20 July 2022

A broad coalition of bereaved families and victims of public disasters, campaigners and MPs joined together for a powerful virtual meeting on the need for Hillsborough Law Now.

INQUEST’s Executive Director, Deborah Coles, spoke alongside representatives from families of those unlawfully killed at Hillsborough, Grenfell United, Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, Justice for Zane as well as those affected by the contaminated blood scandal and nuclear weapons testing.

You can watch the whole event online here.

The event kicked off the official launch of the campaign Hillsborough Law Now chaired by Ian Byrne MP with the Mayors for Liverpool and Manchester, Steve Rotherham and Andy Burnham and Maria Eagle MP.

Hillsborough Law

Hillsborough Law, also known as the Public Authorities (Accountability) Bill, is the legacy project of the bereaved families and survivors of the Hillsborough disaster. As INQUEST knows from its daily work with families bereaved after state related deaths, many of the hurdles faced by the Hillsborough families are faced by others.

Importantly, the new law would:

  • Create a new legal duty of candour on public authorities and officials to tell the truth and proactively cooperate with official investigations and inquiries.
  • Ensure victims of disasters or state-related deaths are entitled to parity of legal representation during inquests and inquiries, meaning they are funded for lawyers, putting them on a level playing field with public bodies.

Hillsborough Law would also make it a criminal offence for the failure to comply with the duty of candour.

The original Bill was introduced by Andy Burnham in 2017 and went to its Second Reading debate but fell after the 2017 General Election was announced. We are now calling for the Bill to be reintroduced in Parliament as a matter of urgency.

Culture of denial

The Bill was conceived because of the shocking cover-ups from public officials following the Hillsborough disaster. However, it’s importance as a piece of legislation still resonates today, which this event highlighted.

Speakers discussed the culture of denial, delay and institutional defensiveness they have witnessed during investigations into the conduct of the state.

Margaret Aspinall, who’s son died at the Hillsborough disaster, said there had been no accountability for the 97 people unlawfully killed at Hillsborough. "It's a disgrace that we have to put this into law because I always thought there was a duty of candour for the police to tell the truth anyway... we've got some bad laws in this country, and they need to be fixed."

Edward Daffarn discussed Grenfell families and survivors ongoing fight for justice, despite the “merry-go round of buck passing” that has been going on at the Grenfell Tower inquiry.

Pete Weatherby QC, a human rights barrister who represented Hillsborough families and co-authored the original Hillsborough Law, said it was shocking that a law requiring public bodies to tell the truth was needed at all.

Hannah Brady of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice said the planned Covid inquiry would be better because of the long justice campaigns of others. "I remember learning at school about Hillsborough and contaminated blood as though it was history - like they happened without human intervention or culpability, they just were.," she said. "The government will lie first, apologise second, and then lie again with impunity."

Rather than organisations seeing public scrutiny as an opportunity to learn from past mistakes, reform dangerous procedures, and safeguard lives in the future, they're more concerned about reputation management, hiding the truth and defending their policies and procedures even where there is clear cut evidence of systemic or individual failings.

                                                            - Deborah Coles, INQUEST

The time to act

In 2017 the Right Reverend Bishop James Jones published his landmark review into the experience of Hillsborough Families, titled ‘The patronising disposition of unaccountable power’.

He also spoke at the event to highlight the important recommendations of his review, many of which are reflected in Hillsborough Law. "It's time for Parliament to act. This isn't just an historic issue, it's about the here and now. Not to act on the lessons learned is in effect to perpetuate an injustice. Can Parliament not see this? Everybody else can."

It has now been five years and the Government still have not produced a response to the Bishop’s review.

Given the long overdue need to respond to the Bishop’s review and the pressing need for lessons to be learned, Hillsborough Law needs to be enacted now.

Follow the campaign at: @NowHillsborough