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Hillsborough report published


Hillsborough report, Reverend James Jones, bereaved families, state-related deaths, public bodies, INQUEST‘The government must urgently enact these key recommendations.’

‘The patronising disposition of unaccountable power: A report to ensure the pain and suffering of the Hillsborough families is not repeated’ was published last week.

And in it the author, Reverend James Jones, a former Bishop of Liverpool and chair of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, made a number of strong recommendations on the response of public bodies to state-related deaths, and on the involvement of bereaved families in these processes.

This seminal report was the second last week, after Dame Elish Angiolini’s review on deaths in police custody, to make significant recommendations on post death investigations and family support.

The report makes 25 recommendations including:

There should be a ‘Charter for Families Bereaved through Public Tragedy’ in which public bodies would commit to placing the public interest above their reputation and approach forms of public scrutiny such as inquiries and inquests with candour;

Calling for the ‘proper participation’ of bereaved families at inquests, including non-means tested, publicly-funded legal representation for bereaved families at inquests at which public bodies are represented, the cost of which would be borne by the government departments whose agencies are frequently represented at inquests;

Proportionate legal funding of public bodies – meaning public bodies are not able to use public money to fund legal representation more advantageous than that available to families;

Cultural change at inquests which would ensure the process is not adversarial, but is inquisitorial as intended, upheld by relevant Secretaries of State who should make clear how public bodies should approach inquests; and

Bereaved families should be put at the heart of inquests, through the training of coroners that includes bereaved families, and renewed guidance from the Chief Coroner.

The Hillsborough family lawyers welcomed the Bishop’s review and called for a ‘Hillsborough law’ to continue through Parliament, saying that such a law would criminalise coverups and should be brought into effect urgently – and before the Grenfell Inquiry.

The Hillsborough Law – or to give it its formal title: ‘The Public Authorities Accountability Bill’ – had its first reading in the House of Commons on 29 March 2017.

The Bill aims to make it a legal duty for public authorities and public servants to tell the truth.

It would criminalise cover-ups by making it an offence for public servants and others acting in a public capacity to mislead or refuse to co-operate with Inquiries, Inquests, Court proceedings etc.

It also seeks to achieve parity of funding at Inquests between public bodies and bereaved families.

It was supported by MPs of all sides but failed to reach a second reading as Parliament was dissolved prior to the General Election.

Deborah Coles, director of INQUEST, said: “This report is a damning indictment of the struggles of bereaved people for truth and accountability against an institutional culture of delay, denial and defensivenesss.

“We are delighted that the Bishop has endorsed many recommendations that INQUEST and the families we work with made to this review.

“This is the second report this week (after Dame Elish Angiolini’s review on deaths in police custody), to make important recommendations on inquest funding, duty of candour and family support.

“It is vital the government acts on these recommendations to support recently bereaved families, not least those affected by the Grenfell fire.

“The legacy of Hillsborough should be improvements across the inquest system to benefit families who are still coming up against many of the same hurdles that the Hillsborough families battled against.

“At the crux of this issue is the democratic accountability of public authorities at an individual and corporate level.

“The government must urgently enact these key recommendations. A defining step would be the implementation of the ‘Hillsborough Law’.”

INQUEST made a submission to the review and organised a family listening day.

And, as Reverend James Jones explains: ‘This report aims to provide an insight into what the bereaved Hillsborough families have experienced over the 28 years which have passed since April 1989, and to place that insight on the official public record.

‘This report is not about a perspective on simply about ‘how things were’. The families’ experiences demonstrate a real and continuing need for change, and this report sets out proposals for how to bring about that change.

‘The Hillsborough families are not the only ones who have suffered from ‘the patronising disposition of unaccountable power’.

‘The families know that there are others who have found that when in all innocence and with a good conscience they have asked questions of those in authority on behalf of those they love the institution has closed ranks, refused to disclose information, used public money to defend its interests and acted in a way that was both intimidating and oppressive.

‘And so the Hillsborough families’ struggle to gain justice for the 96 has a vicarious quality to it so that whatever they can achieve in calling to account those in authority is of value to the whole nation.’

To read the full report, click here.

To forward it to your MP, click here.

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