Hillsborough Law will level the scales of justice and ensure honesty in public inquiries
The story of Anne Williams – and of the Hillsborough families - is a classic tale of David vs. Goliath. Earlier this month, millions across the country were captivated by the dramatisation of Anne’s story as she set about uncovering the truth surrounding the death of her son Kevin in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.
Faced with the unimaginable pain of losing their loved ones in such traumatic circumstances, the Hillsborough families expected that justice would be delivered. Instead, they faced the full might of the state, as the establishment closed ranks, spread lies and shifted, and orchestrated a cover-up.
The bereaved were given no access to legal aid funding and were forced to scrabble around and club together just to afford proper legal representation. Looming large in the opposite corner was the British state, with a near limitless supply of public money to hire the best QCs in the land.
Against all odds, and with considerable collective effort, the families were able to uncover the truth after a decades long struggle, which featured the longest case ever heard by a jury in British legal history. Many never lived to see the lies smashed and the fans vindicated. And despite their efforts to set the record straight, justice was not forthcoming.
It is a sorry story that is a stain on our nation’s history. Remarkably, though, what happened here was not an outlier, but just one instance in a series of establishment cover ups. The history of the British state is littered with such tales of the state placing its considerable weight on the scales of justice, ensuring that things are perpetually weighted against ordinary people.
The Hillsborough families will probably never see justice delivered but, in its place, they can leave a transformative legacy
Last week, Andy Burnham and I were joined by people from across the country with similar stories to tell. From the UK’s nuclear test veterans fighting for recognition nearly 70 years on, the parents of Zane Gbangbola battling for an independent inquiry into their son’s death or the survivors and relatives of the victims of disasters like Grenfell tower and the Manchester Arena bombing, ordinary people are still being priced out and pushed out of the justice system.
The circumstances that brought us together were all different, but we were all there because of one thing: a desire to reform the legal processes that hinder the courses of truth and justice having seen its impact first hand.
Our answer is the Hillsborough Law.
A set of reforms based on four key pillars. First, a Charter for families bereaved through public tragedy legally binding on all public bodies. Second, a duty of candour on public servants during all forms of public inquiry and criminal investigation. Third, proper participation of bereaved families at inquests, through publicly funded legal representation and an end to near limitless legal spending by public bodies. And Fourth, a public advocate to act for families of the deceased after major incidents.
This is an issue that should be well above Punch and Judy party politics. We believe that a comprehensive Hillsborough Law Bill based around these foundations should be brought forward with cross-party support – including that of the government.
They like to talk a lot about levelling up. But that cannot only be about big spending announcements and shiny infrastructure projects. It should also about righting long-term, structural injustices. And there are few bigger than this.
Levelling the scales of justice is the very definition of levelling up.
The Hillsborough families will probably never see justice delivered but, in its place, they can leave a transformative legacy: ensuring that no grieving family ever has to suffer the same indignity at the hands of the state.
It is time for Parliament to act. It is time for a Hillsborough Law now.
Steve Rotheram is the Labour Metro Mayor for the Liverpool City Region.
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