Sefton Central Labour MP Bill Esterson calls for acceleration in

Bill Esterson

 

Sefton Central Labour MP Bill Esterson called for the investigation into the Hillsborough cover-up to be accelerated, while speaking in Parliament this week.

Speaking before voting to grant police watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission extra powers to strengthen the inquiry into the police cover-up, Bill urged investigators to speed the process up.

He also said the reopening of inquests into the deaths of the victims should be held "as quickly as possible".

A petition calling for a new inquest to be held for Kevin Williams has received more than 105,000 names. The petition was launched when news broke that Kevin's mum was seriously ill.

Bill told MPs: "My honourable friend Steve Rotheram MP was right to say that nothing must stand in the way of the application for a new inquest, given that Anne Williams is so seriously ill. Indeed, she spends much of her time in a hospice. 

"Justice for Anne and the other families is the absolute priority. 

"They have campaigned hard for recognition of what happened; they have campaigned for far too long. That has been acknowledged in the independent panel’s report. 

"From what the Attorney-General has said, the application for new inquests is imminent - I am sure that is the case. This Bill provides an opportunity for one of the big injustices - the action of those police officers who broke the law - to be addressed. 

"The bill should be allowed to proceed as quickly as possible."

Bill also called on the Leader of the House of Commons on Friday (December 6) to chase up the Attorney General's assurances that he would apply for new inquests.

Bill asked Leader of the House Andrew Lansley MP: "The Attorney General said he would apply to the High Court for new inquests into the deaths of the 96 people who died at Hillsborough. He said this would be in early December. It is now early December. Has the Attorney General told the Leader of the House whether he will be making the application next week and will he be making a statement to MPs about the new inquests?”

Speaking afterwards Bill said: "I've got great concerns about how slow this investigation is taking.

"The families of the 96 have waited for more than 23 years for justice. The independent panel revealed the shocking truth behind the disaster and the subsequent cover up.

"We now need to ensure that justice is done. And we need to ensure that nothing is allowed to stand in the way of achieving that justice.

"The investigation needs to speed up.

"That is what my Parliamentary colleagues and I will continue to push for."

 

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Bill's Hillsborough/IPCC statement to Parliament in full: 


Bill Esterson (Sefton Central, Labour)

My right hon. Friend Mr Howarth mentioned the experience of some of his constituents at the inquests. That is something that has been said to me as well. Family members have told me they felt that they were the criminals, so bad was the atmosphere and the way they were treated by those carrying out the inquest and some of those giving evidence, including police officers, some of whom might be among those who need to be dealt with by the Bill. I welcome the provisions and the attempt to do just that.

The independent panel report, among other things, found evidence of extensive alteration of police records and attempts to impugn the reputations of the deceased. In its response to the report, the IPCC noted that it could not investigate all aspects of the police’s conduct, because when the IPCC took over from the Police Complaints Authority, a transitional provisions order set out that certain old cases could not be investigated under the new framework. The Minister has adequately covered that point.

The Bill will provide two key new powers. The first will require a serving police officer to attend an interview as a witness. This new power will be increased by regulations. The second new power will be to set aside the relevant articles of the transitional provisions order in exceptional circumstances, so that the IPCC can investigate certain old cases, where the PCA had already been involved. I will speak briefly to both points.

In its response to the panel’s report, the IPCC set out the potential misconduct that had been disclosed. The potential criminal and misconduct issues fall into two broad categories: allegations—which go to the heart of what happened at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989—that individuals or institutions may be culpable for the deaths; and allegations about what happened after the disaster, including allegations that evidence was fabricated and misinformation spread in an attempt to avoid blame. The IPCC decision document set out a large number of matters that it proposed to investigate, but noted that it was legally prevented from looking at some matters that had previously been investigated. That is why we are here today.

I will give one example of what is set out in the report: the early lie, by Chief Superintendent Duckenfield, about the gates being forced open, which was corrected by the chief constable that evening. This was investigated by West Midlands police under the supervision of the Police Complaints Authority. As such, although the IPCC deplores such dishonesty, it is legally prevented from investigating the issue further; it will therefore not be investigated. There are many examples of police actions that the PCA had already investigated. That is why this Bill is so important and why it is so important that the IPCC should be given the powers to investigate what happened at Hillsborough.

It is right that action can be taken against retired officers. A number of right hon. and hon. Members have expressed their concerns about exactly how retired officers will be dealt with. The Policing Minister has acknowledged that point, but not yet to the satisfaction of all of us in the Chamber. We all understand the difficulties, which is why they are not addressed by the Bill at this point. However, I repeat that there are dangers, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley gave the Pinochet example as one potential difficulty.

There were serious failings on the day and an immediate and longer-term cover-up by police officers, yet no one has been convicted for their role in either the deaths of the 96 or the systematic cover-up and the vilification of the dead, their families and the injured. It is to be hoped that the process this Bill is part of will enable that injustice to be rectified. Officers were pressurised to change their statements. This Bill, along with the interest that Members in this House have demonstrated over the last few years, will not only show the strength of our feeling, but reflect the strength of public opinion, which is also represented by the number of people who have signed the latest petition and previous ones. It is now right that officers and former officers come forward to give evidence and tell their story—it certainly should have happened before—knowing that they have public support and that they are not driven by some misguided view that they should protect colleagues or former colleagues, as my hon. Friend Angela Smith said. Officers certainly should be coming forward to tell their story. This legislation will ensure that serving officers do that, but it will hopefully encourage former officers to do so as well.

The Minister rightly spoke of the “industrial scale” of the alteration of statements. That is an apt description. He was right, and my hon. Friend Steve Rotheram was right to say that nothing must stand in the way of the application for a new inquest, given that Anne Williams is so seriously ill. Indeed, she spends much of her time in a hospice. Justice for Anne and the other families is the absolute priority. They have campaigned hard for recognition of what happened; they have campaigned for far too long. That has been acknowledged in the independent panel’s report. From what the Attorney-General has said, the application for new inquests is imminent—I am sure that is the case. This Bill provides an opportunity for one of the big injustices—the action of those police officers who broke the law—to be addressed. The Bill should be allowed to proceed as quickly as possible.

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