April 1989. And yet, after more than three decades of victim-blaming and lies, nobody has been held accountable for the unlawful killing of so many.
However, Hillsborough is NOT an exception to the norm.
As a Member of Parliament, you will be aware of the sheer number of families bereaved by major failures of the British state past and present who are having to fight for truth and justice.
This is the 75th anniversary year of the first British nuclear test conducted overseas. In the years that followed, over 20,000 British servicemen were exposed to tests without consent or protective equipment, causing huge health harm to them and their families. And yet, shamefully, our country continues to leave them lost in the wilderness.
Similarly, the thousands of families bereaved by the contaminated blood scandal, which began over four decades ago, are still fighting for basic answers.
For families bereaved by more recent events, such Grenfell and the Manchester Arena attack, the parallels between their experiences and those of the Hillsborough families are already clear.
The reason why this pattern keeps on repeating is simple: the scales of justice are weighed against ordinary families and in favour of public authorities who hold all the power.
Levelling up must be about more than just large-scale infrastructure projects. It should be about levelling up those scales of justice so that the truth is established at the first opportunity, allowing justice and accountability to follow. It is about sparing grieving families the secondary trauma that is so often caused by cruel treatment at the hands of the legal system.
So the need for a Hillsborough Law is clear. A fundamental re-balancing of the legal, coronial and judicial systems, creating a level playing field for bereaved families with agencies of the state, will prevent future generations experiencing the injustices we have seen in our lifetimes.
On this 33rd anniversary, we are calling on you as a Member of Parliament to do two things: first, to make a personal commitment to the principle of a comprehensive Hillsborough Law; second, to call on the Government to commit to introducing it in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech.
It is now almost five years since Bishop James Jones delivered his report on the experience of the Hillsborough families at the hands of the system. The fact that the Government is still formally to respond to that report is itself disrespectful to the Hillsborough families.
‘The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power’ contains 25 recommendations that we believe should form the basis of a significant reform of the system via a new “Hillsborough Law”. The most significant are:
- A Charter for Families Bereaved Through Public Tragedy that should be binding on all public bodies.
- A statutory duty of candour on all police officers – and other identified public servants - applied during all forms of public inquiry and criminal investigation.
- Proper participation of bereaved families at inquests, through publicly-funded legal representation and an end to limitless legal spending by public bodies. This could also extend to parity of legal funding to level the playing field in courtrooms.
- A Public Advocate to act for bereaved families in the aftermath of major incidents.In the years since that report was first published, new issues have arisen from the criminal trials related to Hillsborough that must also be addressed. We believe there is a case for incorporating other measures into the proposed Hillsborough Law:
- A requirement that the evidence and findings of major inquests must be taken fully into account at any subsequent criminal trials.
- Clarification in law that major inquiries commissioned by the government or other official bodies constitute courses of public justice.
- A requirement that any criminal trials following a major inquest take place in a court with relevant expertise and status rather than a crown court.
We believe that a Bill to introduce a comprehensive Hillsborough Law, based on the foundations set out above, should be brought forward by the Government without delay with cross-party support and full Parliamentary time.
The Hillsborough families will most probably never see true justice done. But they can at least prevent others in future experiencing what they did through a powerful Hillsborough Law.
We are confident that any conscientious MP will understand the case we are making. The fact that so much of an MP’s time is spent fighting systems and processes that fail ordinary people is evidence of the need for reform. If the truth was told at the first time of asking, so many people would be spared years of unnecessary anguish and trauma.
We hope we can count on your support for the inclusion the Hillsborough Law in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech. It would mean so much to the Hillsborough families and thousands of others still fighting for justice.
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester
Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region