While Westminster was yesterday swirling with tales of sexual harassment by powerful ministers and MPs and the arrogance of a government that won’t tell us what will be the real effects of Brexit, a calm but hard hitting report was published on what had happened since the revelations of the Hillsborough disaster.
The scandal of the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans who went to watch a football match 27 years ago is well known and now well documented following the Hillsborough Independent Panel which exhaustively looked at what happened.
Since there are now criminal proceedings against people following the disaster I am not going to rerun who was to blame for these needless deaths but concentrate on what yesterday’s report was about – what should be done.
There are many reports exposing what goes wrong. There are fewer reports proposing how to remedy serious shortcomings. There are even fewer that demand a cultural change in British society.
This is one of them. The gruesome testimony in this report of the families who lost loved ones well before their time demands nothing less than a radical change in the way the ruling elite view ordinary people.
People caught up in a tragedy are confused, distraught. angry and suffer lifelong angst and the last thing they want are people in power who frustrate, ignore, belittle or patronise them for wanting to know what happened to their loved ones. The Hillsborough families also had to put up with very public denigrating coverage from the Sun which has never been forgiven in Liverpool.
This report shows a way change can come and outlines the legislation needed to get it done. The recommendations – if implemented in the right spirit – would make a radical change in the way society coped with the aftermath of disasters – whether it is Hillsborough or the Grenfell tower fire tragedy.
The proposals go from introducing a ” duty of candour” for police officers to tell the truth, providing proper legal aid for ordinary people attending inquests so they can really participate in the proceedings and a special charter for families who suffer bereavement in a major tragedy like Hillsborough.
It also wants to make sure authorities don’t destroy vital documents to avoid public scrutiny, better training and evaluation for coroners, a review of the effectiveness of the pathology services and the way death certificates are issued. Nor should public bodies use public money to their advantage to outspend ordinary people trying to get to the truth.
Two other things should be said. Theresa May, whom I may disagree politically, should be commended for commissioning this. She could easily have walked away once the Hillsborough Panel had done its work. Liverpool football fans are not her natural constituency. She will be even more commended if she decides to implement its findings.
There is also an remarkable passage in the introduction from the report’s author, the Right Reverend James Jones, the former bishop of Liverpool and chair of the Hillsborough Inquiry which sums up the spirit of the report and what the families have suffered. It is worth quoting in full :
“I also wanted to set on record a recurrent theme that has been present, either implicitly or explicitly, in many personal conversations that I have had with families and survivors over the past 20 years.
“It is one that they have often been reluctant to raise not least because of public and political indifference to the subject and perhaps out of fear that it would add
to the lack of empathy that they experienced. The disaster, the aftermath, and the struggle to be heard for over quarter of a century have had an adverse effect on the mental and physical well being of both families and survivors.
Depression, marital breakdown, family division, mental illness, unemployment, premature death and even suicide have featured in the Hillsborough narrative. Hopefully society’s increasing awareness of the issues of mental health will lead to a more sympathetic understanding of what they have endured.
“People talk too loosely about closure. They fail to realise that there can be no closure to love, nor should there be for someone you have loved and lost. Furthermore, grief is a journey without a destination. The bereaved travel through a landscape of memories and thoughts of what might have been. It is a journey marked by milestones, some you seek, some you stumble on. For the families and survivors of Hillsborough these milestones have included the search for truth, accountability and justice. But even these are not the end of the road.They are still travelling. And this report is another step along the way.”
You can read the report for yourselves here .