Hillsborough update

Parliament is now fast tracking an important Bill to give the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) the powers to investigate the Hillsborough cover up.

This is my speech to Parliament, supporting the Bill but seeking assurances that the powers are sufficient:

A number of hon. Members have already pointed out that it is highly unusual to fast-track an important Bill, but we are dealing with an unusual circumstance and it is essential that this Bill goes through. We are dealing with the aftermath of a terrible tragedy that happened 23 years ago: 96 people died, thousands more were injured or traumatised, there was a cover-up, nobody was brought to book for what happened and, indeed, the victims were blamed for the culpability of others. That cover-up is now unravelling and there is a desire for urgent justice and accountability. That is why we are considering this Bill, but this is only one part of a whole range of actions now being taken speedily and correctly.

 

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has published its 10-point terms of reference, a number of which demonstrate the relevance of this Bill. The IPCC  wants to find out what happened and how 116 witness statements came to be altered in order to remove or lessen the culpability of police and, indeed, others. It wants to consider the validity of the police evidence to the all-important Taylor inquiry. It wants to consider the conduct of the West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire police in relation not just to what happened at the time but to subsequent investigations. It wants to investigate the authorisation given to test the alcohol levels of the victims and to allow access to the police national computer in an attempt to denigrate the victims. The vital issue of what happened on the day and of who took the decision to open the Leppings Lane gate is critical. The culmination of all that was the attempted cover-up—indeed, it was successful—to blame the victims for what happened.

 

Those are just some of the items specified in the IPCC’s terms of reference. In order for them to be investigated properly, it is essential that the IPCC has adequate powers. It is critical that we discuss the issue and make a decision today so that the new investigation can start quickly. I understand that if we reach an agreement today, the IPCC investigation will be able to start in early 2013.

 

The Bill addresses two key areas. First, it will enable the IPCC to compel serving officers and their staff to answer its questions as witnesses. The IPCC will be able to consider whether they are guilty of misconduct or, indeed, criminality, but it is also essential that they come forward as witnesses. Secondly—this is also essential—it will allow the IPCC to investigate issues previously investigated by its predecessor, the Police Complaints Authority. Both measures are important.

 

This debate has already shown that there are question marks over the Bill’s adequacy in respect of those measures. What would happen, for example, if serving officers or their staff did not agree to come forward when requested? Would the disciplinary measures, which have been spelt out this afternoon, be adequate? I do not think that we will know the answer until such an event happens. The issue of calling retired officers or staff is not covered by the Bill, either. There may be other means of doing that, but the situation is extremely unclear. Those are two areas of the Bill that stand out at this stage as either not covered adequately or, in the case of retired officers, not covered at all.

 

Some of the issues will be addressed when we discuss the amendment in Committee following this Second Reading debate, but it is essential that there is continuing dialogue and that the House is made aware of any progress. We need to know whether the proposals for addressing these matters are valid, and we need an ongoing discussion and up-to-date information, so that if any further steps are required they can be enacted without undue delay.

 

There is cross-party agreement on what is happening. The Hillsborough independent panel was set up in the last Parliament and its work has been taken forward in this one. There is cross-party agreement on that.

 

Twenty-three years is a long time to wait for justice. The families deserve no less than truth, justice and accountability. That requires speedy action, but that action must be backed up by sufficient powers to enable the proper information to be considered in a judicial process, if that is what is required. I hope that the Bill will help to achieve that.

 

It is extremely important that the House is kept informed of progress, including the consequences of this Bill being passed and the question of reopening the inquest—something that will be considered in this place at another time.

The IPCC has now published its Terms of Reference. It will examine the following points:

1. Actions of police officers in the gym and whether the treatment of relatives was appropriate

2. Interactions of police officers with press and politicians. This will including looking at the actions of Norman Bettison visiting parliament and making a video presentation. It will also cover whether then Home Secretary and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were given inaccurate or inappropriate information.

3. The actions of police officers and those providing legal advice to police officers in relation to collecting evidence. In particular that will look at the role of the teams led by Ch Supt Wain (of which Norman Bettison was a member) and Ch Supt Denton.

This element will also look at instructions given to officers not to complete notebooks or duty statements. The process of amending statements will be examined at this stage, including those that were do so without an officers’ agreement or signature, and whether it was done to deflect blame from police.

4. The evidence put forward by South Yorkshire Police to the West Midlands Police investigation and the Taylor Inquiry. This will include whether officers gave inaccurate, false, or deliberately misleading information about fans or evidence.

This part of the investigation will also specifically examine whether the “Wain Report” which Norman Bettison helped write was an “accurate and complete picture”. Whether officers gave wrong or misleading evidence about closing the tunnel at the Leppings Lane at Hillsborough, will also be looked at.

5. Whether any police officer had any influence on the decision of coroner Stefan Popper to check blood alcohol levels.

6. The reasons Police National Computer checks were checked and who was responsible for the decision.

7. The West Midlands Police investigation will also be re-examined. This will include how decisions were taken to gather statements and evidence. The question of whether witnesses were put under “inappropriate pressure” to alter statements will also be investigated. And the matter of whether evidence given by WMP to the inquests was accurate, and if there was bias in favour of South Yorkshire Police.

8. The IPCC will also reach a finding on whether there was a general attempt by officers within South Yorkshire Police and / or West Midlands Police to deflect or minimise blame for the tragedy from the police service by focussing on the behaviour or alleged behaviour of fans.

9. To identify whether any criminal offences were committed, and if appropriate make early contact with Director of Public Prosecutions. On receipt of the final report, the commissioner shall determine whether the report should be sent to the DPP.

10. To identify whether any subject of the investigation has a case to answer for misconduct or gross misconduct, or no case to answer.