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September 18, 2012 - Bill Esterson's Westminster Diary

Bill Esterson


 

The first priority following the publication of the Hillsborough independent panel's report is for the families to be given the chance to hear fresh inquests and to find out why their loved ones died. The deaths did not happen by accident. A new verdict is needed. I think that applies to all 96 as it may be that the coroner will not regard the disaster as an accident at all.
 
The families, those injured, the survivors who were traumatised and many people on Merseyside and beyond have suffered over the years including those who tried to save lives on the day. There have been a number of suicides years later of survivors who never recovered from what they experienced. NHS staff are still counselling Hillsborough survivors. There are a great many people who need counselling and support and the government should make sure that support is available for the families and for other campaigners at the very least.
 
Next steps are a thorough examination of the report to identify exactly who is responsible for what went wrong on the day, the lies and the cover up.
 
The decisions taken on the day by police and ambulance service managers should be investigated with a view to criminal prosecutions being made against the senior officers who took the decisions.
 
Police and ambulance staff have been prevented from giving the truth publicly at the time or since. The government should give immunity to emergency service staff who want to come forward and tell their story of what happened and what they were told to do and say and who told them.
 
The evidence about the cover up points very clearly to the chief constable of South Yorkshire but what was the role of the Home Office and of ministers in the Thatcher government? These questions have to be asked otherwise in another 23 years we will still be wondering exactly who was involved in the cover up. Was there a political decision to protect the police in return for what the police had done for the Thatcher government in the miners’ strike? Were football fans part of the so-called ‘enemy within’ along with the miners? There is evidence in the report of Mrs Thatcher playing down the government response to the Taylor enquiry for just such reasons.
 
I think the then Chief Constable is culpable as is the current West Yorkshire Chief Constable who was then head of the liaison unit which did much of the work in covering up the extent of the police failings on the day. But any criminal investigation needs to look at the role of Home Office officials and ministers.
 
I suspect that a criminal investigation will be carried out into the roles played by Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, Sheffield City Council and by the Football Association. They all knew the ground was unsafe for this match yet all had a vested interest in the match being staged there as did the police. Both Liverpool and Nottingham Forest wanted the match played in Manchester because they knew of the dangers at Hillsborough. Yet these concerns were overruled. Was this for financial reasons?
 
We don’t know which documents were destroyed so were not available to the panel. But it must be highly likely that evidence was destroyed.
 
The families have been vindicated and the report makes official what many people have known all along. It is there is black and white. Ninety-six people went to watch a football match and died. They died because of failings by the authorities. Many, many failings. Now the families need official recognition of how their loved ones died through a new inquest and those who caused the deaths need to be held accountable through criminal prosecution and jail. 

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