"In what could be Andy Burnham’s final act as an MP before being elected as the Mayor for Greater Manchester Regional Authority, he sets out in this bill a legacy that the Hillsborough campaigns, and the campaigners for many other justice campaigns, can be proud of."
Justice delayed is justice denied. A never more apt saying has applied to Hillsborough. 23 years of lies, cover-ups, government failures and public smearing made life hell for the families of those that lost their lives. As governments, courts and investigations continually failed to expose the depth of the cover-up, the families were forced to repeat their tragic stories of losing their loves ones again and again, hearing the details over and over, reliving every moment. On 7 separate occasions they forced themselves back in to the courtroom, fundraising and paying for themselves every time, while the police, defending themselves against serious and institutional accusations of mismanagement now found to be true, received all of their funding from the state. As the pockets of justice campaigners emptied, the coffers of the organisers of the cover-up and smear campaign were untouched.
Standing in front of the famous Kop, at Anfied, Liverpool Football Club’s home, for a Hillsborough memorial service in 2009, evertonian Andy Burnham, the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Member of Parliament for Leigh, was silenced as the crowd called for justice; the city that had got behind its campaigners, that had stood with them at every turn, took their opportunity to confront a member of the government. Their call was heeded, and the resulting investigation chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool produced the Hillsborough Independent Panel report, which was published in 2012. The report found systemic corruption at every level of South Yorkshire Police, from the outright lies of Match Commander Superintendent Duckenfield over the opening of the exit gate and of the alcohol intake of supporters (no cans of alcohol were found on the scene whatsoever), to the cover up that followed, which included the mass editing of police statements, the intimidation that took place in their taking, and the direct, and smearing nature of the questions asked.
The Public Authority (Accountability) Bill 2017, also known as the Hillsborough Bill, has been submitted as a private members bill by Burnham, and seeks to correct the institutional injustice that occurred by amending the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (2012). Aside from ensuring transparency, the bill primarily seeks two things; firstly, the bill would put into law the necessity for public servants to ‘make full disclosure of relevant documents, material and facts,’ while putting into legislation the criminal act of ‘intentionally… [misleading] the general public or media, [misleading] court proceedings or any inquiry or investigation…’. This part of the bill would ensure that the covering up of documents that was experienced in the aftermath of Hillsborough cannot happen again, setting ‘a requirement on public institutions, public servants and officials and on those carrying out functions on their behalf to act in the public interest and with candour and frankness.”
Secondly, the bill notes that in inquests and public inquiries where a public authority is designated as ‘interested persons (IPs)’ or ‘core participants (CPs),’ then the bereaved IPs or CPs ‘shall be entitled to publicly-funded legal assistance and representation at the same level or in proportion to the resources provided to the public authority or private entity, as set out in the Schedule to this act.’ This would call to a halt the gross institutional unfairness that enabled the police to use public funding to defend their actions while the bereaved were forced to fundraise in order to seek the justice they deserved the day after the disaster took place.
Almost 3 decades later, this goes no way to healing any wounds, but it does begin to right institutional wrongs. In what could be Andy Burnham’s final act as an MP before being elected as the Mayor for Greater Manchester Regional Authority, he sets out in this bill a legacy that the Hillsborough campaigns, and the campaigners for many other justice campaigns, can be proud of.
Andrew Mitchell is a Young Fabians member.
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