HC Deb 08 May 1998 vol 311 cc942-1003

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Jane Kennedy.]

9.35 am
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

The disaster at Hillsborough stadium on 15 April 1989 was one of the most appalling events that this country has experienced since the war. Ninety-six people were killed—many of them children. The grief for such a loss would have been unbearable whatever the circumstances, but there is an extra reason why that day has been such a trauma for the relatives and friends of those killed or injured.

The deaths could not be explained by some act of God: by some event of nature so unforeseen as to be beyond the culpability of any human being. Instead, from the second that the Leppings lane gate was opened, this was a disaster whose root was entirely human, caused by the error, incompetence, complacency or worse of people entrusted to secure the safety of those who attend football matches.

The Home Secretary of the day was entirely right to establish, just two days after the disaster, a full inquiry under one of the most senior and respected judges of the time, Lord Taylor of Gosforth. Lord Taylor's inquiry took oral evidence from 174 witnesses at public hearings during May and June 1989. It considered many other statements and more than 70 hours of video evidence. In his interim report published in August 1989, Lord Taylor found that the disaster had a number of causes. He did not attribute all the blame to a single cause or person, but in paragraph 278 he concluded:

The main cause of the disaster was the failure of police control. Inquests were held by the coroner for South Yorkshire to determine the statutory questions as to the identity of each of the deceased and when and how he or she had died. In March 1991, after hearing the evidence of around 200 witnesses, the inquest jury returned verdicts of accidental death in respect of all the victims.

An investigation was conducted by West Midlands police and supervised by the Police Complaints Authority to establish whether there were any grounds for criminal or disciplinary proceedings arising from the tragedy. The Director of Public Prosecutions considered the West Midlands police report and took advice from Queen's counsel. The director's decision was that no one should face prosecution as a result of the events that day. The Police Complaints Authority decided that Chief Superintendent Duckenfield and Superintendent Murray should face disciplinary charges of neglect of duty.

In November 1990, Chief Superintendent Duckenfield retired from the force on the ground of ill health before disciplinary proceedings could be completed. Under police regulations, a disciplinary hearing cannot proceed when a police officer retires. The Police Complaints Authority subsequently decided to withdraw the charge against Superintendent Murray because it considered that it would have been unfair to pursue what was, in effect, a joint charge in the absence of the more senior officer.

Lord Taylor's inquiry and report were as thorough and impartial as one would expect of the work of such a great judicial figure. His report led to lasting improvements in the safety of football grounds, and in crowd behaviour and control. However, there has been sustained criticism of the coroner's inquests and, above all, of a police discipline system that was so defective that no one was brought to book.

Concern that the inquests had not been properly conducted led six bereaved families to seek a judicial review. Their application was heard in 1993. The divisional court of the High Court investigated the matter with great thoroughness. It looked in particular at the 3.15 pm cut-off point, but decided that there were no grounds for overturning the 1991 inquest verdicts. However, the sense of grievance of many of the families only increased with the passage of time, and they decided that more should be done to get at the truth, as they saw it, of what had happened. With the full co-operation of the Hillsborough family support group, the author Jimmy McGovern decided to prepare a drama-documentary for Granada Television. Entitled simply "Hillsborough", the two-hour programme, broadcast on 5 December 1996, presented a powerful picture of the tragedy. It suggested that fresh evidence that had not previously been considered called into question the verdicts of the inquests, and other decisions.

I must declare an interest. For two years before I entered the House in 1979, I worked on the staff of Granada's "World in Action". Some people whom I knew then, such as Ian McBride, helped to put "Hillsborough" together. I knew, and know, them to be journalists of great tenacity and integrity.

Following the programme, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) secured an Adjournment debate on 17 December 1996. I attended that debate, and listened with care to what my predecessor, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), said about whether the inquiry should be reopened. In the run-up to the general election, a great many hon. Members who represented Merseyside or the bereaved families approached me about the need for further investigation.

Many of my hon. Friends will wish to speak today; however, I want to mention some right hon. and hon. Friends who, although they are intensely concerned about the matter, cannot speak in the debate, as they are now Ministers. They are my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), and my hon. Friends the Members for Walton, for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) and for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy).

Following the representations that I received before the election, I thought that there was a case for a thorough examination of the matter. Within days of coming into office, I began to consider whether any of the inquiries should be publicly reopened. After thorough examination, I concluded that there was, on the face of it, sufficient evidence to warrant further investigation. However, as there had been a very thorough inquiry by Lord Taylor, very lengthy inquests and a disciplinary inquiry by the West Midlands police, I decided that what was needed in the first instance was judicial scrutiny of the new claims, to determine whether formal inquiries should be reopened.

Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, a senior Lord Justice of the Court of Appeal, was eminently qualified to conduct an independent and thorough scrutiny of the evidence. I gave him very wide terms of reference that enabled him to establish conclusively whether any material evidence had been overlooked, and to recommend appropriate action. Those terms were:

To ascertain whether any evidence exists relating to the disaster at the Hillsborough Stadium on 15 April 1989; which was not available:

  1. (a) to the Inquiry conducted by the late Lord Taylor; or
  2. (b) to the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Attorney General for the purpose of discharging their respective statutory responsibilities; or
  3. (c) to the Chief Officer of South Yorkshire police in relation to police disciplinary matters;
and in relation to (a) to advise whether any evidence not previously available is of such significance as to justify establishment by the Secretary of State for the Home Department of a further public inquiry; and in relation to (b) and (c) to draw to their attention any evidence not previously considered by them which may be relevant to their respective duties; and to advise whether there is any other action which should be taken in the public interest. I appointed Lord Justice Stuart-Smith on 30 June 1997. I published his report on 18 February 1998. I want to place on record, again, my thanks to him for the thoroughness and impartiality with which he conducted his scrutiny. Anyone who has read the report thoroughly will, I believe, be bound to reach the same conclusions as he did, that reopening the inquiries would serve no purpose whatever.

Let me explain why that must be so. First, there is the overriding issue of who was to blame for the disaster. If blame had not already been allocated, there would unquestionably be very good grounds for a further full public inquiry, but we have known since Lord Taylor's report that Sheffield city council, Sheffield Wednesday football club and, principally, South Yorkshire police were to blame.

Far from resiling from that judgment—or taking part in a whitewash, as some have ludicrously charged—Lord Justice Stuart-Smith repeated Lord Taylor's conclusion in the most strident terms. Indeed, he stated that Chief Superintendent Duckenfield had uttered a "disgraceful lie" about gate C being opened by fans, and he quoted with approval Lord Taylor's "stinging rebuke" of South Yorkshire police for failing to concede that they were in any respect at fault.

Lord Justice Stuart-Smith also unearthed the fact that some of the original statements made by individual police officers had been edited by solicitors acting for South Yorkshire police. At appendix 6, he gives an example. He considered whether the statements were covered by legal professional privilege—that was a real issue—but concluded that such privilege did not apply. He consequently said that the statements should be made public. I have made every such statement available to the Hillsborough family support group, and placed copies in the Library of the House.

The new claims put to Lord Justice Stuart-Smith by the television programme and the Hillsborough family support group fell principally into two groups: first, the video evidence, and, secondly, that relating to the 3.15 pm cut-off point for the inquest. Let me deal with them in turn.

First, there is the question of missing video tapes, and the importance that can be attached to them. Two tapes were indeed stolen. Their theft—still unsolved—understandably heightened concern about a cover-up, which was compounded by the extraordinary and pervasive denial of responsibility by South Yorkshire police at the time. However, the crucial thing about the tapes was that they contained no material evidence that was not otherwise available. One was entirely blank, as the camera concerned had been pointing at a blank wall. The other showed turnstiles 9 to 16 at the Leppings lane end, next to turnstiles A to G, which were monitored by police closed circuit television camera 1. What happened on those turnstiles was recorded on both the police tape known as TB2 and tape RJH2, which consists of camera output viewed in the club control room.

As hon. Members will know from page 20 of the report, counsel for the Hillsborough family support group made five submissions about video evidence on behalf of the group.

The first submission was that the police blamed their failure to see the overcrowding in pens 3 and 4 of the Leppings lane end on camera 5 being defective when it was not. The second submission was that the evidence of the video tapes taken from camera 5 was deliberately suppressed and concealed. The third was that the coroner deliberately failed properly to pursue the question of the "missing video evidence". The fourth was that police officers gave deliberately false evidence that camera 5 was not working correctly, and the fifth was that evidence from Mr. Roger Houldsworth, a closed circuit television technician in the club control room, had been suppressed. Mr. Houldsworth, who featured so prominently in the Granada Television programme, claimed that he could see from monitoring police cameras that pens 3 and 4 were overcrowded, and that a dangerous situation was likely to arise because of the influx of fans through gate C.

Lord Justice Stuart-Smith goes through each of the submissions with great care, and I shall spell out his conclusions. The first allegation was that the police blamed their failure to see overcrowding in pens 3 and 4 on camera 5 being defective when it was not. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith describes that allegation as "quite untenable" because he says that it was clear that the police could see what was happening with their own eyes. He describes the second allegation, that the evidence of the video tapes from camera 5 was deliberately suppressed as "completely unfounded" as the vital tapes, TB1 and TB2, were at all times, together with the schedule of their contents, available to be seen by the legal representatives of the families.

The third allegation that the coroner deliberately failed properly to pursue the evidence and the issue of the missing video evidence is described by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith as "unfounded" as there never was any missing footage from the relevant tapes. The two missing club tapes are not relevant to the issue, and the learned judge said that the coroner dealt perfectly properly with the jury's request to see the camera footage of the terraces. The fourth allegation was that police officers gave deliberately false evidence that camera 5 was not working correctly. He describes that submission as

evidence wholly insufficient to warrant consideration of criminal proceedings against any police officers".

He noted that even if the extent of any defect in what camera 5 was showing was exaggerated by the police, it was of no consequence, and Lord Taylor took no notice of it in his considerations.

The fifth allegation was that evidence from Mr. Roger Houldsworth was suppressed. On that submission, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith emphasises that Mr. Houldsworth's existence, and his evidence, were known to the Taylor inquiry and to the coroner, and that his evidence, even if correct, would not have had any effect on the previous proceedings. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith also deals with the credibility of Mr. Houldsworth. He says that he was

unable to accept that his recollection of events now is accurate"

and he adds:

the importance of his evidence has been exaggerated out of all proportion".

The second area of new claims related to the inquests. At the start of the main inquest, the coroner ruled that he would cut off the inquiry at 3.15 pm, the time by which he considered that all those who died had received the injuries that caused their deaths. That cut-off point has long been a matter of controversy for the families. After careful consideration of the proceedings of the inquests, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith found that there were no grounds to conclude that the conduct of the inquests was flawed. He says that the cut-off point did not limit the inquiry that was undertaken by the inquests and that it was never suggested by the coroner that all those who died did so before 3.15 pm.

The inquest jury heard evidence about those who died after arrival at hospital and about those who were treated and recovered. It was only in relation to how and by what means the deceased came to their deaths that the cut-off time of 3.15 pm was imposed. Therefore, evidence that some people died after 3.15 pm would not affect the outcome of the inquest. That matter is profoundly important to our understanding of what happened and in explaining to the families why the 3.15 pm cut-off did not produce the injustice that they claim.

For the benefit of the House and of the families, I repeat what the coroner said, which is an incontrovertible truth, that by 3.15 pm the principal cause of death, that is, the crushing, was over. That had finished by about 3.5 pm, which means that the evidence about the principal cause of death was bound to be over by 3.15 pm. He never suggested, nor was the inquest jury led to believe, that the inquest was interested only in those who had died by 3.15 pm. As I have said, there was evidence relating to those who had died after 3.15 pm and about those who were treated and recovered.

Other allegations related to the rescue operation and to alleged improper interference with witnesses. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith noted that Lord Taylor had inquired into the rescue operation and had criticised the slow response of the police. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith found no evidence of want of care by the emergency or medical services and, in his view, no purpose would be served by any further inquiry into that aspect of the disaster.

Lord Justice Stuart-Smith investigated in some depth allegations that certain witnesses were pressurised by the West Midlands police to change the evidence that they wished to give. He concludes that there was no improper attempt to affect their evidence. As I have said, he also examined carefully the statements that the South Yorkshire police obtained from their own officers, some of which were amended on the advice of force solicitors. He is satisfied that the Taylor inquiry and the inquest were not in any way inhibited or impeded by what took place. In a very few cases, which are referred to in appendix 7 of the report, what was excluded was either factual or comment in which factual matters were implicit, and the learned judge says:

it would have been preferable for those matters not to have been excluded".

Against that background, the question is what a further opening of full inquiries, or inquests, or disciplinary procedures could achieve. A reopening of Lord Taylor's inquiry would serve no purpose, and since I published Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's report on 18 February, I have heard no convincing argument against that view. There was no cover-up by Lord Taylor or by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith. The reverse is the case: both laid the blame fairly and squarely on the police. Thankfully, as a result of Lord Taylor's recommendations, there has been a significant improvement to safety at sports grounds and his recommendations have long since been implemented.

When I talk to the bereaved families, I find that much of their anger continues to focus on the inquests and on the police disciplinary procedures. In terms of the inquests, there was no evidence before Lord Justice Stuart-Smith that could result in an application by the Attorney-General to set aside the inquest verdicts, not least because the conduct of the inquests was so thoroughly examined by the divisional court.

I have two additional points to make about the inquests. We all understand the great concern of the families about the fact that the inquest jury's verdict on each of the deceased was accidental death. In common parlance, accidental death implies that no one was to blame. All those, including many coroners, who know anything about the conduct of inquests have reservations about the way in which they are conducted. The term "accidental death" is a legal one, and it was made clear by the coroner and repeated by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith that an inquest jury's verdict of accidental death does not necessarily imply that no one was to blame. That is very important.

The second point that needs to be made—it is made on page 11, paragraph 63 of the report—is that, before the scrutiny under Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, counsel for the family support group accepted that it was impossible to have a fresh inquest with a view to substituting a verdict of unlawful killing, so that point has been accepted by the family support group itself.

I accept, as I believe the whole House does, that inquests of the sort that occurred in respect of the Hillsborough disaster turn the screw on bereaved families, without adding any understanding on questions of culpability. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's report underlined the need to make improvements to the inquest system. In the case of Hillsborough, it was clearly unsatisfactory that the families suffered additional distress as a result of the inquest proceedings and the jury's verdicts of accidental death, when the cause of the disaster had already been established by the Taylor inquiry and the Director of Public Prosecutions had announced that there would be no prosecutions.

The inquest system, in its present form, is unsuitable for dealing with disasters such as Hillsborough. The Home Office working group on disasters and inquests, which reported in March 1997, recommended that the role of the inquest should be severely limited when a public inquiry has already been held.

A comprehensive public inquiry that also addressed the questions that would otherwise be before an inquest would relieve the coroner of the need to resume the formal inquest. The changes recommended by the Home Office working party in that respect point the right way forward, so the Government will look for a suitable legislative opportunity to amend the Coroners Act 1988.

I have often been asked: if the police were to blame, why has no police officer been brought to book? The only answer is far from satisfactory: police disciplinary procedures have been so defective that individual senior police officers have been able to utter "disgraceful lies", act with contemptible incompetence and incur no penalty. That is plainly unacceptable to the whole House and to the whole country.

As I said in my statement to the House on 18 February, I fully understand the public disquiet—I share it; I do not just understand it—that those who have been criticised by the inquiries into this disaster have not been prosecuted or disciplined in respect of their actions. It is not possible, however, to turn the clock back, and Lord Justice Stuart-Smith is satisfied that no new evidence that he considered could be put before the Director of Public Prosecutions or before the Police Complaints Authority. I accept that, but everyone, I think, believes that, in the light of Hillsborough and other cases, there is a compelling case for reform of the police disciplinary system.

In January, the Select Committee on Home Affairs published its report into police disciplinary and complaints procedures. The report recommended changes in a number of key areas and, in March, I announced to the House that I was taking steps to implement almost all its recommendations.

I have decided that the standard of proof in police discipline cases should be changed from the criminal to the civil standard and that it should be possible for officers to face both criminal and disciplinary action on the same facts. I have also accepted the Select Committee's recommendation that we should implement a system of "fast-track" dismissal for use in the most serious cases.

In the light of the Hillsborough disaster, I have been particularly concerned to address the serious defect in the present practice, which allows a police officer to retire on medical grounds before disciplinary hearings can be completed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] As my right hon. and hon. Friends make clear by their approbation, that was rightly an issue of the greatest frustration to the families of the Hillsborough victims.

We are strengthening the procedures so that, when accused officers claim that they are unable, through ill health, to appear at disciplinary hearings, matters can and will be decided in their absence, with appropriate safeguards. I am also concerned that existing regulations should be rigorously applied, so that any outstanding disciplinary matters have to be completed before any application for early retirement can be considered. Those and other changes will come into force in April next year.

Ninety-six people lost their lives as a result of the disaster at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989. The lives of many others were and continue to be profoundly affected by that day's events. None of us can begin to understand the anguish that is felt by the families who lost their loved ones in such tragic circumstances, but we have shared their determination to establish, to the fullest extent possible, why and how their relatives died.

The causes of the disaster were clearly identified by Lord Taylor in his 1989 report. It was right to consider, as I have done, whether there was any subsequent information that cast doubt on earlier decisions. It was for that reason that, at the instigation of many of my right hon. and hon. Friends who represent Merseyside constituents and other constituents of the bereaved families, I established Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's thorough scrutiny, but I am satisfied that he has, after that rigorous examination, reached the correct conclusions.

The changes in the safety of football grounds following Lord Taylor's report should ensure that the risk of anything similar ever happening has been greatly reduced. Changes in inquest and inquiry procedures following such disasters should ensure that the families are not put through the extra ordeal that the Hillsborough families have suffered, and the changes in police discipline procedures that I have announced will ensure that police officers cannot escape responsibility by early retirement.

I am asked by the families and their supporters to establish another full public inquiry, but I ask: what could that achieve? I do not believe that a further inquiry could or would uncover significant new evidence or provide any relief for the distress of those who have been bereaved. Although I know that it is difficult for the families to accept that, such a conclusion must be in their best interests. To hold out the possibility of a further inquiry, only and inevitably to have that hope dashed when the inquiry reported, would lead simply to further anxiety and to a deepening of the wounds of grief. That would be no kindness to the families, or to their communities on Merseyside and elsewhere. Although the families may not today accept the conclusions that I have reached, I hope that, in time, they will see that no purpose could be served by the further inquiry that they seek and that we as a Government have done everything that is possible on their behalf.

10.7 am

Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire)

I start by expressing a word of appreciation to the Government for holding this debate. On 18 February, the Home Secretary was asked by me and others to talk to the Leader of the House with a view to having this debate and, as both are in their place, I say to them collectively that they came to the right judgment in the matter and I thank them.

The Home Secretary has dealt fully and comprehensively with all the facts surrounding Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's review, so it would trespass on the House's time, when other hon. Members wish to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I repeated what the Home Secretary has said. I concur with his analysis. I hope that I shall not be accused of treating the subject lightly if I do not simply repeat what he has said.

It is worth bearing it in mind that the conclusions have been reached after examination of literally hundreds of witness statements on a great tragedy. It would be immensely surprising if all those hundreds of statements—in the heat of the moment, in the chaos that was that Hillsborough scene, and in the tragedy as it unfolded—were to agree on every detail. Two people in a quiet framework frequently disagree on what they see. The idea that hundreds of people would see exactly the same thing in every detail is not credible.

It is, however, greatly to the credit of the system that the truth emerged, and did so in a way that was broadly acceptable and seen to be an accurate reflection of what happened. The Home Secretary was right to point out, however distasteful it may be, that the failure of police control was at the very heart of the tragedy. He was also right to deal specifically with the serious allegations that have been made by the family support group, and I shall return to those later.

It is characteristic of a tragedy that what happened remains in dispute for many years, and why it happened even more so. In one sense, what happened in this great tragedy and why is interlinked in the minds of many people. That is understandable. We in this House have to remind ourselves that this is not some esoteric, theoretical debate; it is about what happened in the lives of thousands of people—lives that have been blighted from now to eternity because of events that took place in such a short time.

We all know, although we do not often talk about it, that death is not only commonplace, but frequently the most emotional subject with which we as Members of Parliament have to deal. I need only cite the case of Myra Hindley to illustrate that point, or, indeed, the continuing interest in what happened on the Titanic. Sadly, what happened at Hillsborough and the deaths that occurred fall broadly into the same category.

People want to come to terms with their grief, and to come to terms with their grief, they want explanations. They want to know who was responsible. They want, rightfully, some element of blame and punishment to be allocated because they feel that they have been unfairly punished. It is to Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's credit that he recognised that that element of blame and punishment was legitimate. Chapter 7 of his report states:

I … understand the dismay that they"— the Hillsborough families—

have that no individual has been personally held to account, either in a criminal court, disciplinary proceedings, or even to the extent of losing his or her job."

So it is right to go the extra mile to try to meet those concerns. That is why, on behalf of the Opposition, I supported the Home Secretary when he announced the initiation of this review. I said:

We owe it to the families and friends of those who died, to members of the police force and the other emergency services and to all who believe in justice to ensure—in the Home Secretary's words— 'that no matter of significance is overlooked and that we do not reach a final conclusion without a full and independent examination of the evidence.'

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on that. I welcome his announcement and will support Lord Justice Stuart-Smith in pursuing that important examination".—[Official Report, 30 June 1997: Vol. 297, c. 26.] On 18 February, when the Home Secretary reported the Government's reaction to Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's review, he recognised that by taking his decision, which we supported, he ran the risk of raising expectations. He gave an added boost to the hopes of the families involved. That was inevitable and could not be separated from his decision to hold the review. It is, perhaps, understandable that the judgments that have been reached and accepted should lead the families to believe that, in some sense, they have been let down a second time. This is not a time to be evasive. While I have sympathy for the families, I do not think that their feeling of having been let down a second time is justified in the circumstances.

The report is thorough. All the so-called new evidence has been thoroughly examined, and it was very important that it should be. It was important that Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, not caught up in the initial review, should calmly examine again the evidence and, indeed, the television documentary evidence. Like many other hon. Members, I saw that programme. Anyone who saw it could not have failed to be emotionally gripped by the story it told. The difficulty that all of us who simply watched the programme had was that we had no means of knowing whether it was an accurate presentation of what actually happened. It was gripping drama and very emotional, but whether it was accurate had to be determined in a forum other than a television studio. That is what Lord Justice Stuart-Smith did.

I am pleased that the Home Secretary paid attention to the 3.15 pm cut-off point because, as he said, it has led to great misunderstanding and unhappiness. I have memories of at least one mother pointing out that her son was still alive at 3.15 pm and that there was, therefore, something deeply flawed with the process. She knew that he was alive at 3.15 pm, but the coroner said that he was interested only in people who died before then. Of course, that was not the case, and the Home Secretary made that clear. I hope that what he has said in emphasising what Lord Justice Stuart-Smith said—and, indeed, to the extent that it makes a difference, what I am saying—will encourage people to reconsider that issue. The great danger is that a mythology develops, and once a mythology is established in such emotionally fertile ground, it will never be plucked out.

Lord Justice Stuart-Smith was also right to defend the legitimate decisions taken by the coroner. On the subject of the inquest, I agree with the Home Secretary that it is not attractive in such circumstances to have an inquiry and a full inquest, not least because their terms of reference are different. While we aficionados and other professionals may understand the difference, the general public by and large do not, and it sows confusion and misunderstanding.

I am not calling into question the importance of inquests, but it is important to effect change that focuses attention on a tragedy of this magnitude in one forum and perhaps allows the inquest then to deal almost in a more routine, formal, non-investigative way with the events to which it must address its attention. I welcome what the Home Secretary said about changing the Coroners Act 1988, but I noticed that he added, perfectly understandably in view of the fact that the Leader of the House is sitting beside him, the rider that legislation would be brought forward as soon as an available opportunity presented itself.

Without wishing in any way to antagonise the Leader of the House, I have to say that I have in my time sat on Government Business Committees. I know the pressure for legislation, and I can see the pressure for legislation this Session. I do not think that it is likely to lessen, given the Government's legislative zeal. I therefore offer the Home Secretary encouragement in his attempt to amend the Act, but he will have to fight his corner. Business managers will think that it is a worthy objective, but also that there are more pressing things to do if Labour is to get its second full term in office—which, as far as I can determine, is its avowed and only reason for governing. He will have to press very strongly on the matter, but can count on our support—[Interruption.] I tell the Leader of the House that we have not done too badly. We have been thorough, but have not unduly prolonged matters.

As Lord Justice Stuart-Smith said, the chief constable of South Yorkshire police has on many occasions apologised on behalf of his force for the disaster. Although I do not intend in this debate to reopen the issue of policing and responsibility for the tragedy, acknowledging the inadequacies and failures of the police on the day provides a background to the report.

As there is that background, and there was a failure of police control, people have become more willing to blame the police for other matters, although less blame or no blame should attach. It is important that we should get the perspective right—as we must all, on a daily basis, have confidence in the police. When they do things wrong, as they did at Hillsborough, they must say so, as the chief constable has done.

We must not—I accept that the Home Secretary did not do it in his speech—create a climate in which the police are blamed for everything, thereby reducing public confidence. Equally importantly, blaming the police for everything attaches an unfair and unjustified stigma to the name of dedicated and professional police officers. I therefore welcome those parts of the report dealing with the handling of officers' written accounts of events.

The report, on page 106—dealing with the handling of officers' accounts—states:

Lord Taylor's inquiry was not in any way inhibited or impeded by what happened. Lord Taylor was well aware of the criticisms made by some junior officers. His Inquiry examined these issues and he made findings about them that were adverse to the police. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith went on to say:

The investigation of the disaster by the West Midlands Police was not biased in favour of the South Yorkshire force. When an officer retires, there is concern that any disciplinary matter under investigation will lapse. Some think that the issue can be addressed by changing the disciplinary code, whereas others—such as the Home Secretary—believe that chief officers already have sufficient power under current regulations to deal with those matters. We must have clarity, guidance and openness, so that public confidence is increased, and so that the overwhelming majority of good officers are given support.

On 30 June, the Home Secretary told the House that he was investigating those matters. Today, he mentioned again the "sustained criticism" of the police disciplinary code, and made three announcements. The first was that he has decided that the civil rather than the criminal standard of proof should apply in such cases. The second was that it should be possible for officers to face both criminal and disciplinary action on the same facts.

The Home Secretary's third and most significant announcement was that police officers should not be allowed to retire on medical grounds before disciplinary hearings were completed. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides the House will agree with him on that point. A doctor's note should not be an escape route for bad behaviour. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] There is agreement on both sides of the House on that. Nevertheless, we must be very careful to protect police officers' legitimate rights, and not to assume that a police officer who is facing a disciplinary charge and has a genuine medical complaint is using that complaint to evade responsibility.

We welcome those parts of the Home Secretary's speech dealing with charges. He said that the changes would come into force in April 1999. I ask the Minister, in his reply, to give the House a little more detail of the Home Secretary's thinking on charges. The sooner that the details are available, the less likely it is that there will be a high level of perhaps unhelpful speculation, not least in police forces across the country.

I should like to digress momentarily from Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's report—although I shall later link my digression to it. When my children were younger, I took them to watch football matches—as I am sure other hon. Members have taken their children. Whether I was right or wrong to take them is a matter that only I can decide. Nevertheless, I took the view that, too often, the threat level on the terraces was more than I felt comfortable with when accompanying two young boys. I therefore insisted that, when we did go, we had seats. Consequently, we watched less football than we might have. I exercised my parental choice—which was one that not everyone would make—in response to the level of uncertainty and menace that was too often associated with our football grounds.

It is therefore right, even in today's debate, again to pay tribute to the late Lord Taylor for the changes that his report effected in the world of football. In our football grounds, seating is now commonplace, even if it is not always used. Segregation of fans and control of drink are now commonplace. Everyone agrees that the policing and stewarding of games is better, and greater intelligence means that troublemakers can be identified and dealt with. Closed circuit television has revolutionised the control of games. It is right that I should give a special word of thanks to the Football Trust for the contributions that it—with the previous Government—has made to making changes.

The worry now is that those improved standards may be starting to slip a little. Concern about what might happen at the World cup is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Part of the legacy that we owe to those who died at Hillsborough is to ensure that the highest possible standards are maintained and take precedence in our football grounds. My digression is, therefore, not unconnected to today's debate, as rigorous enforcement and pursuit of new and better standards are enduring remembrances of those who died at Hillsborough.

In his report, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith says of the families of those who died:

I realise that my report and advice will come as a disappointment to them, especially since they have had their hopes raised that something more could be done. But I cannot allow compassion to cloud my judgment. I have had to look dispassionately and objectively at what is said to be fresh evidence, in the light of the evidence which had previously been considered". The Home Secretary saw the families before he made his announcement to the House in February on the Government's response to the review. He told the House:

They are upset, disappointed and angry about its conclusions. They are also angry that I have accepted those conclusions."—[Official Report, 18 February 1998; Vol. 306, c. 1090.] Of course they still are.

The Home Secretary will know that the families issued a press statement this morning which included 20 questions. If what they say at the beginning of their statement is true, it was an uncharacteristic lapse on the part of the Home Secretary. They claim that they were not formally notified that the debate was to be held or that family group members would be able to listen to it, and they reject the report as

inaccurate, factually incorrect and extremely biased."

We have dealt with that. We understand where they are coming from and why they feel that way, but the Government do not share their view.

The press release makes one point that I hope the Minister will address in his reply. If it were true, it would be a cause of some concern. The families say:

We have been accused of crying foul and whinging at the result of the scrutiny. We respond by reference to my letter"— that is Mr. Trevor Hicks's letter—

to Jack Straw in November 1997 expressing concern at the Judge's interpretation of the terms of reference and the way the scrutiny goal posts were being moved."

It is important that the Minister addresses that particular point. I assume that he will want to assure the House that the interpretation of the terms of reference was not changed and that the goalposts were not moved, but the allegation having been made, it needs to be addressed.

The families asked 20 questions, which I shall not address although others may wish to do so. However, for the sake of reassurance, the Minister should respond to two in particular. They are questions 9 and 11. Question 9 is framed as follows:

The Home Secretary undertook to place in the House of Commons library all supporting documentation"— I believe that this morning he said that he had done so—

Why are the key police statements not in the House of Commons library and why were they not in the document bundles recently supplied to the family group,despite them being on the index? Clearly, I cannot answer that question as it relates directly to the behaviour of the Home Secretary. Perhaps the Minister will address it in his reply.

Question 11 states:

South Yorkshire Police have admitted that they had been given a copy of the scrutiny report some days in advance of its presentation to the House of Commons. Surely this is a breach of parliamentary privilege and is indicative of police bias at the Home Office. There might be a number of reasons for that, including the one reflected in the question. 1 shall not seek to make political capital out of it or to second-guess the Minister, but it is a serious allegation that needs to be addressed.

When I thought about the debate, a line of poetry came to mind. It was written by W. B. Yeats, who had a special knack of reflecting on people's emotional lives. He wrote:

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. We are in danger of a permanent and solidified chasm being established. Conclusions arising from an examination of the facts have been drawn with integrity and impartiality against the families' perception of injustice, leading to irreconcilable difference, grievance, despair and nightmare.

The families say in their press release:

Words are easy and debate is worthwhile", but they ask the purpose of today's debate. It is not my job to answer that question save to say that this debate provides an opportunity for their elected representatives to examine what has been done on their behalf and to explain to some degree that the dealings of men are sometimes messy. However, I hope that we shall all remember that we should tread softly because dreams were shattered that sunny day in Sheffield.

10.35 am
Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who has made time for today's debate. She was inundated with requests and responded to them in difficult circumstances. 1 also thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for his role in placing in the House of Commons Library some 12 boxes of hitherto unseen material consisting of statements and other documents from the South Yorkshire police archive. I have had the opportunity to look through most of that material and I shall comment on it later in my speech.

Let me say first that I am here as a representative of the city of Liverpool, as a football supporter and a Liverpool supporter. No one who combines those three qualities could be anywhere other than here today representing the interests and feelings of their constituents.

I represent bereaved families—Mr. and Mrs. Jones, Mr. and Mrs. Pemberton and Mrs. Hicks. Mr. and Mrs. Jones lost their son and his fiancée, Mr. and Mrs. Pemberton lost their son and Mrs. Hicks lost her two daughters. I hope that they will forgive me if I do not spend what little time I have trying to convey to the House the way in which that loss affected their lives and their families.

As I said, I have looked through most of the 12 boxes of police statements and materials placed in the Library, gaining some insight arising from my practical experience as a solicitor. Let me set out my initial conclusions.

First, South Yorkshire police behaved abominably leading up to the Taylor inquiry. They orchestrated what can only be described as a black propaganda campaign which aimed to deflect the blame for what had happened on to any one other than themselves. They were not preparing a case for the inquiry; they were preparing a defence, and there is a subtle psychological difference between the two. The fans—who include the victims and the club—were the main target. If one re-reads Lord Taylor's interim report, it is clear that he implicitly agrees with that assessment.

Secondly, I discovered that there was a liaison unit, which appears to have consisted of the chief constable, the deputy chief constable, Chief Superintendent Wain, Chief Superintendent Mountain, Superintendent Bettison and Detective Chief Inspector Brooke. The role of the liaison unit appears to have been to orchestrate that campaign.

Thirdly, there was a systematic attempt to change police statements to emphasise the slant on the defence that the police wanted to develop. It failed because of the sheer volume of self-serving statements and the shortage of time in which they had to get them to the Taylor inquiry. The attempt became impractical and thus most of the alterations to the statements were not significant, although Lord Justice Stuart-Smith accepts that some were not insignificant. More tellingly, one can see the intention of the police from solicitors' annotations on the unamended statements. That attempt to put a slant on evidence failed also because Lord Taylor saw through it. His report condemned in the strongest possible terms the strategy and tactics of the senior management and legal team of the South Yorkshire police. When reading the report, one cannot but be impressed by the strength of his condemnation.

Fourthly, that campaign continued after the Taylor inquiry reported, when it should have stopped. The life of the liaison committee also extended beyond the end of the inquiry to the generic inquest, and who knows whether it extended further? It would be interesting to have an answer. The committee's purpose changed from supplying black propaganda to achieving historical revisionism, but its aim has always been the same—to deflect blame. It is time that that stopped.

I have dug out many references from the boxes of documents, and 1 do not have time to set out a full case to support what I am saying, but I shall make some points. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith referred to the self-serving, self-written statements in paragraph 79 on page 78 of his report, where he said that it appeared that Chief Superintendent Wain was asking the serving police officers for factual statements. However, the boxes of documents contain a letter with comments at the end that have been added using a different typewriter. I wonder whether Lord Justice Stuart-Smith saw them. One addition asks:

What was the mood of the fans? Does that request a factual statement? Another comment says:

Officers should include in their statements their fears, feelings and observations", and, referring to the actions of the stewards, the letter asks:

were they doing their jobs?"

That does not ask for a factual statement; it asks for an individual officer's opinion about what happened.

Lord Justice Stuart-Smith says that officers were seeking to take only factual statements and, according to the first five points in the body of the letter, that is exactly what they were doing, but was something else going on?

I have already said that it is not the alterations to the statements that are important, but the annotations on the unamended statements. If one goes through the boxes of evidence and reads the solicitors' annotations in the margins of the unamended statements, one can see developing a shorthand that flags up certain points in the statements. Some of the annotations are sensible. They say "Outs LL", which means outside Leppings lane, and "Ins LL", which means inside Leppings lane, and "Gym". They flag up what happened at certain locations, which is no more than good organisation when annotating a statement. There are others, such as "Fan Beh", which is a shorthand for fan behaviour, and "Fan no tick", which is short for fans without tickets. If one reads all the unamended statements, one can see that those points are being flagged up.

One must then consider how the police presented their case at the Taylor inquiry. Their case was that fans turned up with no tickets; fans behaved badly; fans were drunk; fans tried to storm in; and they caused the crush. One can see on the unamended statements how the defence team of solicitors and the liaison committee who were reading them flagged up those points for use at a later stage.

Lord Taylor spotted that. I do not expect that he saw the annotations on the statements, which were made on the understanding that they were legally privileged, although Lord Justice Stuart-Smith says that they were not. There was no reason for the people who annotated those statements to think that they would ever be seen outside the force. Lord Taylor, whether or not he saw the annotations, saw through what was happening. He severely criticised the conduct of the police at the inquiry.

The Stuart-Smith report repeats paragraph 285 of the Taylor report, which states:

It is a matter of regret that at the hearing, and in their submissions, the South Yorkshire Police were not prepared to concede they were in any respect at fault in what occurred. Mr. Duckenfield, under pressure of cross-examination, apologised for blaming the Liverpool fans for causing the deaths. But, that apart, the police case was to blame the fans for being late and drunk, and to blame the Club for failing to monitor the pens. That is exactly what one can see in the annotations on the unamended statements. The report continued:

It was argued that the fatal crush was not caused by the influx through gate C but was due to barrier 124A being defective. Such an unrealistic approach gives cause for anxiety as to whether lessons have been learnt. It would have been more seemly and encouraging for the future if responsibility had been faced. At the end of the inquiry, Lord Taylor delivered a devastating indictment of the behaviour of the police and their conduct at the inquiry. At that point, the chief constable should have been held to account for the way in which he was leading that force and for the presentation of such a case to the inquiry. That he was not is a matter of regret. I know that it is not easy to sack chief constables, but he should have been sacked at that point for his poor leadership. It is now too late, of course—he has gone.

What happened after the inquiry is also interesting. What happened at the generic inquest? One would have thought that, by that stage, the police, having read and purportedly accepted the Taylor report, would have changed their tactics, but in the boxes of statements in the House of Commons Library, there are police reports containing day-by-day summaries of the inquest. They look like the self-serving statements, and I am not sure that they were supposed to be in those boxes, but they have now been placed in the Library.

The summaries were all prepared by one man who attended the inquest—Police Constable Kenneth Greenway—and it is clear that he reported back to the force on each witness. Referring to the Liverpool fans, he reported whether they had a ticket when they arrived, whether they had had a drink and whether they saw bad behaviour or other people drinking. Only after that did he report where those witnesses were and what happened to them. So that police mentality existed after Lord Taylor had rebuked it in the most stinging fashion.

There is a list of the distribution of those reports. They were sent to the chief constable, the deputy chief constable, Chief Superintendent Wain, Chief Superintendent Mountain, Superintendent Bettison, Detective Chief Inspector Brooke and the liaison committee. The committee still existed and was doing exactly the same job that it had tried to do during the Taylor inquiry, which was rebuked in Lord Taylor's interim report.

The liaison committee was still doing its job at the generic inquest. That is why the families say that the inquest overturned the Taylor verdict. Of course, in law it did not, but they felt that the arguments that had been so stingingly rejected by Lord Taylor were used again at the inquest and, because the police were so pleased with the verdict, the families believed that the police had had a victory. The police should not have advanced those arguments at the inquest, but they are still doing so.

Page 97 of Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's report refers to a structural engineer's report, which was prepared by the South Yorkshire police for the contribution proceedings. The structural engineer, Mr. Burne, was not called at the inquest and his evidence was not available to the Taylor inquiry, perhaps because it was not relevant. Nevertheless, he gave evidence at the contribution proceedings. The first point to note—which any lawyer will have spotted—is that Mr. Burne was instructed in July 1989 and his report was dated August 1990. That means that there were many draft reports that were not disclosed. I should like to see those draft reports. However, on page 99, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith says:

These matters do not give grounds for re-opening the Judicial Inquiry or any other proceedings. Indeed it is not suggested by the police that they do. The substance of Mr. Burne's evidence is that it was perhaps better to blame the club more because the barriers were worse than Lord Taylor had thought they were.

Lord Taylor might, if he had known of them, have criticised Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, their consultant engineers, and those responsible for licensing the ground in more stringent terms than he did, but I do not consider that there would have been any question of his changing his central conclusion, borne out as it is by the overwhelming mass of the evidence, that the primary cause of the disaster was a failure of police control. However, if the responsibility of the other parties was somewhat greater than had earlier been appreciated, that might have a bearing on any reconsideration of criminal proceedings against police officers. Obviously, someone at South Yorkshire police is conducting exactly the same sort of rearguard defensive campaign as they have conducted all along.

Interestingly, on page 96, paragraph 7, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith says:

At a late stage of my scrutiny I was invited by South Yorkshire Police to consider the evidence of Mr. Noel Burne". Is that liaison committee still operating?

I conclude by asking several questions which I should like my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to consider when he replies to the debate, although I accept that he may be unable to answer them today. Why did the South Yorkshire police have Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's report before all the other effective parties did? In view of the history, it did not give the families confidence that the police were being treated no differently from all the other parties. On television, the current incumbents in senior management at South Yorkshire police were happy to boast how long they had had the report.

May we publish the—still secret—percentage split of liability agreed at the contribution proceedings? Although South Yorkshire police have said sorry, they have not said mea culpa. We want them to accept that they were to blame. They caused this. It would be helpful for us to know the split of liability agreed.

Finally, as all the people who originated the policy have gone, will the Under-Secretary look to the new incumbents at South Yorkshire police? Will he get them to face up to their responsibility in its full force—to accept, not that they contributed and others were to blame as well, but that they were to blame? Will he persuade them to consider making serious efforts at reconciliation with the families? Until that happens, those families will be unable to proceed from the anger and anguish that they feel to grief, and they will be unable to continue their lives.

10.52 am
Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

I do not wish to delay the House long, because I know that Labour Members want to make a major contribution on behalf of their constituents. I congratulate the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) on the exemplary way in which they presented the case this morning. This is a serious and heart-rending situation, which is difficult to resolve. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire said, dreams have been trodden on. The lives of very young people have been destroyed as a result of that hideous event at Sheffield. Hillsborough so long ago.

Regrettably, we cannot undo what happened on that day; but we must help the families to come to terms with what has happened, to start to dissipate their anger and to turn it into a constructive objective for the future. It is the only way forward for them, for the House and for the country.

I start by observing, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire did, that the Hillsborough disaster did not have its origin on that day alone. There had been a long, disturbing history of extreme violence at football grounds. There had been examples of lack of crowd control at many football grounds throughout the country, which was extremely worrying for football clubs because it was reducing attendances at matches, with financial results.

For many years, many stadiums had badly lacked capital investment. Football clubs had used their money to invest in hideously high transfer fees for players, and had neglected to look after the fans who supported them—fans who needed proper seating and decent facilities, and whose safety needed to be safeguarded by properly constructed stands, entry gates and turnstiles to ensure that the huge numbers attending did not become a danger to themselves. Those safeguards had not been provided.

In the House at the time, we faced the fact that violent behaviour at football grounds had led the country as a whole to have a hideous reputation internationally for extreme bad behaviour at soccer matches. Barriers were among the measures used to prevent soccer pitches from being invaded by the crowd, and to prevent scenes of major violence and disorder from being repeatedly displayed to those present and on television. Those barriers, against which the people at Hillsborough were crushed, were the cause of death in that case, and the barriers were there as a result of previous behaviour at soccer matches throughout the country.

It is necessary to place the matter in that context. Although I agree whole-heartedly that the police failed to control the crowd properly and adequately—indeed, as emerged from the subsequent evidence, behaved abominably, as the Taylor report pointed out and as Lord Justice Stuart-Smith agreed—none the less, no policeman went to that football ground wishing to see that crowd get out of control.

We must maintain a balanced view. Although the police were wrong in several respects, they did not cause the deaths of those young people. We must put that in perspective. However, there is a very serious problem.

Mr. Eddie O'Hara (Knowsley, South)

What evidence can the hon. Gentleman present to show that that crowd was out of control? Does he not accept that it is disgraceful to put the blame for what happened at Hillsborough on those people who were crushed? They were not out of control; they were hapless victims, and they were victims of the actions of the police, who guided into them people who should have been directed elsewhere in the ground.

Mr. Wells

I do not disagree with anything that the hon. Gentleman has said. I agree with him that the crowds were not responsible for the deaths of the young people at Hillsborough either, but I am saying that, equally, I do not think that we can heap on the heads of some senior police officers the entire blame for the incident.

Mr. O'Hara

The hon. Gentleman has not read the report.

Mr. Wells

I have read the report. I am merely saying, let us get this into perspective, as far as we can in these emotional and difficult circumstances. It was not the crowd's fault—I could not agree with the hon. Gentleman more—but we must place the matter in perspective if we are to resolve it.

The police, in connection with this incident, should be the subject of very serious investigation by the Home Secretary. A group spirit emerges within the police, which makes them try to defend one another at the expense of the public and of justice. The police are accountable only to themselves. The police boards that control them do not control them, and have no means of doing so. What we have seen in this whole sorry story is the South Yorkshire and West Midlands police defending themselves. That has to be addressed. I hope that, when he comes to announce the measures that he proposes to put before the House, the Home Secretary will find a means by which the police can be objectively assessed and not allowed to get away without the responsibilities that are properly theirs.

It is a sad and difficult matter, full of emotion, with which we are dealing this morning, as the intervention of the hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) and the reaction of the House have demonstrated. The sympathies of all of us are with those who lost their loved ones at Hillsborough. I join them in feeling their grief and I feel for them for the future.

11 am

Mr. Derek Twigg (Halton)

First, I shall put some facts to the House. I was at Hillsborough on that day. I am a lifelong Liverpool supporter and season ticket holder. I gave a statement to the West Midlands police. Those are my interests.

I shall start by describing my recollections as briefly as possible—we have limited time, and many people want to speak in the debate. I travelled out that day with three friends. I drove rather than going by train because my wife was heavily pregnant. So I was not drinking. Given the issues around drink on that day, it is perhaps worth mentioning that. I have a fairly clear recollection of what was going on during the day. I arrived fairly early. We had a look round the ground. I had a long time to take in what was happening.

My three friends were in the Leppings lane end, but fortunately not in pens 3 and 4. They were in the other pen. I was in the north stand. There is a picture much used by medical journals showing the crush just before 3 o'clock. I was a little closer to the pitch than that, but the picture shows clearly the crush that was taking place.

It is important to say that Liverpool football club is the most successful club in this country. I say that for this reason. The supporters have experienced many great moments—European cup finals, FA cup finals, championships and so on—and had been to the semi-final the year before the Hillsborough disaster, and Liverpool had won the double in 1986. So although it was an important occasion, there was nothing particularly special about the day that made Liverpool supporters react differently from their previous good behaviour, with the exception of what happened at Heysel. From some of the police reports and statements, one would not think that what I saw on the day was the same as what police officers saw.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), I have been through many of the statements and other documents. It was a fairly sunny day. There was a decent atmosphere. It was jovial. People were happy going to the ground. There was nothing especially out of order that I could notice.

When I got to the ground at about 25 minutes to 3, the build-up of the crowd outside Leppings lane was beginning. It was clear to me that there was no real police presence other than some at the turnstiles. There was no effort by the police to channel supporters, to have orderly queueing or whatever. I cannot say what happened afterwards, but at that stage the crowd was well behaved and there was no real problem.

There have been examples over many years of success at Liverpool of crowds of 55,000 or 60,000, with 10,000 or 20,000 people locked out and massive queues of people going into matches. Never has there been a problem, because the police have organised things well. There has been orderly queueing and they have managed the crowd. The experience of the crowd is on record. However, the police at Sheffield that day did not seem to be bothered about getting involved with the organisation of the crowd outside the match.

There has been talk about people without tickets, but a lot of people had tickets that were not taken off them as they came through the turnstile. They were not checked that day. One gentleman next to me had such an experience. The control was not to the standards that one would expect.

When I got into the ground, I noticed almost immediately that the two middle pens—pens 3 and 4—were pretty full, but the side pens were probably only a third full, if that. That did not improve much during the next 10, 15 or 20 minutes. The point that I am trying to make is that although I was not within 100 yd but a bit further away, I could see what was happening. What were the police officers in the control room and facing the crowd doing at that time? How did they fail to notice the build-up to dangerous levels of the crowds in pens 3 and 4? How did they fail to do anything about it? How come the information was not relayed to officers outside the ground? I find it incredible.

One thing that sticks in my mind—I am not sure what time it was, but I think that it was around the kick-off—is that people started trying to climb over the fence and people were pulled up from the back stand. I remember policemen pushing people back in off the pitch. The understanding then, according to some of the police records, was that people were trying to invade the pitch, but police officers must have seen that people were in abject suffering or even dead in front of their eyes and just a few yards away from Chief Superintendent Duckenfield. I cannot comprehend why this disaster happened, given that the evidence was there to enable the police to prevent it.

I know that the opening of the gate and the build-up of the crowd outside has been called a monumental blunder by Taylor, but how was it that the police inside the ground, knowing the situation in the pens, did not relay a message to the superintendent outside the ground? Why did no one take the trouble to go between the turnstiles and the entrance into pens 3 and 4 and direct the crowd elsewhere? I cannot comprehend how that was not done. The evidence was there. The situation was before their eyes.

There is no argument but that the disaster could have been prevented and that the people to blame are the police. They were supposed to be in control and to be monitoring the situation.

Issues have been raised about crowd violence and concerns that there was some trouble in the crowd. Superintendent Greenwood went on to the pitch. His statement shows that he knew immediately that the problem was not one of crowd violence. He knew that there was something else going on. His statement was something like, "At this stage of the game, it did not even enter my mind that that was the case. I knew that something else was wrong." He knew that, yet we had statements later from police officers, politicians and others about crowd violence.

The police were clearly to blame. There is no doubt about that in my mind. Duckenfield basically abrogated his duty. He lost control of the situation. He was not around the pitch itself. In my eyes, he is the person, as the officer in charge, who is primarily to blame.

I want to touch on the aftermath before I go on to some of the other points. What has upset relatives of those killed, the people of Liverpool and those who have an interest in what goes on in the football club is the disgraceful lies about the blame for the disaster, and about the behaviour of the Liverpool supporters towards people who lay dead and dying. South Yorkshire police officers briefed the press shortly after the disaster. There were deceitful lies from Duckenfield himself. There were headlines in The Sun that can never be forgiven. In many ways, those things set the tone. The comments that Duckenfield made were going halfway round the world within a matter of minutes. His comments were reported by John Motson or someone else in the press. The die was cast in terms of the blame, and the disinformation started.

If South Yorkshire police had said, "We got it wrong. We made the main mistake," no one would have been satisfied, but their behaviour has caused so much additional upset and distress. The battle has been not only to find out the facts of why the deaths occurred, but to defend the reputation of those who died. Some of them were children. We must remember those who died and their families, as well as the supporters of the club and the city of Liverpool. I wonder whether, had another city been involved, the same rubbish would have been in the press at that time. All that meant that conflict developed, and my hon. Friend the Member for Garston referred to the disinformation.

I do not believe the sincerity of the apology from the police, as it had to be dragged out of them—even after Taylor. To this day, many people within the force do not accept any blame at all. Their version of events still exists. Also, there is no memorial at the Sheffield club for the Liverpool supporters who died there. I understand that supporters who went to a recent match at Sheffield were prevented from putting down flowers on the perimeter of the pitch. There is still a problem about recognising and accepting what went on, and we must understand why supporters and the people of Liverpool feel so strongly about what happened.

I wonder whether the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), the shadow Home Secretary—or the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who is to wind up for the Opposition—would condemn the remarks of people such as Bernard Ingham, who blamed drunken Liverpool fans and still espouses that view. Given that Bernard Ingham was Margaret Thatcher's press secretary, I wonder whether Conservative Members would condemn unequivocally his comments.

I wish to refer to the Stuart-Smith report. The state of the ground was important, because the club overestimated the number of people who could go into the pens. The signing was awful, the stewarding was not good and the crush barrier was found to be full of rust and faulty. That all had an impact on what happened on the day, without taking the major blame away from the police. The police still have a case to answer.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is aware of my concern at the decision not to prosecute, which I have raised with him personally in correspondence. I condemn the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions not to prosecute Duckenfield, the chief constable and others. I understand that the view of the DPP is that there is insufficient evidence. We do not know why that is the case because the DPP cannot publish the reason; it was said that it was the opinion of two counsels. That does not help me to understand why the decision was taken. Following a disaster of that magnitude, the families deserve—at the very least—a chance to test the case in court.

I understand that the Home Secretary has a particular position to keep, but I think, to this day, that the case should be referred back to the DPP and that those officers should face criminal prosecution. I am glad that police disciplinary procedures are being changed so that people cannot go off because of ill health. If a police officer is unable to face an inquiry or disciplinary procedures because he is not in the best of health, how come the families—who have campaigned for eight or nine years and who have suffered the horror of what happened—can still go on? There is some injustice there.

My hon. Friend the Member for Garston referred to police statements, and I support what she said. I have dozens of statements here, and there is a clear intent to avoid blame. I also have a statement from Dr. Ed Walker, to whom I spoke briefly. His statement was signed by a police officer he never met. He raised the issue of the 3.15 cut-off and the treatment of victims on the day. On the 3.15 cut-off, there is still concern about what happened to the victims and those who were injured. I believe that another of my hon. Friends wishes to raise a particular case.

There are questions still to be asked about what happened, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will deal with them later. Reference has been made to the accidental death verdict. In a sense, there has not been a cover-up, in that we know who was to blame and why it happened. However, there are still some pertinent and important questions which need to be asked, and we need to know why no prosecution took place. That is why there is a continuing feeling of injustice.

The disaster should never have happened and it could, and should, have been prevented easily. I can never forgive those responsible for what happened on that day.

11.14 am
Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester)

This debate is an important part of the healing process, although recent speeches show that there is still a long way to go. I wish to join the all-party consensus shown by the two Front-Bench speakers on the matter.

The perceptions and interpretations of this great tragedy will always be the subject of critical observation, and there will never be a unanimous point of view. I commend the previous Government on the speed with which they set up the Taylor inquiry, and the Home Secretary on setting up the judicial scrutiny.

No matter how we look at the documents and the evidence, the fact is that 96 people died. Although there are different versions of what led up to the tragedy, we are left with a statement that is broadly agreed by both sides of the House—the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control. I welcome the lasting improvements that the Taylor report brought to football—and many other professional sports—but I do not go along with the view that all-seater stadiums are necessarily the answer to problems of this nature. That was the conclusion of Lord Taylor's inquiry, but I wish to place it on record that I do not necessarily agree.

I do not wish to go over the points that have been made, but I wish to put on record my concern that there have been no criminal proceedings and my observations on police disciplinary procedures—or the lack of them, in this case. I welcome the changes mentioned by the Home Secretary, but I must ask why it is necessary to wait until April next year. I acknowledge the need to have the legitimate rights of police officers brought into any legislation or regulations, but April next year marks the 10th anniversary of the tragedy. Ten years on, we are still talking about taking action, which the public feel has been a long time coming.

The Granada Television programme "Hillsborough" could not be seen as an investigative programme, and it unnecessarily added to the anxiety of many people closely associated with the tragedy and of those who, for the first time, saw a vivid production of something based on fact which, with the best will in the world, was not 100 per cent. factual.

I welcome the Home Secretary's decision to appoint Lord Justice Stuart-Smith to conduct a judicial scrutiny. As the right hon. Gentleman said:

We owe it to everyone who has been touched by the tragedy, but, above all, to the families of those who died to get to the bottom of the matter once and for all."—[Official Report, 30 June 1997; Vol. 297, c. 26.] One assumed that that would be the answer. The scrutiny report expressed sympathy for the families—it understood their dismay that no one had been held to account and their disappointment with the report itself. It said that there was no basis for a further judicial inquiry or for reopening Lord Taylor's inquiry. It also said that the coroner's inquest was not flawed, and that, nine years on, no further inquiry involving witnesses could help.

Nine years on, however, are we getting any nearer to drawing the matter to a close? After the Taylor report and the judicial scrutiny, the Home Secretary is in an almost impossible situation—he cannot go against their conclusions that there is no reason for a further inquiry. However, justice has not been done, as no one has had to accept responsibility and pay a penalty for his failures and errors.

I understand that some of the families are considering whether to bring a private criminal prosecution. If such a case were upheld, it would be a terrible indictment of the whole system of justice and inquiry. I welcome the Home Secretary's announcement this morning that the police papers have been made available to the Hillsborough families—I am grateful to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) for drawing my attention to the fact that there are 12 boxes of police archive material. Will the Home Secretary confirm that all the police material and all other material are now available for full public scrutiny?

Although I know that the law does not permit a second inquest, I ask the Home Secretary to refer the inquest's decision to the High Court for judicial review, with a request that the original verdict of accidental death be replaced with an open verdict, on the ground that the inquiry had been insufficient. That would acknowledge, as Labour Members have said, that the deaths could have been avoided.

No matter how many inquiries, reviews or scrutinies are undertaken, no one will be brought back to life. I do not only sympathise with the families; I can empathise with people who have lost a young family member in tragic circumstances. I do not know how long the healing will take, but the process must be undertaken. Nine years is already a long time, but clearly there is still much healing to be done.

I conclude with some questions. When did the Home Secretary last meet with the families? What was the purpose and outcome of those meetings? Does he intend to meet them again, or is the Hillsborough book now closed for him?

11.22 am
Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

I apologise to the House as, for reasons that most people know and of which I have informed Madam Speaker, I shall shortly have to leave. I make this short contribution as a Nottingham Member. I am sure that all the hon. Members who represent the area will support what I say—indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) is also present for the debate.

I was not at Hillsborough on that awful day, but I clearly remember hearing the almost unbelievable news. I remember seeing the terrible pictures on television that left us numb and helpless. I talked to many of my friends who had travelled to Hillsborough as supporters of Nottingham Forest or simply as football lovers. I particularly remember that my good friend Malcolm Griffiths took his son Gareth, a keen Liverpool supporter, to watch the match—indeed, Gareth is now at Liverpool university and is a Liverpool season ticket holder. To this day, Malcolm Griffiths remembers those events—he talks to me as a friend, and has written to my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood as his Member of Parliament, about the events of that day and the injustices that he feels as a citizen of Nottingham who has close affinities with Liverpool. People who survived have terrible memories, but at least they walked away, unlike the many others whose tragic loss is still felt so keenly.

I want to speak in this debate to say to the people of Merseyside that the people of Nottingham have not forgotten that day, and once again to express the sympathy and grief that we, too, feel—we share their sorrow. I remember being proud of the response of Nottingham Forest football club, the city and county councils and many other organisations. Above all, I was proud of the countless individual gifts and expressions of sympathy from the people of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire to the people of Merseyside. The counselling service that Nottinghamshire county council set up after the Kegworth air disaster, which took place shortly before Hillsborough, proved invaluable.

People sometimes say that words are not enough, but as some of my hon. Friends have said, they are sometimes all that one has. The expressions of support and sympathy that were given so sincerely at the time are reiterated now.

Like many in Nottinghamshire, I share the frustration and anger of the people of Merseyside and their representatives about the failings of the police on that day and the inadequacies of the judicial system in ensuring that justice was done and seen to be done. I am sure that my hon. Friends who represent the Merseyside area will be able to articulate those feelings far better than I can.

I hope that the Government will ensure that all the lessons of Hillsborough are not only fully learnt, but implemented, so that the necessary changes are made. I ask the Minister to deal with all the concerns that hon. Members raise today.

I conclude by once again offering, on behalf of the people of Nottingham and the other Nottingham Members, the deepest sympathy to those who lost loved ones, to the people of Merseyside and to all those who were affected. I know that the people of Nottingham have not forgotten, and will not forget, the terrible events of that day.

11.27 am
Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

I commend the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) on the way in which they opened this very important debate, in which it is difficult to participate. As many will know, I come from the north-west—I represent a constituency in the north-west. I do not support Liverpool; I support Manchester United—

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

What a shame.

Mrs. Winterton

It is a shame. Manchester United, too, has had its share of tragedies, and I think that the hearts of everyone in the north-west of England went out to those Liverpool supporters who were so cruelly killed at Hillsborough and to their families, whose memories will remain with them for the rest of their days.

It is perhaps with the benefit of hindsight—which is always a great thing—that we can see that an incident such as Hillsborough was waiting to happen at a football ground or other stadium. What happened at Hillsborough came about, I believe, because of a combination of circumstances, not only because of the failure of police control, although I agree with the many hon. Members who have spoken about the police's failure of leadership and control on that fateful day, 15 April 1989, when 95 people tragically lost their lives.

As a result of the inquiry set up by the previous Government and chaired by Lord Justice Taylor—and the implementation of its recommendations—football was kicked into the 20th century by the sheer horror at the magnitude of the tragedy at the Sheffield Wednesday football ground.

I hasten to add that blame should not be laid at the door of the football clubs alone. After all, as early as 1989, some clubs had been sufficiently forward looking to introduce all-seater stadiums, but they then had to reverse that policy to a certain extent for a variety of reasons.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) said, many clubs needed a considerable injection of investment to introduce more adequate safety measures and to provide more comfortable facilities that were more in keeping with modern times. The fans and regular supporters were not treated as they should have been by the club management.

As a result of the tragic incident—the worst in the history of British sport in terms of the number of deaths—several investigations and other procedures were instituted, and those have been outlined in earlier speeches. A public inquiry, conducted by Lord Justice Taylor, was set up only two days after the accident, and an interim report was published on 1 August 1989. The final report appeared in January the following year, with a list of recommendations on the design and construction of stadiums and with chapters covering all the matters to be considered following the disaster.

That report also contained criticisms of the South Yorkshire police and the way in which they carried out their duties that day. The relatives of those who died have found it bemusing, to say the least, that there were no prosecutions. They have felt aggrieved at the verdict of the coroner's court of accidental death rather than unlawful killing.

The family support group's counsel has accepted that it is now impossible to have a fresh inquest, and I trust that the families will be comforted by the coroner's statement that a verdict of accidental death did not mean that the deaths occurred without fault. There was obviously fault, and it was highlighted in the Taylor report for all to read. I am sure, however, that the families and the House will welcome the Home Secretary's announcement of future changes to the coroner's inquest procedure when a full-scale inquiry is under way at the same time.

Bearing in mind the deep unhappiness of the afflicted families and the suggestion that fresh evidence not available at the time of the Taylor inquiry was forthcoming, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith was charged with conducting a scrutiny to ascertain whether such evidence existed and whether it had a bearing on the various legal procedures and decisions that had already been taken. His report, published this February, is comprehensive, clear and concise, and I congratulate the Home Secretary on commissioning it.

The true nature of the tragedy is brought home to everyone on reading the list of the names of those who made oral or written submissions, who attended the open session, or who met Lord Justice Stuart-Smith privately. It brings it home to everyone that individuals and families are involved and that it is not simply some amorphous incident that happened somewhere else, some time ago.

Perhaps now is an appropriate moment to consider the victims of the disaster and not to forget the names of two young men who did not die in the stadium but who were left with severe brain damage: Andrew Devine of Liverpool and Tony Bland of Sheffield. Both were diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state: a problematic label that has done nothing to encourage respect and care for those affected.

Tragically, Tony Bland's injuries created a situation that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) described as

the worst of all possible outcomes"—[Official Report, 19 April 1995; Vol. 258, c. 155.]

for Tony Bland and for the state of the law, which should protect the most vulnerable members of society.

Tony Bland suffered twice from pneumonia, as well as a urinary fistula, and afterwards contracted septicaemia. Paradoxically, his doctors applied what might be considered aggressive treatment, only to apply to the courts later for permission to end his life by withdrawal of food and fluids: a scenario that the Law Commission has proposed to enshrine in statute.

I make absolutely no criticism of Tony Bland's parents, who agreed with that course of action, but I commend to the House the care that Andrew Devine's parents have taken of their disabled son.

Mr. O'Hara

I have the deepest respect for the hon. Lady's views on life issues, although I do not share all of them, but does she accept that she is pursuing a minor premise in the context of this debate? She should concentrate on the death of the 96, not on the tragic situation of Tony Bland and the decision to switch off his life support machine. I think that she is taking unfair advantage of an opportunity offered by this debate.

Mrs. Winterton

I must surely be allowed to make my own speech. I am in order and I have expressed concern and sympathy for the fate of the 95, but I think that it is quite appropriate that the 96th, and the circumstances in which he died, should also be mentioned. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will join me in expressing regret about what happened to Tony Bland, as well as to all the other victims. I seek not to make any further point about that, but it is legitimate to talk about Tony Bland now, as he died as a result of the horrific accident at Hillsborough. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that view in the spirit in which it is intended.

I know that many hon. Members from the constituencies where the victims' families live want to speak, so I shall detain the House for only a short while longer, to say that the legacy of Hillsborough lives on with the families of the survivors and of those who died. As a result of improvements introduced following the tragedy, thousands of families attend football grounds to support their local team, and do so in greater safety because of the sacrifice of those who lost their lives at Hillsborough.

I have attended many football matches; I remember an incident at Manchester, when I was waiting to see Ian Rush get on the team coach, and was caught up in a great crowd. It was perfectly friendly, but I remember the dreadful feeling of loss of control as I was swept along, and I hate to think of what agonies the people who were caught up in the disaster at Hillsborough went through and what agonies their families have subsequently gone through when thinking of that day.

11.37 am
Mr. Cohn Pickthall (West Lancashire)

I add my thanks to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for arranging this debate, following representations from the north-west group of Labour Members, and giving us all the time to make a contribution.

History has played a dirty trick on the Hillsborough victims and their families. The personal tragedies experienced by so many people on and following 15 April 1989 have become intensified with the passage of time, as more and more details of the shambles, neglect of duty and disorganisation that brought about the disaster, and made its immediate aftermath worse, became clear.

Those details became clear partly because of the Taylor report and partly because of the work done by the victims' families. The boundaries of what it was possible to do to bring those at fault to account became more and more confined with the passage of time, while the concerns and detailed knowledge of those seeking answers and redress became wider and deeper.

Every hon. Member present fully appreciates the grinding frustration and anger that that bitterly ironic process has produced in so many of the family members concerned. It is not surprising to us that that anger has, in some cases, turned against us, as Members of Parliament who have been unable to deliver all the solutions Hillsborough families have sought. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has been the target of some especially unpleasant and undeserved attacks in some of the local media, which he has sustained with great character.

We have been well briefed by those families in our constituencies and also by my former colleague Professor Phil Scraton, in the book that he produced with Ann Jemphrey and Sheila Coleman called, "No Last Rites", and in the briefing he sent us on the Hillsborough scrutiny. At this point, I must join my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in putting on record the fact that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Welfare Reform, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy) are unable to take part in this debate because of their ministerial roles. On behalf of the north-west group of Labour Members, I must say that they have always been heavily involved in all our discussions about the Hillsborough affair and the Stuart-Smith report and, obviously, in discussions with their constituents.

As members of the north-west group of Labour Members, we have all sought to work together to represent the views of our constituents in the aftermath of the Stuart-Smith report. That has been difficult because constituents have different emphases and their demands about what should be done differ, depending partly on the circumstances of their relatives' deaths. We are agreed, I believe, on those areas of general public interest that arise from the events at and following Hillsborough. In opening the debate, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary dealt with all of them.

Several hon. Members have already discussed the configuration and management of stadiums. The outrageous means by which police officers who were responsible escaped the consequences of their failures and inadequacies have already produced action from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. The total failure of the coroner's court to deal at all adequately with the concerns of the families of victims or to consider the evidence that they wanted to present, coupled with the inadequate range of findings available to such courts, have also been raised by my right hon. Friend, with suggestions for remedies in the not-too-distant future. We also recognise the total failure of emergency planning in the case—there are many lessons to be learnt from that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) mentioned in detail, we are also aware of the alteration of police evidence.

Those are matters of huge public interest, which the families have campaigned about in a spirit of serving the community as well as their own family cases. The Government have moved on some of them quite quickly, and I trust that the sort of disaster that occurred is much less likely to occur again as a result.

I must press my hon. Friend the Minister a little about the alteration of police evidence, which was brought to my attention in specific cases by Phil Scraton and my constituent Mrs. Sefton, whose son Andrew was killed at Hillsborough. Frankly, I was amazed that officers were requested to write a free-form account of their experiences, rather than a formal statement. Having read some of them—I have not been into the boxes in the same way as my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Twigg) has—ignoring the later editing, I am glad that they were written and I hope that some day, they will all be published. In addition to what I am about to say, writing them could well have been beneficial to the police constables concerned.

I have not ploughed through all the boxes and will concentrate on an example that is readily available to everyone in appendix 6 of the Stuart-Smith report—the account by Police Constable Frost of what happened to him that day. It is an extraordinary piece of writing—vivid, honest, emotional and moving. It is also very revealing. It gives a picture of his mood swinging from jovial complacency at the beginning to open distaste and dislike of fans when he came into confrontation with them, panic—not surprisingly—when the disaster began and then desperation in his pleas for leadership, which never came, along with his account of the chaotic communications system.

The account is interesting and I will read one or two parts of it. As I said, at the start on page 199, PC Frost is jovial, writing:

On arrival, we parked our van in a prominent position, renewed old acquaintances and strutted about"— of course, "strutted about" is crossed out by the later editing of the account. He goes on to say:

A number of fans had cans of beer and were asked to finish it off before entering the ground, no problem"— "no problem" is crossed out. A few lines later he says:

Dick arrested a very drunken fan". That is left in. He writes:

I returned to the turnstiles passing a number of my colleagues carrying, dragging 2 or 3 prisoners". The word "dragging" is cut out. Obviously, carrying is all right, but dragging is not. On page 201 we read that the area

was also full of drunken, blood-covered fans"—

"drunken" is left in, but a few lines later,

I remember hating them for their mentality", is, of course, crossed out. When the panic began, he states:

The radio was garbled and frantic". which is important, given its part in communications on the day, but those words are crossed out.

On page 203 of the report we read:

Megaphone giving orders. It's about time. The lawyers have crossed out, "It's about time." The account continues:

Notice for the first time gaffers are now about. Where have they been. All that is crossed out. Later he writes:

Fit fans venting their anger, blaming us. 'You're all useless bastards.' Yes, they are right". Those last three words have been crossed out.

That is not merely editing by police lawyers— the account of what happened on that day has been censored and has been radically changed as a result. 1 understand that the original request to write reports was peculiar and that the eventual statements were more normal in police terms, but nevertheless they are evidence. In particular, they are evidence of inadequate leadership, huge complacency, and attitudes towards Liverpool fans and assumptions about their characters, which were at least unsavoury and probably dangerous. That aspect of the conduct of the South Yorkshire police should be investigated. Also, we should know whether that creative writing exercise is unique and whether the level of coercion in altering the reports is usual.

I shall concentrate in my last few minutes on the concerns brought to my attention by the family of Andrew Sefton, a 23-year-old who died at Hillsborough. His family have been tireless and intelligent in the search for the truth about what happened to him and, to be honest, they are still no closer to it. The centre of their concern lies in what happened in the gymnasium after 3.15 pm. My constituent, Mrs. Sefton—Andrew's mother—managed to obtain a viewing of the police video taken in the gymnasium where many of the victims died. She has told me about this and has also written to me, saying:

I managed to obtain access to the video, though not from the South Yorks Police, and to my horror watched my son Andrew being pronounced dead, a procedure which took between 9-11 seconds. However, what is concerning me even more is that the Police had assumed death by covering my son's face prior to pronouncement of 'life extinct', the S. Y. P. also assumed absolute control of events in the gymnasium, thereby preventing aid by other agencies which could have saved lives. Her summary of these events was that

the onus was placed upon the victims to prove they were alive by convulsing".

It is hard to imagine the perpetual pain of a mother who is convinced that her son could have been saved, but who knows that no serious attempt was made to seek life in him, let alone resuscitate him, while a fleet of ambulances stood outside.

Given what Mrs. Sefton has unearthed, we can readily sympathise with her anger, which is also felt in many other families, at the verdict of accidental death. I heard what the Home Secretary said about the legal definition of accidental death, but out there where it matters it is an insult. It will give the family pain for me to say for the record that it is more than possible that Andrew Sefton died in the body bag. That is not acceptable in any terms.

The case of Eddie Spearritt and others who survived, but who were placed alongside victims presumed to be dead highlights the need for the Government to ensure effective and efficient disaster and emergency planning. It also underlines the folly of the imposition of the 3.15 cut-off point by the coroner, which ensured that the families of many people, including the Seftons, have not had their questions answered. The coroner rightly sought merely to determine the cause of death; that is his job. If someone died at 3.30 or later, the crush in the west stand may not have been the only or immediate cause of death. Some means must be found of examining properly the events after 3.15. Many families will never be able to mitigate their anger and sorrow while they remain in deep uncertainty about how and when their relatives died.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary inherited a mess that had been allowed to fester for eight years. I have studied carefully what he has undertaken since coming to office and I cannot see what other legal measures he could have taken. Above all, he has been remarkably open with us and with the families in everything that he has done, and has been particularly robust in his attitude to the matter of police discipline.

I hope that the two factors I have mentioned will be investigated and will be addressed when the Minister winds up the debate. The events after 3.15 in the gymnasium and elsewhere, and the alteration of police records by the South Yorkshire police should be re-examined. There will be continuing anger and distress until those two matters have been properly exposed.

11.51 am
Mr. Eddie O'Hara (Knowsley, South)

I regret having to begin by referring to the remarks of the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney). His comparison with Myra Hindley and the Titanic disaster and his apologia for the police were completely out of keeping with the tone of the debate. He said that the police made an apology. Page 92 of Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's report shows that there was no apology. It contains expressions of regret, which to me fall short of an apology. The now chief constable of South Yorkshire police says sorry on page 93, when he says that we cannot bring those children back. By God, I should hope he is sorry, but that is not an apology as far as I am concerned.

Remarks were made about the behaviour of the crowd and, by implication, the contribution of those who were killed to their own deaths. When my three children were of primary-school age, I often took them among Liverpool football crowds, which were packed, robust and enthusiastic in their support of their team. I always felt that my children were completely safe among them: Liverpool football crowds are like that, but one needs to come from Liverpool to understand.

In contrast to the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary hit the right note when he said that it is difficult for us to appreciate the anguish of the Hillsborough families. Those of us who come from Merseyside are better placed than most to appreciate their anguish. It is echoed and magnified across Merseyside, not least in my community of Knowsley, South. It is a burning feeling not just of anguish, but of anger and injustice about the Hillsborough disaster. It is not about what happened and why it happened, although those are matters of great concern, but about what is seen to this day to be a wholly unsatisfactory response to the tragedy from the moment it started to unfold until now in this Chamber.

The speed of response to the plight of those who were trapped, having the life crushed out of them at the Leppings lane end, the access afforded to the emergency services, the treatment provided to those who were mortally injured, the treatment of the family members who had to identify the bodies, the availability of evidence to the subsequent Taylor inquiry, the treatment of the evidence that was available and the evidence that was not made available and is still coming to light to this day or is still being sought, and the conduct of the inquest have all been unsatisfactory. I hear what the Home Secretary says about the 3.15 cut-off point, but it is not satisfactory and there must be a further examination of what happened after 3.15.

The verdict of accidental death cannot be accepted by the families of the Hillsborough victims. The fact that no one has ever been held to account for the events on that awful day, 15 April 1989, is even more unacceptable. This debate affords the best opportunity we have had so far adequately to address these complex and sensitive issues. I do not deceive myself that I or anyone else alone can do justice in this debate to all the issues, but collectively we may succeed better than ever before. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) made a valuable contribution. Her investigation into the 12 boxes of documents in the Library throws new light on the issue. I ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to defer judgment on what further action he takes on this matter until he has fully considered the points raised in the debate.

As I cannot hope to cover all the issues, I shall speak on behalf of one family in my constituency who lost a son in the tragedy. James Aspinall had a bright life before him, a secure and loving family, a job that he enjoyed and that offered prospects, and a joy of life. He went to a football match to support his beloved Liverpool and he was killed. I know that his parents would approve of that choice of word. His parents' last image of him is a photograph of him lying on his back alone with a coat being thrown over him, seemingly even before a doctor could get to him to certify him dead. They asked, "Did no one help him?" They have never received a satisfactory answer. What a question never to receive an answer to.

James's parents suffered the indignity of tests and questions about the level of alcohol in his body. Why? It happened that James did not have excessive alcohol in his body, but what if he had had? Alcohol was not a contributory factor to the deaths of those who were killed. In any event, it is not a crime to have a drink before going to a football match, and it is certainly not a crime punishable by death.

Why, ask Mr. and Mrs. Aspinall, were drink tests not carried out on those whose response to the unfolding tragedy was so woefully inadequate? They resent the fact that the police officers judged to be responsible for the tragedy were allowed to escape disciplinary action by taking early retirement on grounds of ill health. They appreciate that the Home Secretary is taking steps to make it more difficult for that to happen in future, but they cannot come to terms with the fact that many of those who were responsible for causing the tragedy—or who were implicated in its shameful aftermath—may be leading lives of ease, comfort and pleasure, with the assistance of large sums from early retirement settlements or from compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Aspinalls cannot understand why the Director of Public Prosecutions could not find sufficient evidence to prosecute on any count—great or small—those who were so clearly found responsible. They cannot understand why, even if the senior police officers in operational control on the day were able to evade the consequences of their actions, vicarious responsibility did not pass to South Yorkshire police, and, ultimately, to the chief constable, Mr. Wright. They seek an explanation of why the Health and Safety Executive was not involved in investigations after the event, regarding the responsibilities and liabilities of not only the police, but Sheffield Wednesday football club, Sheffield city council and the Football Association.

It must be said that Mr. and Mrs. Aspinall are cynical about the availability of information, and the inquiry's treatment of what information was available. They will be satisfied with nothing short of a fresh inquiry into all the evidence, including that which has subsequently been made available. When I tell them that Lord Justice Stuart-Smith has effectively done all that they ask, they are dismissive of his investigation. They were dismissive from the time of his public relations fiasco, when he made unfortunate remarks about Liverpool supporters being typically late. They point out that they were early for their appointment with him, but the media circus made him late to meet them. They remind me that James was killed because he arrived early to watch Liverpool play Nottingham Forest.

I explained to the Aspinalls that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was reluctant to put the Hillsborough families through the pain of another inquiry when his best advice was that the outcome would be no different. They replied that they could not suffer any more pain than they had suffered since 15 April 1989—pain that they continue to suffer.

I said earlier that I hoped my right hon. Friend would defer consideration of what more might be done about the Hillsborough disaster until after he had fully considered our debate. He says that nothing could be achieved by a further full investigation. My constituents ask to be allowed to be the judges of that. As far as they are concerned, justice has not been done, and it certainly has not been seen to be done.

More can be done. My hon. Friend the Member for Garston has pointed out that there are the strongest possible grounds for a further investigation into the behaviour of South Yorkshire police from the moment of the Hillsborough disaster up to today. As she said, the force should at least be made to say, "Mea culpa"; I would prefer it to say, "Mea maxima culpa." A subsequent inquiry might find that there are people who are still in post who could be held to account.

There are grounds for investigating the workings of the DPP at the time. Neither the families nor I are satisfied that all questions have been answered there. In addition, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) said, there are certainly grounds for closer investigation into events after 3.15 pm.

I suspect that some people are still in post and liable for disciplinary proceedings, or other proceedings, for what happened that day, or subsequently. The fact that they may have got away with cover-up and deceit for nine years is no reason for continuing to evade action. I ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to consider carefully after the debate whether there may be specific events or factors that he could investigate further, even if that investigation goes short of a whole new public inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster.

12.3 pm

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

When the House was given the welcome news that the events surrounding the Hillsborough tragedy were to be scrutinised, I asked my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for an assurance that the feelings of those who were most concerned would be fully considered. I had in mind feelings of anger and distress, but also the mounting sense of injustice. It is nine years since the tragedy, and we have had Lord Taylor's unequivocal statement that the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control. What happened was preventable, and organisations and individuals were responsible; some issues raise the question of a possible attempt to pervert the course of justice. Despite all that, nothing has happened.

Nine years on, and after the publication and consideration of the scrutiny, there have still been no prosecutions or disciplinary actions. That is unacceptable. The verdict of accidental death stands, but that is also unacceptable within the normal meaning of the term. Police statements were changed and police influenced the changing of statements by others, but it seems that the significance of those changes was minimised. Video tapes were stolen from a secure, controlled area, but answers to questions about that have never been given, no inquiry into the matter seems to have proceeded and to this day, the tapes have not been recovered. That is also unacceptable.

The coroner's decision to impose a cut-off time of 3.15 pm, whatever his reasons in terms of the inquest's conduct, was certainly seen to devalue the lives of those who lived after that time, and perhaps it assisted in avoiding the issue of the care of those who were still alive. I use the word "care" with its normal meaning.

It would be wrong to say that nothing has changed in the past few months. Were it not for the scrutiny that resulted from the Home Secretary's decision, we would not be debating the issue and the matters that have been raised could not have been brought to the House with the same strength of feeling, based on facts. Disciplinary codes are to be changed, and we can anticipate changes in the conduct of coroners' inquests in similar circumstances. Safety at matches in general has been improved, but none of the changes deals with retrospection or affects the lives, feelings or views of those who were directly involved.

I return to where I began—the feelings of those who were involved when the scrutiny was announced. Will the Minister make it clear that he appreciates that a purely legalistic approach to the way that matters have developed cannot assuage the anger, the stress and the other deep feelings of those who were involved? Does he agree that there should be a recognition of at least the possibility that the lack of action against the police who were involved is unjust and perhaps against natural justice? Has he considered the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions at the time of the events and since? Will he place on record in a form that he feels appropriate a statement that Hillsborough was no accident in the normal meaning of the term, that culpability was clearly established and that there is regret that it is not possible to take retrospective action to deal with those matters? Could he make it clear that his decision about the problems of a future inquiry relates to the legal judgment by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, who states that that would serve no purpose—no purpose, that is, in a legal sense? I ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to put it on record and to make it clear that, although he accepts that ruling as a legal ruling, which has been made clear, he understands the feelings of those involved that the purpose of any future inquiry would be to ensure that no stone was left unturned.

It appears that no further legal action can be taken, although I urge my right hon. Friend to consider whether there are any other ways in which any of the specific points that have been raised can be considered further. I certainly urge him to make statements that set out the reasons for his decisions, and an appreciation of the feelings, anger and grief that are involved and the concerns that are still mounting.

Those feelings of anger are justified. I understand the legal system and I think that it must be a cause of deep regret for all of us that retrospective action on these cases has not appeared to be possible but, if it is not possible for a judicial system to deal with feelings of legitimate anger, with people thinking that their concerns have been considered properly, that judicial system has failed. Therefore, I welcome the steps that are already being taken to remedy that situation and ask my right hon. Friend to consider that system further, so that nothing like this can ever happen again, and such feelings of grief and injustice cannot occur again.

12.10 pm
Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby)

Ninety-six people died in Hillsborough and the law says that that was an accident. I have heard the definition of the word accident today. However, that is totally inadequate to describe what happened at Hillsborough. Each family was affected in a different way by the tragedy and has found a different way in which to try to cope with it. No two families have exactly the same concerns. Our duty in the House is to respond in the best way that we can to those individual concerns.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) for her contribution. She articulated many of the technical matters from a professional position. It is an ability that I envy and an ability and competence that I do not have, but I am not alone in that ignorance: I share it with many of the families who started down this road, looking for justice. However, my specific duty today is to focus on the eight families who live in my constituency who were affected by the Hillsborough disaster.

I discern three groups among those families; I think that it is important to understand that there are three groups. First, there are those who are actively campaigning for justice by banding together. Many of those people are with us today and travelled down with me on the 5.45 train. Those are the members of the support group. Secondly, there are those who continue their campaign as individuals outside that group. Thirdly, there are the silent families; the ones who have chosen, for their own reasons, to try to forget and to get on with their lives.

We have to represent the interests of all three groups. I have had lengthy discussions with four of the families who come into the first two groups and I shall try to articulate their concerns. I felt that it was inappropriate to intrude on the privacy of the families who have not approached me. Nevertheless, I have a duty to represent their interests, which must not be forgotten.

Silence may mean many things; for some families, it may mean the need to move on. However, my major concern is that it may be because of an inability to articulate their feelings within the judicial process. Many people feel totally disempowered by the process that they have had to confront to realise the justice for the families whom they have lost.

I now return to the verdict of accidental death. The families know that, whatever is done, their loved ones cannot be brought back. The majority also accept reluctantly that the law cannot be changed retrospectively, but they want two things. I have had extensive conversations with the families. I cannot emphasise too strongly the fact that at least one family comes to see me at every surgery that I hold. It ties up an inordinate amount of time, but it shows the House that the subject preoccupies many families completely and utterly.

First, my families want to feel that the authorities have been as frank and open as possible, but the evidence confronting them clearly shows that that is not the case. They want to be addressed as individuals, not as an amorphous group. They are not an amorphous group; they are people, and unless we make every effort to address the issues for each family, we shall not start to solve the problems.

Secondly, the families want practical steps to be taken to ensure that the inadequacies and complete failures brought to light by the Hillsborough tragedy are not repeated. The people whom I represent want an open dialogue and reassurance that things will change. They want legislation to back that reassurance—words are fine, but legislation is a different matter. If those two conditions can be satisfied, the death of their loved ones will not seem quite so in vain and utterly pointless.

I welcome many of the initiatives already undertaken, especially that undertaken by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall). He has written to all the families, inviting them to express their concerns and their needs. That was vital. Out of that has come a letter from one of my silent constituents. We think it is the first time that the person involved has put into words how they feel. It was a worthy initiative, but what happens to the letters? What happens to the specific inquiries? My impression is that they are dealt with in a global fashion by some sort of mass reply which is supposed to satisfy all their needs but does not. The points need to be tackled one by one.

My constituents ask many questions, and I ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to deal with them. I ask these questions on behalf of my families, who have raised them with me. I put them before the House now. After conflicting and changing medical evidence over the years, why can there not be a fresh inquiry for Kevin Williams? He was not dead at 3.15 pm or at 3.30 pm. He died of neglect, somewhere. A verdict of accidental death does not say that. Why cannot the parents of Gary Church be allowed to pursue a pre-death trauma claim, when the facts show clearly that Gary suffered horribly before he finally succumbed?

Why has no individual been brought to account for the death of Paul Hewitson? Was his life so immaterial that it did not even justify a rebuke of any significance? Following the death of his only son Christopher, can Mr. Barry Devonside look forward to the establishment of a corporate responsibility law to cover such incidents in the future? He has gone beyond wanting an individual done for this atrocity, because an individual can devolve responsibility to others, and the greater others in this instance—Sheffield football ground and the authorities—have not been brought to justice. The corporate responsibility that means that those people can be brought to account does not exist.

Would the inquest jury have given a verdict of accidental death in the case of Steve Robinson if it had known about the negligence, lies and altered statements of the police? 1 guess not. Those facts were recorded in the Taylor report but not put before the inquest jury. I am just a normal person, and I do not understand that.

Were any of the judiciary, coroners or senior police officers freemasons? If so, which ones? Those people were not held to account, and other people do not understand why. However, hon. Members are held to account in this place, and we shall not be allowed to relinquish or redeem our responsibility until reasonable questions are answered with acceptable reason.

How could the 3.15 pm cut-off be allowed to stand in the face of very clear evidence that it was complete nonsense? Why was the key independent witness, Mr. Houldsworth, not called by the Stuart-Smith scrutiny? I have heard reasons why he was not called—that, although his evidence was considered, it was not thought to be worth recalling.

Mr. Straw

It is important that my hon. Friend should understand that Mr. Houldsworth gave detailed evidence to the Stuart-Smith inquiry. If she turns to page 133, she will see an extensive transcript of his evidence, which goes on for many pages.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas

My apologies for that.

Why was the verdict of accidental death not reconsidered? Those are some of my constituents' questions. After nine years of receiving answers to those questions, they still do not know the truth. There is something wrong with the answers that they have been given. We are not dealing with a group of people who are illiterate. They are not illiterate; they are reasonable and honest, and they deserve a response that they can understand and accept. They have been asking the same questions for years, and those questions need to be answered.

What should happen now? For each individual family, there has been an individual tragedy. It is simply unacceptable for families to think that their loved ones have not been dealt with by the system as individuals, but rather that the system has operated like a sausage machine. Like my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I do not see the point of another full-scale judicial inquiry. However, I think that two things need now to be done.

The first is to make a commitment to change the system for the future. We have seen much evidence of change, which I welcome, as do my constituents. The Home Secretary has already announced that he will stop the escape route of early retirement for police who are under investigation. The appropriateness of the inquest system for large-scale disasters is also under review. In addition to those changes, a notion of corporate responsibility should be introduced whereby a chief constable or chairman of a football club, or whoever has authority, is made personally liable for the operation of proper safety procedures.

Secondly, the individual questions that the families wish to ask should be answered personally. When confronted by the complexity and unfamiliarity of the legal system, most people feel inadequate and intimidated. Some of the active campaigners on the issue have now, perforce, developed a formidable expertise in the law, albeit nine years too late.

Many of the families have felt some guilt that they have not been able to do justice to their lost relation. No one should feel guilty or inadequate because they do not know the minutiae of legal procedure, or cannot write a persuasive letter or articulate their feelings. Our judicial system must be sufficiently robust to accommodate those who are disadvantaged by ignorance.

I should like every Hillsborough family to be offered a home visit by an official, who will discuss the families' concerns and help them to present in writing their concerns and unanswered questions. Those documents should then be collated, so that all the concerns and questions are identified. Subsequently, the questions and concerns should be presented to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and to Home Office Ministers for answer. Each family should receive a detailed and personal letter, dealing with their concerns.

Even at that point, I do not think that all the agitation would cease. Issues on which action can be taken should be addressed. When no further action can be taken, the family of each individual should receive a personal—I stress personal—explanation of why that is so.

Many of my constituents have written letters that have still not been answered. If the actions that I have mentioned are taken, humanity will have entered into the process—something that, for many years, it has not done.

12.23 pm
Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North)

I am here for two reasons. The first is to represent my constituents who were badly affected by the Hillsborough tragedy and the second is that one of my close childhood friends died in the disaster.

I was brought up with my friend. We went to youth clubs, pubs and clubs and spent our first holiday abroad together. We both supported Liverpool football club. Like most childhood friends, we got married, moved away and lost touch. However, just weeks before Hillsborough, we met up again. We had a drink in a local pub and agreed to meet again a couple of weeks later. The second meeting never took place because, in April 1989, Liverpool played Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough and within minutes of my friend attending that match, he was fighting for his life in a tragedy that claimed the lives of 95 people and left 400 others requiring hospital treatment.

Like all hon. Members here today, when I heard of the disaster, I was shocked. I was even more shocked to discover that my close friend was one of the victims. Along with many other people, I attended his funeral. He was a popular man. As one would expect, it was a sad event. There was a great feeling of loss and we all wanted to know why such a disaster had happened. We took some comfort from the thought that there would be a full public inquiry to establish the causes of the disaster and hold those responsible to account.

We have now had a police inquiry, a coroners court inquiry, a public inquiry and a review of the first inquiry, but many bereaved families feel cheated and let down by the system. They feel that there is no justice. They also feel that the police seem to be far more interested in protecting their own backs than in seeking justice for the people who died. I understand those feelings.

It would be wrong of us not to acknowledge that some progress has been made. Thanks to Lord Taylor, who did an excellent job, we know the cause of the disaster. We cannot criticise him for not getting to the facts, a point to which I shall refer in a moment. We know who was to blame for the disaster and how to stop similar disasters in future, so the Taylor report resulted in positive action. Lord Taylor made it absolutely clear that he blamed the local council, the football club and, most of all, Chief Superintendent Duckenfield and the South Yorkshire police. He did not accept the scandalous allegations by the South Yorkshire police and The Sun newspaper. We know that Liverpool fans did not contribute to their own deaths, although the police attempted to blame their behaviour and accused them of being drunk.

I believe that Merseyside people will never forget or forgive South Yorkshire police or The Sun newspaper. To this day, many newsagents in Liverpool will not take copies of The Sun. Disgusting and insensitive statements were made and the police showed themselves unfit to hold the position of trust in which they had been placed.

As I have said, we have now had a police inquiry, a coroners court inquiry, a public inquiry and a review of the first inquiry and we know who is to blame, but nobody has been held accountable—why? Is it any wonder that the families feel let down? They feel that nothing has been done and they have not received justice.

What can be done now? Unfortunately, I feel that it is not possible to hold people to account after nine years, for the reasons that we have heard. I also accept that it is impossible to turn back the clock and change the law retrospectively. However, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was absolutely right to order a further review of the first inquiry. He should be given some credit for taking that decision, although he knew that it might well be difficult for him. He should also be given credit for the action that he has taken so far. I fully support the proposed changes to the coroners court and the idea of stopping officers who are subject to disciplinary action taking early retirement to avoid that disciplinary action.

However, we need to make further changes. The families of the Hillsborough disaster had a right to justice. They had a right to expect that the police, the coroners court and the public inquiry would seek the truth. They know that South Yorkshire police tried to blame the Liverpool fans. It is clear from reading the police statements that there was a co-ordinated effort by the police to change the statements to give the wrong impression about what took place on that day.

The families want to know why the Director of Public Prosecutions took no action. As other hon. Members have said, we want to understand that decision. We want to know whether there is any possibility of producing the evidence on which counsel based that decision.

We should also like to know why the chief constable was not held accountable. I was amazed to find no more than a brief mention of the chief constable's responsibility. He had overall responsibility to ensure that the match was policed properly. He knew that Mr. Duckenfield did not have the expertise to do that and that, 12 months earlier, a similar accident was averted by correct action by police officers. He did not ensure that the officer in charge was briefed, understood his duties and was able properly to conduct the policing of the event.

The Home Secretary has tried to deal with many of the questions that have been asked, but the families remain uneasy about the police and legal system investigating themselves. That unease is heightened because the families know that, within the police, the legal profession and the Home Office, there is a secret organisation that serves itself. I make no accusations that the investigation was affected by that organisation, but its existence goes to the heart of democracy. We cannot tolerate a secret organisation operating in the police force, the Home Office and the legal profession. We need to ensure that every member of the public understands that the legal profession is independent and open. That goes to the heart of democracy.

I have the deepest sympathy for the families affected by the Hillsborough disaster. It is bad enough to lose a loved one, worse to be left with a feeling of injustice. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will note the comments made by hon. Members today and take appropriate action as soon as possible to restore the good name of the legal system.

12.31 pm
Mr. Joe Benton (Bootle)

I want to place on record my complete appreciation of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for his conduct towards north-west politicians, his expressions of sympathy and his informative manner. We all understand his position. He has not made his decision lightly, and we appreciate that it was very difficult. I want also to place on record my appreciation of the Under-Secretary, who has also faced difficulties. It must have been torture for Ministers to go over those deliberations again and again.

However, I state categorically that the possibility of a new inquiry should be considered. I do not say that lightly. I have given the matter a lot of thought. The Home Secretary's logic is compelling and hard to refute. This morning, we have been debating many aspects of what may best be described as this tragic event—the huge loss of life and the families' sorrow.

I was very impressed when the shadow Home Secretary quoted William Butler Yeats. I found it a fitting description of grief and tragedy, because 1 happen to know the poem, and it is very moving—and that is important. Logic does not always figure in grief, and everyone grieves differently. I know from my experiences with the families that we could help them to grieve in a very positive way—although it goes against the logic of what the Home Secretary said—by ensuring, to echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara), that justice is seen to be done. Rightly or wrongly, in the families' eyes, justice will be seen to be done only if they achieve their stated aim.

Since the Home Secretary's statement to the House on 18 February 1998, I have had many discussions, and every family or grieving person to whom I have spoken about the Hillsborough issue has said, "Let us have another inquiry." That emotion—that feeling—cannot be ignored. I urge the Home Secretary to consider my remarks and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South, even if, at this stage, it appears that he cannot go back on his decision. An inquiry is the only way that I can see to alleviate or mitigate the feelings of the grieving families of Hillsborough.

In March 1998, I wrote to the Home Secretary; I know that my letter is receiving attention. At that stage, I formally requested that he reconsider holding a fresh inquiry. I have always understood the Home Secretary's raison d'etre for reaching his conclusion, which was sincere, and I appreciate it when he says that his main reason for not wanting another inquiry is that he does not want to put the families through the travail of all those horrible events once more. Anyone would recognise that feeling. However—to return to my theme of how grief is alleviated—I am assured by the families that they are happy to go through that travail in pursuit of what they perceive as justice. I take the opportunity to appeal once again to the Home Secretary to reconsider, taking note of all the comments and remarks that have been made this morning, because ultimately our concern must be how best to alleviate the grief of the families of those who were tragically killed at Hillsborough.

We must also take into account the depth of feeling of the whole population of Merseyside. The three main Churches involved locally have made appeals for a new inquiry. The media have been appealing for a new inquiry. This morning, I add my voice to those appeals. I hope that it does not fall on deaf ears.

12.38 pm
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

I should like, first, to add to the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) in thanking my right hon. Friends the Leader of the House and the Home Secretary for their co-operation with the north-west Labour group. Both responded positively to the group's request and said that they wanted a debate. I want to kill the argument, advanced by a number of people in the press, that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is trying to duck out of the issue. That simply is not the case. We welcome the debate, as do hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I want to deal with two specific points; the coroners courts and the actions of the police. I welcome what has been said about the review of the role of coroners courts. My experience over my years in the House has been added to by my experience as a patron of the charity RoadPeace. I have had to deal with many families who have lost loved ones and had to face the difficulties of our coroners court system—I often hear reports of the system's lack of humanity.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary spoke about the use of language and the shadow Home Secretary talked about confusion and misunderstanding. That is hardly surprising in view of the abuse of the English language that occurs when accidents are referred to. How can anyone say to someone who has lost a loved one run over by a drunk driver or as a result of the incompetence of the South Yorkshire police that it was an accident? Of course it was not an accident. There is culpability.

In the language that we use and the Coroners Act 1988 and other legislation that relates to this terrible tragedy, the problem is the difference between a genuine accident and that which implies that there was some intent. There is a middle way. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is looking carefully at the work of the Law Commission which, if my memory serves me, was published in March 1996. It attempted to distinguish between those two extremes but retained the option of examining culpability in the spectrum. That would apply to charges that might emerge as a result of police inquiries, but it also needs to be examined in the context of the role and guidance that is given to coroners courts.

We are all guilty of falling into the trap of this language difficulty. I listened with interest as a fellow Cheshire Member to the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton). At the beginning of her speech she used the words, "cruelly killed". That is a perfect description of what happened. Those people were cruelly killed. Later, she slipped into the easy language of an accident. I make no criticism of her for that. We all easily slip into it. It was not an accident in the purest sense of the word. We all know that.

I urge my right hon. Friend, when he reviews the Coroners Act, to consider it in the broadest possible way and not to separate out types of incident. I am sure that the families of the Hillsborough victims would not want to be separated out. There are obviously special circumstances when a large number of people are killed in a tragedy, but where does one draw the line? At 100 people? At 50 people? Or at 10 people? Is it the one child killed by a drunk driver? We need a revision of the principles that guide our coroner system.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that we cannot turn back the clock. We would all like to turn it back in this case—not least the bereaved families—but if we were able to turn the clock back only to the day after the tragedy, we would want to apply more rigorously the law as my right hon. Friend envisages it. We need to consider the coroners court system and the police.

The corporate functions held by Sheffield Wednesday football club and other large bodies have been mentioned. We have heard similar debates about incidents such as the Marchioness disaster. The role of corporations needs to be examined with some care. The bottom line is that there is no doubt that the largest part of the responsibility rests with the failures of the police.

Like every right hon. and hon. Member, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is not anti-police—he is there to support the role of the police—but he emphasised, as many have done, the fact that the inquiries described Duckenfield as a liar. One cannot get more blunt than that. He slipped through a net that has existed for many years. We cannot simply brush the problem off and blame it on the previous Administration—it is the fault of our system, which has been in place for many years.

The one positive thing that can emerge from this terrible tragedy is what appears to be an all-party agreement that there ought to be a primary revision of the regulations governing police discipline. I believe that there would be widespread agreement also for major revisions to the coroners court system. That will not bring justice for the Hillsborough victims. We cannot retrospectively bring about justice because of the inadequacies of the two issues to which I have referred.

I wish to add my concerns about the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions, which needs to be re-examined. The consequences of the DPP's actions perhaps diminished the likelihood of prosecution at the time, and now, all these years later, many of the issues cannot be brought to court. We are in a ludicrous situation: we are trapped by a law, made by this House, that is inadequate to meet the needs of the citizens we seek to represent. We cannot turn the clock back, but we have a duty to ensure that we learn lessons from this terrible tragedy.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire referred to a particular issue that needs to be examined in some detail. The report showed in detail the way in which PC Frost's evidence was amended—if that is the right word—to the advantage of one side of the debate. That is an inappropriate way for the police to handle evidence. Major changes need to be made—there must be openness, frankness and honesty in all future inquiries on such terrible incidents.

12.49 pm
Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale)

I am eternally grateful to my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Leader of the House for allowing this debate. The Home Secretary made it clear when he announced the results of the scrutiny that the matter merited a debate on the Floor of the House, and that is what is happening today.

People may ask what interest I have, as Member of Parliament for Weaver Vale—a mid-Cheshire constituency—in the Hillsborough disaster. It is not widely known that the Runcorn part of my constituency has a large Liverpool overspill—a number of my constituents lost loved ones on 15 April 1989. Tommy Howard senior, Tommy Howard junior, Kevin Tyrell and Adam Spearritt all died at Hillsborough on that day. When the constituency boundaries changed, I inherited Mr. Harrison as a constituent, who lost his two brothers at Hillsborough. I have read the scrutiny report in great detail. I shall make a personal apology to the Hillsborough families—as Members of Parliament, we are almost impotent to bring them the justice that they want.

It is impossible for hon. Members to understand what it was like for people to lose a son, daughter or wife at Hillsborough—people cannot know what it was like unless it happened to them. The lives of people at Hillsborough and their families were scarred by an event that was beyond their control. Subsequent events have not helped those scars to heal.

When we inherited the mantle of government, we inherited the problems of Hillsborough. We knew what those problems were: first, no one had been prosecuted for the 96 deaths on that fateful day; secondly, none of the police involved had been disciplined; and thirdly, the inquest had recorded a verdict of accidental death. I find it beyond belief that what happened was a case of accidental death. I know that the inquest could have reached an open verdict and that the jury was not unanimous about the result. The jury could have recorded verdicts of death by misadventure or unlawful killing, but it did not—it reached a verdict of accidental death. Faced with those three problems, it is no wonder that the families feel angry, frustrated and a deep sense of injustice.

That sense of injustice has been compounded by the decision that the inquest would not take evidence about what happened after 3.15 pm, a matter to which I shall return. It has been compounded by the fact that the police statement of the evidence of Dr. Edward Walker, a local anaesthetist who had rushed to the hospital after seeing the events on television—the statement is a harrowing account of the aftermath of the disaster—was witnessed by Woman Police Sergeant Appleton, when in fact she was not there. Is it any wonder that the families of the victims are concerned about what went on?

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) has been through the police evidence, as we heard. I am certain that that evidence was deliberately tampered with as a damage limitation exercise, to protect the police's reputation. Whether that was a conspiracy—a concerted action—is not for me to judge, but it clearly took place, and that makes the healing process far more difficult for the families. To add insult to injury, video evidence was stolen. The position is extremely messy.

I am caused real pain by the fact that police officers who were on duty in Hillsborough on that day are entitled to compensation for the trauma and distress that they suffered, but the victims' families have not been compensated in like fashion.

The previous Government resisted pressure to look afresh at the events. They acted on the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions, who said in late 1996 that there would be no formal grounds for criminal proceedings. The Attorney-General of the day confirmed the view that an application to the High Court to have the inquest reopened would not succeed and the previous Government decided to draw a line under the event.

When we came into government, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, bravely and rightly, asked Lord Justice Stuart-Smith to take a detached view and reappraise the evidence in detail. I said that I had an apology to make, because I welcomed Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's scrutiny, as I was looking for a way of making progress and ensuring that the culprits were brought to book. I hoped that we might be able to reopen the inquest and get the verdict of accidental death changed, and that police officers might be disciplined. Sadly, events and powers beyond the control of Government have frustrated that expectation.

Lord Justice Stuart-Smith rightly lays the blame firmly at the door of the police. That has never been in doubt. There is nothing equivocal about what he says when he draws attention to the fact that Chief Superintendent Duckenfield lied to the inquiry. It is also interesting to note that the original Taylor report concluded that the most likely explanation for Chief Superintendent Duckenfield's behaviour was that he "froze". In that moment of inaction, a tragedy was caused.

For the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) to try to blame the victims for what happened at Hillsborough is absolutely irresponsible. The victims' families have suffered enough, without having to go through the trauma of being told that their loved ones who lost their lives at Hillsborough were responsible for their own deaths. To convey such a message is totally unacceptable, because the clear conclusion of all the reports is that it was not the behaviour of the fans but the poor and inadequate policing that contributed to causing the deaths. I hope that we can get unanimous agreement in the House on that issue.

The real problem comes with the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, because we are told that there is insufficient evidence for a criminal prosecution. I do not know whether that is right or wrong. Our judicial system makes the decisions of the Director of Public Prosecutions independent of political considerations, and that is absolutely right—politicians have no right to try to influence individual prosecutions—but, like my hon. Friends, I am firmly of the opinion that the Director of Public Prosecutions in 1989 should have taken steps to bring somebody to book, and I think that the evidence could still be reappraised to allow that to happen. If the evidence is marginal, and there are two counsels' opinions on the matter, let the courts decide, because that is what our justice system is all about.

Another failure is that the statute that was in place at the time allowed police officers to take the escape route of retiring on health grounds when faced with the possibility of police disciplinary procedures, which is another matter that is beyond our control. Chief Superintendent Duckenfield's exit through that escape route on health grounds is an absolute travesty. I am only sad that we cannot do something retrospectively to stop that practice. However, we have a convention, which is well established in Parliament and in the European convention on human rights, that legislation should in that respect not be retrospective. Now, legislation is essential to ensure that that loophole is closed, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said that that will be the case.

None of that brings any succour or comfort to the families of the victims of Hillsborough. There are two incontrovertible facts in the case: the Director of Public Prosecutions has refused to act, and it is outside the remit of Parliament to direct the DPP; and the police disciplinary procedure that was in force in 1989 prevents retrospective action from being taken when police have exited the force on health grounds. One channel is left open to the victims of the Hillsborough disaster, which is to seek a private prosecution, but I am advised that that will not work. I am no legal expert and do not have any legal training. On such matters, I have to take advice.

What concerns me most is the fact that the coroner's inquest decided not to take evidence about what happened after 3.15 pm, claiming that all those who died at Hillsborough had sustained their injuries before that time, which I do not dispute. My hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Twigg), who has the neighbouring constituency to mine, was at Hillsborough and testifies to the fact that the crush was clearly over by 3.15 pm. However, I am not so sure that the activities that took place in the gymnasium, for example, covering the bodies with sheets, did not contribute to the deaths of some of the 96. Placing a cloth over the face of people who had been crushed, asphyxiated or were suffering from cardiac arrest would not seem to be the best sort of first aid and not the aid that I would have rendered.

That was the tragedy, and now we must learn the lessons. I hope that we can again turn our attention to what happened at Hillsborough at 3.15 pm. Mr. Eddie Spearritt, a constituent of mine, was with his son Adam at Hillsborough. Adam died in intensive care at 4.45 pm. He was in pen 4 and was struggling up against the gateway to the pen when he asked Police Constable Illingworth to open the pen gate—Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's report refers to the incident. He told me that that happened at 2.59 pm, but Police Constable Illingworth failed to respond to his request. Whether that failure to act resulted in the death of Adam I shall never know, but Mr. Spearritt passed out. On page 45 of the report, in paragraph 32, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith states:

I have been unable to ascertain at what time Mr. Spearritt reached hospital, though according to Mr. Wardrope it was before 5 pm. Most of the serious cases, of which Mr. Spearritt's was one, were taken to hospital well before this. No detailed inquiry or evidence was collated in respect of victims who, like Mr. Spearritt, were crushed but survived. I do not think that it is possible to conclude on the evidence that Mr. Spearritt was at any time 'left for dead'. According to an article in the British Medical Journal, which is confirmed by Mr. Wardrope, Mr. Spearritt arrived at the hospital at precisely 5 pm. I wonder what evidence Lord Justice Stuart-Smith had to show that he arrived before. That might be a marginal question; the big question is what happened between 3 pm and 5 pm. Where was Mr. Spearritt?

I have tried to track down PC Illingworth's statements in the Library. They are listed in the index, but there are 12 boxes of papers and I have not yet been able to track the statements down. It will be interesting to read the abridged and unabridged versions, then we might get to the truth of what happened to my constituent and his son, because to this day he does not know. He has had to come to terms with the fact that he has lost a loved one.

I stress to my hon. Friend the Minister that that aspect of the inquiry has to he revisited. Families must know what happened on that fateful afternoon.

I began by making an apology. Justice must not only be done; it must be seen to be done. In this case, justice has not been seen to be done, because it has not been done. The families of the Hillsborough victims will feel deeply let down, disappointed, angry and frustrated. I feel exactly the same because I am not empowered to do anything about this tragic situation. It is difficult to accept conclusions that do not conform to one's hopes and expectations, which is precisely what has happened with Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's report. Nevertheless, I think that he has probably reached the right conclusions. It is painful for me to say that, but we must learn the lessons of Hillsborough to ensure that in future families do not have to suffer the trauma that the families from Hillsborough who are here today have had to endure.

1.5 pm

Mr. David Hanson (Delyn)

It has been a privilege to hear the contributions of my hon. Friends, who for many years have been looking into the appalling events of April 1989. Many of my hon. Friends present today represent constituencies in the Merseyside area, but the tragedy spread across many constituencies. It was felt strongly in my constituency in north Wales. John McBrien from Holywell in Flintshire, who was one of my constituents, died at Hillsborough, and other constituents have been affected by the tragic events. John was one of the 95 individuals who died that day.

I cannot begin to imagine the horror of that day and of the events that have occurred since. I have children of my own, and I have lived in my constituency for most of the time that I have been a Member of Parliament and before that. I cannot imagine the pain felt by families in my community as a result of the Hillsborough disaster.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Twigg), I have supported Liverpool football club all my life. I represent a seat in Wales, but I was born in Liverpool. I can see Liverpool from the bedroom window of my home. We are eight miles as the crow files from that town and I can be there in 20 minutes. The horror that has affected Merseyside following this incident reverberates throughout many parts of the United Kingdom. Today, I want to express the concerns of my constituents, particularly the family of John McBrien.

I have followed the case of the individuals involved in the press over many years, but I was not contacted by my constituent Mrs. McBrien until after the Stuart-Smith inquiry reported. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas), I made the decision to respect the privacy of my constituents until such time as they wished to contact me. Following the statement in the House and the report of the Stuart-Smith inquiry, Mrs. McBrien contacted me. She also contacted my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) as a result of the letter that he sent to individuals who had suffered bereavements in the Hillsborough tragedy. Having recently met Mrs. McBrien, I can only say that the quiet, restrained way in which she put her case to me confirms the deep pain that the event has caused her and her family.

That contact was welcome because it has helped me to understand more about what happened on that day, why it happened and who in my opinion and that of my colleagues was responsible. It helped to focus my concern on what happened following the incident, what the report said and what should have been done to secure justice for the families of my constituents and of the many others who died that day.

It is clear, from today's debate and the reports of Lord Taylor and Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, that the main cause of the disaster was the failure of police control. That has been accepted on both sides of the House. I was pleased to hear the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), reaffirm that that was the cause, as have my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and all hon. Members who have spoken today.

In a statement to the House earlier this year, my right hon. Friend said that Superintendent Duckenfield had lied disgracefully when he said that gate C had been forced open by fans. The behaviour of the police on the day, and in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, had been appalling, and their failure to act appropriately on the day and afterwards had made them culpable of the charges that have been levelled today by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

A compelling case has been made for a reform of police procedures in discussions that have taken place since Lord Taylor's report, and my hon. Friends have made a compelling case again today. I look forward to the proposals that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will make to ensure that police procedures are changed, and that such an incident, and such a response to it, will not happen again.

That the police failed that day is manifest. Lord Taylor's report, and what has been said today, heightens the burning sense of injustice that the failure of the police created in my constituents and others. The police played a major role in the incident, and after the incident, and that has caused concern.

My constituent Mrs. McBrien feels that sense of injustice. I first discussed the issue with her only recently, and I am a latecomer to the debate for the reasons that I have given. Mrs. McBrien has spoken to and corresponded with my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire and me following the initiative taken by the north-west group. She has asked me to highlight her particular concerns about the Hillsborough incident. She and her family feel that justice must be seen to be done, and, as the impassioned pleas of my hon. Friends have made clear today, justice has not been seen to be done. In a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire, which she has asked me to bring to the House's attention, Mrs. McBrien expresses her strong belief that criminal offences were committed at Hillsborough involving senior police officers who opened gate C and allowed individuals into the ground by entrances other than the turnstiles that should have been used.

My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) mentioned the police role, and the way in which Chief Superintendent Duckenfield froze on that day. I would be failing in my duty if I did not emphasise what my constituent feels about the actions of the police: she believes that criminal offences were committed. That is a matter for debate, however, and I know that hon. Members have many different views. However, my constituent firmly believes that the actions of police officers in allowing fans into the ground other than through the turnstiles, and the action of Superintendent Marshall in requesting the opening of the gate by Chief Superintendent Duckenfield, contributed to the incident. I place that on record because my constituent feels strongly that those matters should have been examined. In paragraph 228 of his interim report, Lord Taylor disagrees with that view, but even nine years later, my constituent thinks that that was the cause of the incident.

It would be helpful to know why the Director of Public Prosecutions did not prosecute at the time the officers of the South Yorkshire police force. There have been discussions about that, but in view of the speeches by my hon. Friends, it would be helpful to ask again why the DPP did not prosecute. The absence of such an explanation helps to maintain the burning sense of injustice over the fact that nobody has been brought to account for the events at Hillsborough. It would also be helpful for the Minister to look again at the police response on the day. There has been no real recognition that the police played a major role in events, and no real apology by the police, and we need to examine that, to ease my constituent's feeling of injustice.

I listened with interest to the remarks by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) about the police response. I would certainly support requests to look at that matter again, because it had a major impact. I appreciate that it is difficult to take action retrospectively against the police, but it is important to at least re-examine the police role and review any further evidence for the benefit of all those who have suffered.

The Taylor report was fundamentally correct in its approach to Hillsborough. The guilty parties were identified, but the burning sense of injustice will remain until we can explain in detail why people have not been brought to book. It is shameful that there has been no apology by South Yorkshire police that would satisfy my constituents and others, and I am ashamed of the police action in this case. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth)—I always think of his constituency as Knowsley, North from the previous Parliament—have been extremely open and helpful in our discussions.

I am not a member of the north-west Labour group of Members of Parliament, but, because of the death of John McBrien at Hillsborough, I was invited by them to take part in delegations and meetings, to press the case for an examination of the concerns that have been expressed today.

I know that the pain of this event will never go away for my constituent and for her family, but I hope that, today at least, we can examine the issues that have been raised, remember those who died with pride and understand the reasons why they died. I hope too that, at some point, we can publicly hold to account the people who are responsible for those deaths.

1.19 pm
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

Understandably, this has been a sombre debate. This morning in my constituency, the funeral took place of one of my best friends. If I have to miss the funeral to be in the House, I can think of no better subject to discuss than the crucial issues that arise from what happened at Hillsborough.

Many hon. Members have spoken with deep passion, with feeling and with shared anger about the events of 15 April 1989 at Hillsborough football ground, the home of Sheffield Wednesday football club. That afternoon, I watched those events on my television with shock and disbelief. A number of times in my life, I have had occasion to stand on the terraces at Hillsborough on FA cup semi-final day. Thankfully, when I was there, 96 young people were not killed.

I want to put my remarks in the context of my interests. As the House knows, I am president of York City football club. A few years before this tragic event, we played Liverpool twice in the FA cup at Anfield, its home, where we were made extremely welcome. On the first occasion, we were thrashed by seven goals to nil. On the second, we were robbed of a momentous victory by a very dubious refereeing decision. That year, Liverpool went on to do the double. The fact that the referee on that occasion subsequently became a vice-president of York City FC shows that there are no hard feelings in the world of soccer, and nor are there any in the world of cricket, which I know is the game that you love, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Born and raised in Cheshire, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall), I stood as a young man on the Spion Kop at Liverpool. I agree entirely with what the hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) has said about the exuberance of the Kop and Liverpool fans. At Arsenal, where I have been a lifelong and fanatical fan, I stood shoulder to shoulder with Liverpool supporters, long before we had to have segregation and when going to football was a family occasion. However, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, I viewed with growing concern the extent to which violence and unruly behaviour were creeping into the sport.

I have also experienced many times the deep fright of the crush when fans who are behind on a terrace surge forward in their excitement against a crash barrier or perimeter fencing, and the deep crush outside a stadium before even all-ticket matches, as occurs on FA cup semi-final day, when people think that, as they have a ticket, they can turn up at five minutes to 3 and get in. One of the lessons to be learnt by everyone involved in football or anyone attending matches is that the way in which we conduct ourselves can affect others, and I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Knowsley, South that that is perhaps what lies behind what I regard as the unjustified criticism.

When my party was in government, I think that I was one of only two hon. Members who voted against the Football Spectators Act 1989, and I did so because of a fear of the crush. It was bad enough getting into a stadium at the best of times, but I thought that if we had to go through the rigmarole involved in getting into our offices at No. 7 Millbank or No. 1 Parliament street, chaos would reign. Lord Taylor recommended that that was not sensible. Thankfully, the aspects of that Act that were sensible are on the statute book, and I am delighted that the Home Secretary is seeking to make the best use of them for an event coming up in France in a month or so.

I want to do the House the courtesy of trying to respond to every hon. Member who has participated in this debate. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) was the first to raise the concerns of the Hillsborough family support group and to describe the depth of feeling in the community in Liverpool, especially about the police response. I shall refer to that a little later.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), who apologises for having had to leave for another engagement, mentioned the need for investment in our stadiums. There is no doubt that, although we thought that some of our stadiums were excellent, they were not. There is no better illustration of that than the fact that people interested in football recall that at that time, Hillsborough was regarded as one of our best grounds. If a team in the FA cup semi-final was told that it was going to Hillsborough, it would think that terrific, as it was regarded as one of the best places to watch a football match. That is one of the ironies of what occurred, and it demonstrates the extent to which there was complacency throughout the game about the need for improvement. As we have heard again today, one of the major benefits of the Taylor report was that it ensured those improvements.

The hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Twigg) said that the police were clearly to blame, which has been the feature of this debate. He also questioned the wisdom of blaming Liverpool supporters, and I entirely endorse what he said. He also said something of which I was not aware, namely that there is no memorial to the fans.

Mr. Derek Twigg

There is a memorial at Anfield, and I believe that there is another in one of the parks near the ground, but Sheffield Wednesday has not erected one.

Mr. Greenway

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman because I was about to say that it was my understanding that there was a memorial. Certainly it is fitting that there should be. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), who has not attended today's debate, is a director of Sheffield Wednesday football club. I should have thought that the matter should have been considered.

Mr. O'Hara

There is a very fine bronze memorial to the victims—sculpted by Arthur Dooley—in Huyton, too.

Mr. Greenway

I had thought that there was a memorial, but the hon. Member for Halton clearly made the point that, arguably, there should be a memorial at Sheffield Wednesday football club. I suggest that he should raise the matter with the hon. Member for Bassetlaw.

Mr. Twigg

The hon. Gentleman mentioned my comments on blame. In raising the specific matter of Bernard Ingham's comments on drunken Liverpool fans, I was in no way seeking to make a party political point. The point is that, because of his position as press secretary in the previous Government, some credence might have given to his statement by those who do not understand what happened. Will the hon. Gentleman condemn the statement as completely unfounded?

Mr. Greenway

I hold no brief for Mr. Bernard Ingham—

Mr. Straw


Mr. Greenway

Sir Bernard Ingham; I am grateful for the Home Secretary's intervention. I hold no such brief. I have my own view—which I shall express later in my speech—on criticism of the supporters. Perhaps I should say now that I agree entirely with hon. Members who said in this debate that those who died were in no way to blame for their deaths. However, as I said, another facet of the matter is that all of us who attend football matches should appreciate that our conduct can affect others. We should be well aware of that.

The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) added to our consensus on the matter on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. He also commended—for which I am grateful—the previous Government's speed in instigating the Taylor inquiry, and the Home Secretary for establishing Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's inquiry. We agree with his comments on those matters.

The hon. Member for Colchester also questioned whether all-seater stadiums were a good idea. We have been around the course on that issue many times. As a regular attender of football matches, at what can be described only as palaces of football, such as Highbury and Old Trafford, and at less salubrious establishments in the second and third divisions—[Interruption.] York has a very nice ground. Although some of the grounds that I have visited this season leave much to be desired, I will not name and shame.

My own experience tells me that—with crowds of more than 20,000, and certainly with crowds of 30,000 or 40,000, which have become commonplace in the premier league; Sunderland, in the first division, has had sell-out crowds of 42,000—a return to stadium terracing is inconceivable. However, the sheer cost and impracticality of converting all stadiums in second and third division clubs to an all-seater plan is another matter. It remains to be seen whether York City will visit Colchester in the play-offs next season. As a part of Scarborough is in my constituency, I shall say that I hope that it does not.

Seating arrangements are an important matter. As the hon. Member for Colchester said, it has been nine years since Hillsborough. He also asked whether we are getting any nearer to laying the matter to rest. I do not think that we ever will, or should, lay it to rest. Potentially, such disturbances—although, God forbid, not on the same scale—could happen again. That should motivate each one of us.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

For the sake of all the people who lost loved ones at Hillsborough, will the hon. Gentleman clarify his remark about disturbances and make it clear today, although he has said so previously, that those who died were not creating a disturbance and were not responsible for their deaths?

Mr. Greenway

I have done so twice and I could not have been more clear in what I said. The people who died were not responsible for their deaths. However, the hon. Lady must accept that in the 1970s and 1980s, and certainly at the time of the tragedy, violence was prevalent at soccer grounds. There has been a great deal of justified criticism of the police. In my view as a football supporter—and as I have said many times before—at many football matches, the police would concentrate on dealing with potential troublemakers to the detriment of crowd safety. That is one of the lessons to be learnt from Hillsborough. I have been in football crowds with people from all walks of life when the police shepherded supporters around, causing danger to individual safety. We need to recognise that and to be alert to that danger.

The hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) referred to the trauma and the good will of the people of Nottingham, as Nottingham Forest was the visiting team. His speech demonstrated that we are all part of the football family. The whole of football is still affected by the tragedy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) also referred to the good will of other football clubs and the sense of grief that still affects the north-west. She said that in many respects, the tragedy was an accident waiting to happen. That echoes my point that some stadiums were simply not up to the job that they were required to fulfil and could not contain the crowds standing on the terraces. That is undoubtedly one of the major lessons to be learnt from Hillsborough.

My hon. Friend also referred to the fact that a verdict of accidental death did not mean that there was no element of fault. That has been a common theme in the debate. We must ask ourselves to what extent we can improve the conduct of inquests into such huge tragedies. Having read the Taylor report several times, my personal view is that it would have been better for the system to have allowed Lord Justice Taylor to reach a conclusion as to the cause of death and to issue a verdict. That must be a central feature of any change.

The hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) referred to the frustration, which many right hon. and hon. Members feel, that they cannot do more in the face of the tragedy and the continuing concern of the families. He referred to the particular difficulty of the Under-Secretary of State. Perhaps this is a good moment to say that as politicians of whichever party, we are often accused of a lack of sincerity. That is not my experience, and that is especially true of the way in which the House has responded to the tragedy over the past nine years.

The hon. Member for West Lancashire was the first hon. Member to refer in detail to the wider interests and concerns that motivate the parents and families of those who died. None of us can ever know what they have felt and still feel, but in pursuit of justice, they are motivated by the desire that such a tragedy should never happen to anyone else. The House should greatly respect that.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to police statements that had been altered and said that there was compelling evidence that police attitudes towards some supporters were not what they should have been. There was a lack of leadership and there was complacency about the dangers. That provokes questions about the adequacy of training and preparation for the policing of large-scale matches at that time. Those are all legitimate matters for the House to be concerned about. As I have already said, it is unacceptable and deplorable that such attitudes exist, but they result from concentrating too much on dealing with potential disorder and not paying sufficient regard to the safety of people visiting football grounds. The hon. Gentleman concluded by saying that all that underlined that the police were chiefly to blame and that there was, therefore, no ground for a fresh inquiry.

The hon. Member for Knowsley, South spoke with considerable feeling about those who sought to apportion some blame to the behaviour of some supporters. As he rightly pointed out, alcohol was not a contributory factor in the deaths of the victims. I say again that those who died arrived early, not late, and were in their place, which is what we used to do as kids and as teenagers. My parents would say, "Yes, John, you can go to the game, but we want you to be there at half-past 1. We want you to be in front of one of the crash barriers so that you'll be safe." The reality, of course, was that the ones who came early paid the price.

The hon. Gentleman spoke with great feeling about the fact that what irks people in Liverpool is that no one has been held to account. That makes it even more difficult for families to come to terms with the enormity of the tragedy. He questioned whether some officers still in post might be held be responsible. I say in reply that the evidence has already been exhaustively and extensively scrutinised. We would all say that if there were fresh evidence, it should be examined, but that is different from saying that there should be another inquiry.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) talked about the families' anger at the coroner's verdict and the failure to discipline the two senior police officers who were responsible for policing the game. She welcomed the proposed changes in police discipline procedures and the conduct of inquests following major public tragedies such as Hillsborough, and the improvements in ground safety.

There is all-party consensus on those matters. The review of inquests began during the last year or so of the previous Government. I am sure that there will be constructive consensus when the legislation on that and on police discipline matters comes before the House. The Home Secretary referred to the Home Affairs Committee report on police discipline. While I served on the Select Committee, we once looked in depth at police sickness, and commented on the unacceptability of the sick-note evasion of police discipline. There is consensus throughout the House on the need to put that right.

The hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) spoke of the eight families in her constituency. I recall sometimes talking to her predecessor about the problems. I was very struck by the fact that four of the families had chosen silence, perhaps because of the need to move on or a sense of disempowerment. We should take note of that message, the day after an appalling turnout in local elections. Increasingly, people seem to feel that they cannot make a difference to anything, which increases pressure on hon. Members to respond—as we do—to their concerns.

The people involved in this matter are not an amorphous group. The hon. Member for Crosby was the first in the debate to ask whether individual cases could be reopened. That is different from asking for another public inquiry, and I am sure that the Home Secretary will want to consider that.

The hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Watts) spoke movingly of a friend of his who died at the match, and talked about the fact that none of the victims had contributed to their own death. He supported the changes to police discipline, but questioned why the chief constable was not held accountable. That is an important question. It seems to me that complacency was endemic, and that the policing of football was about combating hooliganism, to the detriment of crowd safety. I suspect that chief constables throughout the land might well consider what happened and say to themselves, "There but for the grace of God go I," because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton said, a similar tragedy might have happened elsewhere.

The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Benton) argued passionately for a new inquiry and said that the victims would willingly accept that—but where is the evidence to support the view that a new inquiry would produce different conclusions?

The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) criticised the coroners court system and the inflexibility of a range of verdicts, and said that the accidental death verdict did not do justice to many instances of tragic death where there was obviously some culpability. We agree with him about that, and I believe that the House can move on to make changes so that that becomes a thing of the past. He also said that we could not turn back the clock. The House must face up to its responsibilities in that regard. We are doing so, and those responsibilities do not end in half an hour when the debate concludes.

The hon. Member for Weaver Vale—understandably, I keep wanting to call him the hon. Member for Northwich—again showed the extent of the Liverpool influence throughout the north-west. As a teenager, I once had a milk round with a fanatical Liverpool supporter, and I was aware of the passion, exuberance and good will that people displayed towards such big clubs.

I believe that only the hon. Member for Weaver Vale mentioned the payment of compensation to police officers. Undoubtedly, the Hillsborough incident left scars in the minds of all who were present, in whatever way they were involved. There is a danger of branding by group and of stereotyping, which I believe lies behind some of the anger that was expressed in newspaper reports—the hon. Member for Knowsley, South mentioned The Sun. The constables and sergeants who were there doing their best—some of them women—were not to blame. The inquiries blamed the chief superintendent and his colleague, not the individual officers.

The hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) drew attention to the concern of his constituents and said that the chief cause was the failure of police control. He asked why the Director of Public Prosecutions did not prosecute. I understand why that question is raised, but we have to make judgments and trust the judgments of the people whom we put in place. The office of the DPP is always, as are all chief Crown prosecutors, in a difficult position. It has to make balanced judgments about these matters and we have to trust its judgment in the end. There is nothing in the inquiries or in Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's report that leads me to believe that the DPP made a misjudgment.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) asked the Minister who will reply to respond to three questions. I shall briefly remind him of them. They all come from the press release and questions put out by the Hillsborough family support group. In the judge's interpretation of the terms of reference and the way in which his scrutiny was carried out, were the goalposts moved? Questions as to whether all the police statements were available may have become more clear as the debate has progressed. Was it right that South Yorkshire police were given a copy of the scrutiny report some days in advance? I am sure that the Minister, for whom I have high regard, will answer all those questions.

To draw my thoughts to a conclusion, we all have to accept that the standing of politicians in the public eye is worryingly low, but I believe that we have seen today the House of Commons at its best. The people of Liverpool can be proud of the way in which their Members of Parliament have represented them today. We are often urged to co-operate more and we will co-operate on the proposed legislation in respect of inquests and police discipline, and we will continue to co-operate on the policing of football. The Opposition find that we are also often accused of not opposing enough. I see nothing in this matter that suggests that we should oppose for the sake of opposing. In reaching that conclusion, I want people outside the House who are paying great attention to our debate to understand that we do not seek to brush aside the serious questions that have been raised.

As for another inquiry, I agree with the Home Secretary that the reluctant conclusion, indeed the only conclusion, is that no new inquiry is justified or likely to reveal anything of substance. As Lord Justice Stuart-Smith said, compassion must not cloud our judgment. The debate has shown that there are some irreconcilable differences between the families of those who died and those responsible for looking into and dealing with what happened on that dreadful day. Some have even questioned why we should have this debate, but not to do so would be contemptuous of the victims and their families, and complacent about the problems that we still face in relation to football.

There remains, sadly, an undercurrent of violence, disorder and hooliganism, even though the improvements have been vast and many of our grounds are now safe. What happened at Gillingham only a few weeks ago reminds us of the seriousness of the problems that remain.

So what can we conclude? We conclude that, on 15 April 1989, we witnessed the tragic waste of 96 young lives. We owe it to them to pursue the issues until all the lessons of what occurred have been learnt and understood. I am doubtful whether another inquiry would add to what we know already, but there may be a case to pursue some individual matters. Above all, we owe it to those who died to ensure that this never happens again.

The truth is that we know in our hearts that other tragedies can and may occur, but that very admission—that safety can never be guaranteed—should motivate everyone in the House to continue to seek improvements to all areas of policy on which the Hillsborough tragedy touched. If ever we can draw a line under Hillsborough, we can never draw a line under our responsibility to strive always to do better.

1.55 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. George Howarth)

Much of the detail arising out of Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's scrutiny report and the Taylor inquiry has been dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and others, and I do not intend to cover ground that has already been covered so thoroughly.

However, I need to respond to a few particular points made during the debate. First, I shall respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Benton). That is not a parliamentary nicety—he and I are close friends. Characteristically, he spoke from the heart; he is incapable of anything else, because he is such a decent and honourable man. He asked how we squared the logic of the law with the feelings in people's hearts. It does not necessarily answer his question, but I thought that a line from Pascal says something about it:

The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of. That may be helpful, but it does not get us to the end of the debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Watts) referred to secrecy in terms of the way in which some within the criminal justice system act. We should give it a name—my hon. Friend was referring to the activities of freemasons. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that we believe that there is no place within the criminal justice system for secrecy. What is done should be done in the open, and should always be open to scrutiny. I have seen no evidence linking freemasonry to Hillsborough, but I ask the House to accept that we are not prepared to allow the criminal justice system to be used in that way.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) and the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) asked whether there was a proper tribute by the club at Hillsborough. The hon. Member for Ryedale mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton). I am not sure what his position is in all of this; I know that my hon. Friend is a director of Sheffield Wednesday. There have been discussions between representatives of the families and the club, which have been inconclusive. I urge those concerned to recognise the horrendous events which occurred on that day by some sort of tribute that would be considered appropriate by the families and those who care about the matter.

The question of statements was raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) and for Halton (Mr. Twigg), and it needs to be examined more fully. Until questions were raised last week, I understood that all the necessary information was available either in the House of Commons Library or elsewhere. When my hon. Friend the Member for Halton raised the matter with me a week or so ago, I took the trouble to find out whether all the boxes had been placed in the Library. As I understand it, they now have been. We have asked Home Office officials to check whether there are any gaps in that information, or in the information that has been provided to others. If people are missing information that they should rightly have, it will be sent to them.

Our attitude to the disclosure of documents has been simple. We believe that anything relevant or material—anything that throws any light on to any of the events of that day—should be made available unless someone can demonstrate a very good reason why it should not be, although I have not so far come across such a case. I hope that access will be provided to everything that is required.

The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) asked whether the Home Secretary had met the families and whether he had plans to do so in the future. To my certain knowledge, my right hon. Friend has met them at least three times, and there is an outstanding invitation to them for another meeting. He properly believes that they should be kept informed and that he should hear what they have to say as often as is necessary.

A number of hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), have contributed thoughtfully and respectfully to the debate. I hope that I have been able to deal with some of their concerns, but there are other matters that need to be expressed and put on the record.

When I entered the House this morning, I was handed a list of 20 questions prepared by the Hillsborough family support group. That was the first time that I saw the questions—I do not say that critically, as I know that it was difficult to put all the information together. Some of the questions may have been covered by hon. Members, and some I shall try to deal with now. I give an undertaking that we shall write to the families about any of the questions that have not been covered, so that they know our exact position on all 20 points.

When we talk of the Hillsborough tragedy, I am acutely aware that we are, in fact, dealing with 96 individual and very personal tragedies. We refer to the Hillsborough families, but we are dealing with many individuals, some of whom I know personally, whose lives have been changed for ever. People whose lives were changed because they were at that game have kept me informed about how they feel not only about what happened that day, but about how matters are developing. I mention two of my close friends: John King, who lives in Kirkby in my constituency, and Mike Murphy, my agent, who was there on that day and has views on what happened.

Many of the families have been helped by the support that they have been able to give one other, whereas others have chosen to cope with their grief in different ways. As a Merseyside Member who was brought up locally—indeed, as a youth, I stood on the Kop and watched Liverpool—I share the deep sense of frustration that nobody has been held to account for what happened. Ninety-six people on that day went to watch a football match and never came home. All those who died had had a future when they left home. Some were too young to have a clear picture of what that future might be, and others had family responsibilities and commitments. All of them had fresh experiences ahead of them—love, joy, disappointment, success and, yes, the fear of failure and rejection. They had a life ahead of them. Whatever those people's potential—for happiness, a career and fulfilment—it was cut short, and that terrible truth still affects us all, although those of us who did not lose a loved one can never come close to knowing how those who did have been affected. We simply do not have the words to describe how they feel or the imagination to feel as they do.

That inability to feel or describe adequately has created problems for us and has often hurt those who were left behind. Sometimes, because we are unable to express things properly, we do so clumsily and, although our clumsiness is unintentional, it causes pain and anguish. If my own inadequacy to express my feelings and to explain events has on occasions hurt people, I here and now apologise for that, but I hope that people will come to accept that such inadequacies of expression do not apply when it comes to matters of judgment and good faith.

Some of what has been said—by certain police officers, by some sections of the media and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Halton said, by Bernard Ingham—has profoundly scarred the survivors and the families of those who died. In other ways, the system failed to provide adequate means for blame to be seen to be apportioned and, equally importantly, for injustices to be remedied. I think that those matters require us to respond, not only by ensuring that practices and procedures are properly reformed in the manner described by my right hon. Friend, but by putting into words the consequences for those left behind as a result of the failures.

As many hon. Members have said, the reasons why those 96 people died had nothing to do with where they came from or who they were. The fact that they came from Liverpool, or were football fans, had nothing to do with their deaths other than the fact that their team happened to be playing at that stadium on that day. It was not their behaviour or their alcohol intake that caused the tragedy, and nobody should be left in any doubt about that simple truth. If anyone questions it, they should read both the Taylor report and the Stuart-Smith review. If they do so, they will not be left in any doubt that one organisation, above all, was responsible: the South Yorkshire police.

We need to go still further. Stereotypes, as the hon. Member for Ryedale said, about people from Liverpool and about football fans are every bit as offensive as stereotypes about ethnic minorities, women or anyone else. Football fans, from Liverpool or from anywhere else, now as then, are like any other group in society: most are normal people, trying to get on with their lives as best they can, and all they seek is to enjoy a sport that in many cases arouses their loyalty and passion. We should not confuse their loyalty and passion with an in-built tendency to behave badly to the extent that they endanger their own and others' lives. They do not do that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) spoke about disciplinary action and what should have happened to the police. If we could turn the clock back and behave differently, if there were a different set of disciplinary procedures, and if we were not signatories to the European convention on human rights, perhaps matters could have been conducted differently, and we would all wish that that could have been the case. All the advice, however—I am not enough of a lawyer to be able to counter it—is that the clock cannot be turned back, and those things that we all feel should have been done at the time cannot be done all these years later.

Mr. O'Hara

I recognise what my hon. Friend has just said but, on my more substantive point, if there is indeed proof, as has been suggested most notably by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), that there has been a systematic cover-up from that day to this and that people are still in post or available to be proceeded against, they should not be allowed to get away with it.

Mr. Howarth

My hon. Friend draws our attention to an important point. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith makes it clear that there was an attempt to cover up what happened, but the truth of the matter is that the information that various people might have tried to suppress is out in the open and, even so, the advice is still the same.

Another aspect, which will not help in this case but is nevertheless important, is that of corporate manslaughter—it could apply to the inquest system or equally in the context that my hon. Friend just mentioned. Could a body, or someone who headed it, be held responsible for what happened? The Law Commission, in its report on involuntary manslaughter, made recommendations about an offence of corporate manslaughter and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering those and actively considering whether we should proceed with that.

Again, such a charge could not be applied retrospectively. My hon. Friend has followed European matters closely for a number of years and knows that, as a signatory to the European convention on human rights, we simply cannot deliver the law retrospectively. However, if anything like Hillsborough were ever to happen again, I hope that we would have in place the legal tools to deal with it in a better way than it was dealt with.

Mr. Miller

My hon. Friend mentioned the Law Commission report, to which I also referred and said that our right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is studying the possibility of corporate offences. Is he examining all the recommendations in the report and is primary legislation likely to result?

Mr. Howarth

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is examining all the recommendations and tells me that he hopes that something may be done as a result.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) mentioned coroners' inquests and spoke with some experience in other contexts about the matter. Indeed, the inadequacy of the coroner system and most particularly the coroner's procedures, has had particularly lasting and deeply corrosive consequences for many of the Hillsborough families. Frankly, some of those will not be eased by our promise to reform the procedures for the future, although that is welcome and important.

Something burns on in people's souls. I know that there are no legal means available to remedy that deep and infuriating anger, but those feelings should be expressed in this Chamber today. The coroner's inquest evidently left some people feeling hurt, degraded and confused and no amount of explanation about the purposes of an inquest will take away those feelings.

I attended a day of that long ordeal, as it became for the families, at the request of two of my constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Joynes. Even on such an admittedly brief visit, I was filled with horror—a feeling that, instead of the inquest being a vehicle for establishing the cause of death, it had turned into an occasion when the lives of those who died, the way they had lived and how they might have behaved, were on trial. What happened at that inquest cannot now be undone, but we have to understand just how much that process itself caused bitterness, disillusion, pain and even, in some cases, rage. Whatever else Jimmy McGovern's Granada Television programme did or did not do, it portrayed that inquest in a way that squares with my own feelings and I say that as someone who spent some time there. I believe that the families who had to endure much more of it than I did feel the same way.

Several of my hon. Friends have referred to the verdict and the question of whether the word "accident" should be used. The legal explanation is given in Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's scrutiny of evidence, and I do not intend to go over it again. Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge that the word "accident" is not applicable to people who voluntarily go to an event and have no specific responsibility, as others are responsible for safety at the ground. Although the legal verdict is adequately explained by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, the use of the word "accident" still causes hurt and confusion.

Another source of hurt and confusion arising from the inquest will endure: the 3.15 cut-off point. Lord Stuart-Smith describes and explains very well its legal significance in the coroner's procedures, and I shall not add to that explanation. However, perhaps inevitably, he could not capture the strong sense of confusion and the corrosive anger that many people feel about the 3.15 cut-off point. It is almost as if events after 3.15 were considered of no significance. The fact that people continued to suffer and that some of the emergency services could have been allowed into the ground sooner seemed to some of those who attended the inquest to have been put to one side. That anger and confusion is felt by some of the survivors just as keenly today as it was then.

Something else needs to be said here today even though it has been said before. People died after 3:15—those people suffered God knows what panic, pain and desperation. That that was not considered relevant for the purposes of the inquest should not be allowed to diminish the truth of what actually happened. Even though the legal facts are established, it is important that we acknowledge here and now that many people will never accept that. They feel that, as events unfolded, the emergency services might have been able to save some of the lives that were lost. We cannot ignore the fact that events took place after 3.15.

The feelings of frustration that have grown out of what happened on that day at Hillsborough have not gone away, and, as the hon. Member for Ryedale said, they probably never will. Mrs. Joynes, my constituent, said to me in her house a week ago that all we have to offer is words. I know in my heart and mind that she is right.

I hope that, in stating part of the truth about what happened, I have at least expressed some of what people wanted said. If I cannot do more it is not because I am bound and gagged as a Minister in the Home Office: if I felt that that was holding me back, I would not allow it to do so.

We must all face up to the awful truth that the procedures that people understandably feel deprived them of justice have already been carried out. What has been done cannot be undone: we can only change them for the future. Sadly, I suspect that the families' own lawyers will tell them the same: we cannot turn back the clock.

If I felt that my right hon. Friend and I could do more—by more, I do not mean empty gestures or more words that promise much and deliver nothing—we should gladly do so as a debt of honour to those who died and, just as importantly, for the peace of mind of those who survived. If we cannot change the past, at least we can make things better in the future. As my right hon. Friend said, police disciplinary procedures will be changed. Never again will any family have to go through such horrendous coroner's procedures—God forbid that similar circumstances should arise. Perhaps the greatest testament of all is that never again will we accept second-best safety standards for football fans. That is an abiding achievement, and we should reflect on what has been achieved, as well as on people's feelings. I hope that people will feel a little better after what has been said today, even if their hopes have not been wholly fulfilled. I am glad to have taken part in the debate.

Mr. Jim Dowd (Lord Commissioner to the Treasury)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.