Hillsborough Law: fixing a broken system

On a seemingly normal spring day in 1989, at Hillsborough football ground, scores of fans turn up to watch their teams play in the FA cup semi-final. Before the 3pm kick off, the disaster that would take 97 lives and injure many others, had already started to unfold both outside of the stadium and within in the pens that had been allocated to the Liverpool fans. At 3.06pm, the game was stopped.  Within moments of the disaster, before the bereaved families had even been notified of there loss, before the survivors had come to terms with what they had witnessed, an untrue version of events as to the cause of the disaster, had made its way to the various news outlets. By that evening, the false accusations that the Liverpool fans behaviour had contributed to the disaster, perpetrated by the police, had made international news. Not only was this the UK’s worse sporting disaster, but it was also, about to become one of the largest police cover ups and a shameful stain on our nation’s history.

Within weeks, despite suffering the most unimaginable grief, the families of the bereaved set up a campaign group, the aim; to take on the full might of the state. You may have expected that the families would have the answers surrounding the tragic circumstances of their loss, and that in time, justice would be delivered. Instead, the families and survivors found themselves at the beginning of a long road to justice, on many occasions, having to club together to even afford proper legal representation. The bereaved were given no access to a legal fund, contrary to the near limitless supply of money available to their opponents.

Incredibly, in April 2016, after 3 decades of being dragged through the legal system, the campaign groups, and their advocates, defied all odds; the truth was finally uncovered.  Following the longest case ever heard by a jury in British Legal history, the Liverpool fans were exonerated. Unfortunately, despite the verdict and even apologies from various MP’s, nobody has ever been held accountable for 97 deaths, or for the police campaign of lies.

The families of the bereaved are now calling for a Hillsborough Law to reform and repair the system that failed those involved in Hillsborough and to ensure that others will not have to endure the same injustice.

In January 2022, just 2 months short of the 33rd anniversary of the disaster, former PM’s Gordon Brown and Theresa May came together to call for amendments to the justice system. Followed, a letter from Steve Rotheram, and Andy Burnham, mayors of Liverpool and Manchester, respectively, was sent to all 650 MPs urging them to support the reforms. The mayors detailed in their letter how 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.’ It added that “nobody has been held accountable for the unlawful killing of so many” and the disaster was “not an exception to the norm.”

Referring to more recent disasters such as Grenfell and the Manchester Arena bombing, they noted that “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.” The pair said that the Government’s levelling up agenda must be about “more than just large-scale infrastructure projects” and 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.”

The proposed reform will establish the following:

  • A Charter for families bereaved through public tragedy legally binding on all public bodies.
  • A duty of candour on public servants during all forms of public inquiry and criminal investigation.
  • A proper participation of bereaved families at inquests, through publicly funded legal representation and an end to near limitless legal spending by public bodies.
  • A public advocate to act for families of the deceased after major incidents

The need for reform and a rebalancing of the legal system is clear. Whilst it cannot undo the grave injustices faced by those involved in Hillsborough, it can prevent future generations from experiencing the same heartbreak.

It is hard to imagine the inner strength that it took for the families and survivors to battle for almost 3 decades; an example of the power of persistence and encapsulating their defiance. They never forgot, they never gave up and even now, 33 years on, the journey continues, this time to ensure a transformative legacy is left behind in the form of Hillsborough Law.



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