The HIP Report 10 years on
As we approach the 10-year anniversary of the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP) report, we look at its findings, and its effect on the campaign for the truth and accountability.
In the 20 years that followed the disaster, the bereaved and the survivors fought tirelessly for answers as to why 97 innocent lives had been lost. The Hillsborough Families Support Group (HFSG), called for all documents in relation to the disaster to be released into the public domain. Following the 20th anniversary of the disaster in April 2009, supported by Andy Burnham, the then culture secretary, the government asked the Home Office and Department of culture, media, and sport to action this request. By December 2009, home secretary, Alan Johnson, announced the formation of the HIP. The purpose was to carry out a comprehensive investigation, including full public discloser of all secret files concerning the disaster. The panel, chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, was to produce a report within 2 years, explaining the work of the panel and its conclusions and that they must ‘consult with the Hillsborough families to ensure that the views of those most affected by the disaster are taken into account.’ A pivotal moment for the families and survivors, who up until this point, had received little by a way of support from the government and legal system.
The report, published on 12th September 2012, delivered 153 key findings. Most significantly, it concluded that no Liverpool fans were responsible in any way for the disaster and that the main cause was lack of police control. Tragically, the report also found that up to 41 of the 96 who had died up to that date, might have survived had the emergency services' reactions and co-ordination been properly managed.
Shockingly, the panel also revealed the extent to which the police had covered up the truth. It found that 164 witness statements had been altered, 166 of those were amended to remove or change negative comments about South Yorkshire Police by West Midlands Police, who were now also subject to intense scrutiny. The report found that Conservative MP for Irvine Patnick, provided inaccurate and untrue information to the press. In addition, it reported that South Yorkshire Police had performed blood alcohol tests on the victims, some of them children, and ran computer checks on the police data past, to "impugn their reputation" the report commented that ‘the weight placed on alcohol in the face of objective evidence of a pattern of consumption modest for a leisure event was inappropriate. It has since fuelled persistent and unsustainable assertions about drunken fan behaviour.’
Now fuelled with damning evidence as to the level of cover up on the part of the police, the campaign group would continue with their quest for justice and above all, accountability.
The report triggered several apologies from politicians to journalists. The HFSG called for new inquests and prosecutions for unlawful killing, corporate manslaughter, and perversion of the course of justice in respect of the actions of the police both in causing the disaster and covering up their actions. As well as calls for numerous resignations for those complicit in covering up the disaster. The home secretary called for investigations into the law breaking both on an individual and systematic basis.
By October 2012, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner's Office (IPCO) and Operation resolve had announced that they would complete a full investigation following the publication of the report and arguably most importantly, the original inquest verdicts were quashed, and a new inquest ordered.
In March 2014, the new inquest began, and 2 years later, after the longest ever inquest heard by a jury in British history, the verdict of unlawful killing was returned. A triumph for the campaign groups and a testament to the tenacity of the bereaved and survivors.
In 2016, the IPCC and Operation resolve referred files of evidence to the CPS, and criminal charges against the police and their counter parts were announced, followed by 2 criminal trials in 2019 and 2021, which reached verdicts of not guilty and a dismissal respectively.
The events that followed the publication of the HIP, also lead to civil proceedings being issued against the two police forces in 2015 for misfeasance in public office. The forces, who have agreed to pay out over 600 claimants in an ongoing claim, also issued an unreserved apology, acknowledging that "serious errors and mistakes were made" by its officers "both on 15 April 1989 and during the subsequent investigations…Those actions on the day of the disaster tragically led to lives being lost and many being injured [while] the force's subsequent failings also caused huge distress, suffering and pain, both to the victims and their families.’
So, on the approach of the 10th anniversary, the incredible work of the HIP, and the families and survivors that fought to make it happen, are commemorated. Despite the failings of the system to secure any criminal convictions, the effect of the reports revelations, cannot be understated. It revealed what the families and survivors had suspected from the outset, what they had fought unwaveringly to prove; that the fans were not complicit in causing the disaster. It confirmed that the police had made every attempt at shifting the blame, knowingly and callously covering up the truth. It led to the exoneration of the Liverpool fans, assisted in securing criminal charges, a successful civil claim and highlighted the desperate need for a systematic overhaul of the justice system in the form of Hillsborough Law.