Police Chief apology to Hillsborough families 34 years after the disaster.
As we near the 34-year anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, the national body for police chief constables issues a long-awaited apology for the police failures that led to the unlawful killing of 97 people and for the “pain and suffering” experienced by the bereaved families.
The 56-page report published earlier this year, produced by the Chair of National Police Chiefs Counsel (NPCC) and College of Policing, represents a national police response to the 2017 report of James Jones, the former bishop of Liverpool. Jones was previously the chair of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, whose 2012 report exposed the police negligence that not only related to the cause of the disaster, but evidenced the decade long cover up, that sought to blame Liverpool supporters for the disaster.
Martin Hewitt of NPCC, made the apology at the launch of the report, outlining senior police officers' commitment to learning from the disaster and preventing future tragedies. Chief executive of the College of Policing, Andy Marsh added “Policing has profoundly failed those bereaved by the Hillsborough disaster over many years and we are sorry that the service got it so wrong…When leadership was most needed, the bereaved were often treated insensitively and the response lacked co-ordination and oversight.” It was also revealed in the report that the code of ethics police use will also be reviewed, with a duty of candour made a key theme with Marsh adding that “For what happened, as a senior policing leader, I profoundly apologise. Policing got it badly wrong and added “What we’re talking about is cultural change and cultural change takes a long time. But, my goodness, we have started”.
As part of the police efforts, every police force has now also signed a Charter for Families Bereaved Through Public Tragedy. The charter, signed in 2021, requires "openness" and "candour" in acknowledging mistakes following a public tragedy, and to not "defend the indefensible’.
The failings of the police that day, and their actions that followed, have continued to blight the lives of family members and survivors for 34 years, and so for many, the apology and proposals feel too little, too late. In addition, whilst the apology is welcomed my some, it furthermore highlights the Government’s failure to respond. Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, commented that the Government’s failure to respond yet was “disrespectful to the families” and Bishop Jones himself criticised the government’s delay, commenting that it was “intolerable”
Deborah Coles, the executive director of Inquest, said: “The continuing failure of the government to respond to the bishop’s report is an insult to bereaved and survivors who want to see no one else suffer a similar injustice. And yet the culture of delay, denial and defensiveness by the police and other public and corporate bodies continues after state-related deaths. It shows the urgent and compelling need for enactment of a Hillsborough law to stop families having to fight for truth, justice, and accountability against the might of the state.”
The full report can be found here.