Theresa May – 2016 Statement on Hillsborough

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Below is the text of the statement made by Theresa May, the Home Secretary, in the House of Commons on 27 April 2016.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the Hillsborough stadium disaster, the determinations and findings of the fresh inquests presided over by Sir John Goldring, and the steps that will now take place.

Twenty-seven years ago, the terrible events of Saturday 15 April 1989 shocked this country and devastated a community. That afternoon, as thousands of fans were preparing to watch the FA cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, a crush developed in the central pens of the Leppings Lane terrace. Ninety-six men, women and children lost their lives as a result. Hundreds more were injured, and many were left traumatised.

It was this country’s worst disaster at a sporting event. For the families and survivors, the search to get to the truth of what happened on that day has been long and arduous. They observed the judicial inquiry led by Lord Justice Taylor. They gave evidence to the original inquests, which recorded a verdict of accidental death. They have seen further scrutiny, reviews and a private prosecution. They suffered the injustice of hearing the victims—their loved ones and fellow supporters—being blamed. They have heard the shocking conclusions of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, and they have now once again given evidence to the fresh inquests presided over by Sir John Goldring.

I have met members of the Hillsborough families on a number of occasions and, in their search for truth and justice, I have never failed to be struck by their extraordinary dignity and determination. I do not think it is possible for any of us truly to understand what they have been through—not only in losing their loved ones in such horrific circumstances that day, but in hearing finding after finding over 27 years telling them something that they believed to be fundamentally untrue. Quite simply, they have never given up.

I also take this opportunity to pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who has campaigned so tirelessly over the years on the families’ behalf, and also to the hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), for Halton (Derek Twigg), for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) and for Wirral South (Alison McGovern).

Yesterday, the fresh inquest into the deaths at Hillsborough gave its determinations and findings. Its establishment followed the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, chaired by Bishop James Jones. The contents of that report were so significant that it led to the new inquests and to two major new criminal investigations: one by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which examined the actions of the police in the aftermath of Hillsborough, and a second criminal investigation, Operation Resolve, led by Jon Stoddart, the former chief constable of Durham.

Since the fresh inquests opened in Warrington on 31 March 2014, the jury has heard 296 days of evidence. They ran for more than two years and were part of the longest running inquest process in British legal history. I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in thanking the jury for the important task it has undertaken and the significant civic duty the jurors have performed.

I will turn now to the jury’s determinations and findings. In its deliberations, the jury was asked to answer 14 general questions covering the role of South Yorkshire police, the South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service, Sheffield Wednesday football club and Hillsborough stadium’s engineers, Eastwood and Partners. In addition, the jury was also required to answer two questions specific to each of the individual deceased relating to the time and medical cause of their death. I would like to put on the record the jury’s determinations in full. They are as follows.

Question 1: do you agree with the following statement, which is intended to summarise the basic facts of the disaster?

“Ninety-six people died as a result of the Disaster at Hillsborough Stadium on 15 April 1989 due to crushing in the central pens of the Leppings Lane Terrace, following the admission of a large number of supporters to the Stadium through exit gates.”

Yes.

Question 2: was there any error or omission in police planning and preparation for the semi-final match on 15 April 1989 which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed on the day of the match?

Yes.

Question 3: was there any error or omission in policing on the day of the match which caused or contributed to a dangerous situation developing at the Leppings Lane turnstiles?

Yes.

Question 4: was there any error or omission by commanding officers which caused or contributed to the crush on the terrace?

Yes.

Question 5: when the order was given to open the exit gates at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium, was there any error or omission by the commanding officers in the control box which caused or contributed to the crush on the terrace?

Yes.

Question 6: are you satisfied, so that you are sure, that those who died in the disaster were unlawfully killed?

Yes.

Question 7: was there any behaviour on the part of football supporters which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles?

No.

Further to question 7: was there any behaviour on the part of football supporters which may have caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles?

No.

Question 8: were there any features of the design, construction and layout of the stadium which you consider were dangerous or defective and which caused or contributed to the disaster?

Yes.
Question 9: was there any error or omission in the safety certification and oversight of Hillsborough stadium that caused or contributed to the disaster?

Yes.

Question 10: was there any error or omission by Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and its staff in the management of the stadium and/or preparation for the semi-final match on 15 April 1989 which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed on the day of the match?

Yes.

Question 11: was there any error or omission by Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and its staff on 15 April 1989 which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed at the Leppings Lane turnstiles and in the west terrace?

No.

Further to question 11: was there any error or omission by Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and its staff on 15 April 1989 which may have caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed at the Leppings Lane turnstiles and in the west terrace?

Yes.

Question 12: should Eastwood and Partners have done more to detect and advise on any unsafe or unsatisfactory features of Hillsborough stadium which caused or contributed to the disaster?

Yes.

Question 13: after the crush in the west terrace had begun to develop, was there any error or omission by the police which caused or contributed to the loss of lives in the disaster?

Yes.

Question 14: after the crush in the west terrace had begun to develop, was there any error or omission by the ambulance service, SYMAS, which caused or contributed to the loss of lives in the disaster?

Yes.

Finally, the jury also recorded the cause and time of death for each of the 96 men, women and children who died at Hillsborough. In all but one case, the jury recorded a time bracket running beyond the 3.15 pm cut-off point adopted by the coroner at the original inquests. These determinations were published yesterday by the coroner, and I would urge the reading of each and every part in order to understand fully the outcome of the inquests.

The jury also heard evidence about the valiant efforts made by many of the fans to rescue those caught up in the crush. Their public spiritedness is to be commended and I am sure that the House will want to take this opportunity to recognise what they did in those terrible circumstances. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]

Clearly, the jury’s determination that those who died were unlawfully killed is of great public importance. It overturns in the starkest way possible the verdict of accidental death returned at the original inquests. However, the jury’s findings do not, of course, amount to a finding of criminal liability, and no one should impute criminal liability to anyone while the ongoing investigations are still pending.

Elsewhere, the jury noted that commanding officers should have ordered the closure of the central tunnel before the opening of gate C was requested, as pens 3 and 4 were full. They should have established the number of fans still to enter the stadium after 2.30 pm, and they failed to recognise that pens 3 and 4 were at capacity before gate C was opened.

Although the inquests have concluded, this is not the end of the process. The decision about whether any criminal prosecution or prosecutions can be brought forward will be made by the Crown Prosecution Service on the basis of evidence gathered as part of the two ongoing investigations. That decision is not constrained in any way by the jury’s conclusions.

The House will understand that I cannot comment in detail on matters that may lead to a criminal investigation. I can, however, say that the offences under investigation include gross negligence manslaughter, misconduct in public office, perverting the course of justice and perjury, as well as offences under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

I know that those responsible for the police and Independent Police Complaints Commission investigations anticipate that they will conclude the criminal investigations by the turn of the year. We must allow them to complete their work in a timely and thorough manner, and we must be mindful not to prejudice the outcome in any way.

I have always been clear that the Government will support the families in their quest for justice, so throughout the ongoing investigations we will ensure that support remains in place in three ways.

First, the family forums, which have provided the families with a regular and structured means of engaging with the investigative teams and the CPS, will continue. They will remain under Bishop James Jones’s chairmanship, in a similar format, but will reflect the fact that they will be operating after the inquests. The CPS, the IPCC and Operation Resolve will remain part of the forums.

Secondly, now that the inquests have concluded, it is the intention to reconstitute the Hillsborough article 2 reference group, whose work has been in abeyance during the course of the inquests, under revised terms of reference. The group has two members: Sir Stephen Sedley, a retired lord justice of appeal, and Dr Silvia Casale, an independent criminologist.

Thirdly, we want to ensure that the legal representation scheme for the bereaved families continues. This was put in place, with funding from the Government, following the original inquests’ verdicts being quashed. Discussions are currently taking place with the families’ legal representatives to see how best the scheme can be continued.

In addition, I am keen that we understand and learn from the families’ experiences. I have therefore asked Bishop James, who is my adviser on Hillsborough, to write a report which draws on these experiences. This report will be published in due course to ensure that the full perspective of those most affected by the Hillsborough disaster is not lost.

I would like to express my thanks to Bishop James again for his invaluable advice over the years. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] There is further work to be done, so I have asked Bishop James to remain as my adviser, and I am pleased to say that he has agreed to do so.

The conclusion of the inquests brings to an end an important step since the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report. Thanks to that report and now the determinations of the inquests, we know the truth of what happened on that day at Hillsborough. Naturally, the families will want to reflect on yesterday’s historic outcome, which is of national significance.

I am clear that this raises significant issues for the way that the state and its agencies deal with disasters. Once the formal investigations are concluded, we should step back, reflect and act, if necessary, so that we can better respond to disasters and ensure that the suffering of families is taken into account.

But I want to end by saying this. For 27 years, the families and survivors of Hillsborough have fought for justice. They have faced hostility, opposition and obfuscation, and the authorities, which should have been trusted, have laid blame and tried to protect themselves, instead of acting in the public interest.

But the families have never faltered in their pursuit of the truth. Thanks to their actions, they have brought about a proper reinvestigation and a thorough re-evaluation of what happened at Hillsborough. That they have done so is extraordinary. I am sure the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to their courage, determination and resolve. We should also remember those who have, sadly, passed away while still waiting for justice. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]

No one should have to endure what the families and survivors have been through. No one should have to suffer the loss of their loved ones through such appalling circumstances, and no one should have to fight year after year, decade after decade, in search of the truth.

I hope that, for the families and survivors, who have been through such difficult times, yesterday’s determinations will bring them closer towards the peace they have been so long denied. I commend this statement to the House.