An open letter on the need for a Hillsborough Law

Below is an open letter sent to my North East Bedfordshire MP Richard Fuller, setting out why a Hillsborough Law is urgently needed and calling for his support for it.


Dear Richard

The tragedy of Hillsborough goes far beyond the horrific events that took place on 15th April 1989. The Liverpool supporters suffered a double injustice. The injustice of the appalling events and the failure of the state to protect their loved ones as well as the denigration of the deceased in the false narrative created that they were somehow at fault for their own deaths.

This false narrative created by the police – the very people responsible for the protection of the fans attending Hillsborough that day – not only caused unbearable and prolonged pain for the families of the Hillsborough victims and indeed the people of Liverpool, but was also all too readily accepted by politicians from both sides of the House of Commons.

After many years, we now know the truth about Hillsborough. However, the lack of justice and accountability for the 97 unlawful deaths that occurred due to the events of 33 years ago will always be a shameful chapter in UK political and legal history. Lamentably, the lack of empathy and compassion displayed by the state in the aftermath of the Hillsborough tragedy has been repeated in the treatment of the Windrush families and the residents of Grenfell Tower.

This culture of, at best casual indifference, at worst structural racism across government, the police and our print media must change if we are to create a society where the well-being and interests of ordinary people are prioritised over the reputations of public bodies and corporate profits.

You may be aware of the ongoing campaign for a ‘Hillsborough Law’ which seeks to level up the mismatch between the unlimited legal representation afforded to public bodies compared to the limited representation available to families bereaved by incidents involving public bodies.

A ‘Hillsborough Law’ would bring in a number of measures including the following:

  •  A Public Advocate to act for families of the deceased after major incidents.
  • Giving bereaved families better access to money for legal representation at inquests -the measure would allow families, who often find themselves facing expensive QCs, to afford lawyers themselves – creating an equal playing field.
  • Put in place a duty of candour for all police officers and public officials which means they must be open and honest when something goes wrong.
  • A Charter for families bereaved through public tragedy which would be binding on all public bodies.
  • A requirement that evidence and findings of major inquests must be taken fully into account at any subsequent criminal trials.
  • Clarification in law that major inquiries commissioned by government or other official bodies constitute “courses of public justice”.
  • A requirement that any criminal trials following a major inquest take place in a court with relevant expertise and status, rather than a crown court.

There is now cross-party support for the introduction of a ‘Hillsborough Law’ and I would be grateful if you would consider both making public your support for it and formally raising the issue in Parliament. While it will never bring justice for the victims of Hillsborough, I hope you will agree that it will be a fitting tribute, both to the victims and to the dignity and determination of the Hillsborough families who have endured so much. They are, as Andy Burnham said in the House of Commons in 2016, the best of us.

I look forward to hearing from you on this matter. Please regard this letter as an open letter, although of course, the detail of your reply will remain private unless you indicate otherwise. Below is a link to the 2017 report by the Right Reverend James Jones, which goes into more detail about why a Hillsborough Law is needed and recommendations on what the law should contain. I have also provided a link to the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report which gives an extensive background into the disaster itself and subsequent events.

Kind regards

Julian Vaughan

24th January 2022

The response from Richard Fuller MP below, was received on the 28th February.

Dear Julian,

Thank you for your email. I am sorry that it has not been possible for me to respond before now.

As you rightly say, the tragedy of Hillsborough goes far beyond the horrific events that took place on 15th April 1989. The events were an exceptional tragedy for the families affected, the local community that still bears the scars of what happened, and the country.

The lessons of the Hillsborough disaster must be learned and consistently applied so that something similar can never be allowed to happen again. There have been a number of recent developments with Mr Justice William Davis’ court ruling last year, the Law Commission report on misconduct in public office and the outcome of the consultation on the possible creation of an Independent Public Advocate (IPA).

In relation to the court ruling, Mr Justice William Davis ruled in May 2021 there was no legal case for Mr Denton, Mr Foster and Mr Metcalf to answer as the statements involved had been prepared for the public inquiry chaired by Lord Taylor in 1990. As this was not a statutory inquiry and therefore was not considered a court of law, there was not a course of public justice that could be perverted. 

In 2018, the Government consulted on proposals to establish an IPA, and the consultation looked at a range of issues about how best to support those bereaved following a public disaster. I welcome the fact that the Government has confirmed that it is considering the IPA. Ministers have stressed that there are details that need careful consideration. Issues such as, how exactly an IPA should interact with investigatory bodies, how to avoid duplication, whether the IPA should be involved only where fatalities occur and whether it ought to have a wider remit.

Maria Eagle’s Public Advocate Bill is also an important contribution to the debate; along with Bishop James Jones’ 2017 report on the Hillsborough families’ experiences, to which the Government will respond soon. 

It is clear from responses to recent Written Parliamentary Questions that the above issues are still under review. I understand the Law Commission’s recommendations are under active consideration and a Government response will be issued as soon as practicable. I am reassured that the Ministry of Justice has sought views from a wide spectrum of Government departments that have an interest in the Report’s outcomes in order to effectively consider the recommendations and issue a response.

There have been a number of significant steps in the last few years with the IPA consultation, the Law Commission report and the Bishop James Jones’ report which have all been considering a range of different but related issues. I appreciate the concerns that there has not yet been an announcement on these issues but, as the minister indicated in a recent response, the Government is looking thoroughly at all of these issues before deciding on the next steps. I have written to the Justice Minister to seek an update on these issues and I will share the response with you, when received.

Thank you for contacting me.

Sincerely,

Richard

Richard Fuller MP

Member of Parliament for North East Bedfordshire


‘The patronising disposition of unaccountable power’ A report to ensure the pain and suffering of the Hillsborough families is not repeated – The Right Reverend James Jones https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/656130/6_3860_HO_Hillsborough_Report_2017_FINAL_updated.pdf

Hillsborough: The Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel – September 2012 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/229038/0581.pdf

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