British Police leaders have apologised for years of “deflection and denial” over the Hillsborough disaster, and vowed to bring about change to stop the failings being repeated.
Almost 34 years after the crush that caused the deaths of 97 football fans, they outlined plans to formalise a “duty of candour” on officers and stop “false narratives” seeking to minimise responsibility.
The changes are in response to a damning report released in 2017, and senior officers said they had to wait for the conclusion of legal proceedings including the trial of match commander David Duckenfield and others involved in the disaster.
But there has still been no official response by the government, amid mounting pressure to create a Hillsborough law to compel police and public authorities to tell the truth after tragedies.
A joint statement by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and College of Policing said: “The Hillsborough families experienced an impenetrable wall of deflection and denial from policing, for many years, when they legitimately and quite rightly sought the truth. It is absolutely right that such unethical practice should not happen and should not be able to happen.”
The report, published yesterday, admitted that “too much of the response of policing after Hillsborough was aimed at protecting reputations, including the legal representation at the initial inquiries and inquests”.
A new Charter for Families Bereaved through Public Tragedy, which has been adopted by all police forces in England and Wales, includes commitments to “place the public interest above our own reputation” and “avoid seeking to defend the indefensible or to dismiss or disparage those who may have suffered where we have fallen short”.
The case revealed a litany of failings that caused a crush at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989
The 2017 report, called The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power, by former Bishop of Liverpool James Jones made 25 recommendations – with 11 of them directly concerning policing.
Following decades of campaigning, a second inquest held in 2016 found they were unlawfully killed.
The case revealed a litany of failings that caused a crush at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989.
The pain and suffering of survivors and victims’ families was worsened by obstruction and denial, and a police officers’ briefing to The Sun newspaper that resulted in a front page falsely blaming Liverpool fans for the crush.
In his report, Mr Jones urged the government to give full consideration to a Hillsborough law, including a duty of candour for police officers, but NPCC chair Martin Hewitt said legislation was a matter for parliament.
He told a press conference: “What we have really focused on is doing that which is really within our power. The issue of candour is very clear within the charter for bereaved families and it will be incorporated explicitly in the review of the code of ethics.”
But campaigners said they were “extremely disappointed” with the continued failure to create the law, and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper accused the government of showing a “lack of respect”.