FOR some time, I have been thinking that chairing the
Hillsborough Independent Panel might be the most important work I
do as Bishop of Liverpool. The reaction of the families and of the
wider world to our report confirms the thought. Truth and Justice
are pillars of the Kingdom. Leaving my person aside, I am glad that
a Church of England bishop should have been entrusted with a task
so vital to the local community and to the nation at large. It
places the Church at the heart of the aspirations of the people to
live in a society that is true and just.
Part of my daily reading at the moment is the Divine
Institutes by Lactantius, the third-century Christian
apologist. I quote him in my foreword to the report: "'The whole
point of justice consists precisely in our providing for others
through humanity what we provide for our own family through
affection.' It is the search for justice that has motivated the
families and which is so basic a human instinct."
When I was asked by the Labour Government and then by the
Coalition Government to chair the Hillsborough Independent Panel, I
saw it as consistent with my pastoral responsibility for all the
people who live within the diocese of Liverpool. Like a vicar, a
bishop is not just there for those who come to church. Our
understanding of the Kingdom is that we are pastors to all, whether
or not they believe in God.
WHEN more than 30,000 people came to Anfield for the 20th
anni-versary of the Hillsborough disaster, it was evident to all
that the wound of grief was still open and sore, with many
questions still unanswered. I was present at that service, and felt
the emotional power of the remembrance and the volume of the voices
petitioning still for justice.
The more I have worked with the panel and the secretariat, in
consultation with the families, the more their pleas resonated with
two fundamental aspects of my own faith and ethics: first, the call
to heal the broken-hearted; and, second, the plea to grant justice
to those who are denied it.
If I attempt to set this in the context of our society, I
recognise that we are at a stage in our history where trust in
institutions and their leaders has begun to evaporate. I need not
rehearse the crisis of trust in politicians, bankers, and the
media. The Church itself has been blighted by episodes of
Yet, for all the damage that has been done by abusive priests,
the Church still, at a local level, maintains a level of trust. For
all its faults and foibles, it is still known to be committed to
the welfare of the people. Colleagues on the panel seemed content
to have a bishop chairing it because a church leader had no vested
interest, was known to be committed to the people, and had a
certain independence from political patronage.
I WAS chairing an independent panel, and not an inquiry. The
problem with judicial inquiries is that they necessarily involve
lawyers and barristers for all those called before them. This
usually leads to a very long process and soaring costs. The Saville
inquiry into the Bloody Sunday shootings took more than ten years,
and cost well in excess of £100 million. The Hillsborough
Independent Panel did not interrogate people. Its terms of
reference called us to oversee the disclosure of all the public
documents related to the tragedy and its aftermath.
But, although a panel's work delivers more quickly and at a
smaller cost, I think there is another great advantage. Judicial
processes do not serve the victims and the bereaved well. They tend
to distance those who are most affected. People with power in the
processes are often patronising to the victims. In a culture of
blame, liability and litigation over culpability conspire against
getting to the truth.
Whatever the future holds for the panel process as a model of
dealing with historic cases, it is clear to me that trust,
transparency, and accountability are moral virtues that our society
is embracing in an absolute and not a relative sense. As someone in
Christ committed to justice, I welcome such an ethical society.
When we first met as a panel, we decided to meet the various
family groups on the same day. Their dignified determination shaped
us as a group of experts. We all brought a different expertise to
the work. As the chairman and as a pastor, I found that one of the
most moving aspects of the work was to gain the trust of the
families, who said that this was the first time that they felt that
they had been taken seriously and listened to.
CONSTANTLY I am asked where it will lead. We must now leave the
documents to the appropriate authorities. I want to say nothing
that will undermine the fairness of any judicial processes that may
Over the past three months, my daily Bible reading has been the
parable of the widow denied justice in Luke 18, and the words of
Jesus: "Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to
him day and night?" He told this parable to the people so that they
would "not lose heart".
I was so glad when the panel decided to choose the Anglican
cathedral to disclose the documents to the families. Uppermost was
the need to protect their dignity, and not to dishonour the memory
of the 96. Last week, as we did this, four days before the Revd
Pete Wilcox was to become Dean of Liverpool, he whispered to me:
"This is like a window on to the Kingdom of Heaven." In that great
sacred space, Truth was calling out to Justice.
Some have said to me that it is good to see the Church coming
out from behind the fog of controversy over women bishops and gay
relationships. I have thought that myself for a moment. And yet -
at the heart of these controversies are also issues of justice for
men and women. Whatever our theological convictions and sexual
ethics, we have to recognise with humility that, although we need
institutions to order our common life, at moments in our history,
such as the struggle for racial or environmental or economic
justice, it is the people beyond the walls of the institutions,
sometimes including the Church, who have prevailed in the name of
The Rt Revd James Jones is the Bishop of Liverpool and
chairman of the Hillsborough Independent Panel.