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Bishop Jones calls out Government inaction after police apology for Hillsborough tragedy

01 February 2023


Liverpool fans in Anfield hold up signs remembering the 97 victims of the Hillsborough disaster, before the Champions League Quarter Final in April

Liverpool fans in Anfield hold up signs remembering the 97 victims of the Hillsborough disaster, before the Champions League Quarter Final in April

THE former Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd James Jones, has called for the Government to respond to his 2017 report on the establishment response to the Hillsborough disaster, following apologies and pledges of change from police chiefs on Tuesday.

In a statement on Tuesday evening, Bishop Jones welcomed the response from the police, which included an apology for the way that families of victims were treated after the stadium crush that killed 97 Liverpool fans in 1989.

“The police response now shifts the focus onto the Government which has yet to respond nearly six years after I presented my report,” he said, and reiterated his call for a Royal Commission on the future of policing (News, 1 February 2022).

“The criminal landscape has changed radically — with cyber crime, international fraud, abuse against women and increases in the scope and scale of the challenges. Piecemeal changes are insufficient,” Bishop Jones said.

Bishop Jones’ report was published in 2017, and found that the police’s treatment of the disaster and its investigation had been “patronising” and “unaccountable”, and made suggestions as to how systems and institutions could be improved (News, 2 November 2017).

On Tuesday, more than five years later, the chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), Martin Hewitt, and the CEO of the College of Policing, Chief Constable Andy Marsh, apologised for the failings identified in the report, and outlined the steps that the police were taking.

“Policing has profoundly failed those bereaved by the Hillsborough disaster over many years and we are sorry that the service got it so wrong,” Chief Constable Marsh said.

“Police failures were the main cause of the tragedy and have continued to blight the lives of family members ever since. When leadership was most needed, the bereaved were often treated insensitively and the response lacked coordination and oversight,” he added.

Mr Hewitt said that he was “deeply sorry for the tragic loss of life, and for the pain and suffering that the families of the 97 victims experienced on that day and in the many years that have followed”.

He said that today’s police chiefs were committed “to responding to major incidents with openness and with compassion for the families involved”, and outlined changes in response to the report. These include updating the College of Policing’s Code of Ethics to emphasise the importance of candour, with a code of practice stating that “chief officers have a responsibility to ensure openness and candour within their force.”

The police chiefs announced that all forces in England and Wales had signed up to a Charter for Families Bereaved Through Public Tragedy. “In signing this, they committed to putting the interests of victims and families above any other interest and acting with candour at every turn,” Mr Hewitt said.

In his statement, Bishop Jones welcomed the police chiefs’ commitment to greater candour in police conduct, but said that it should be enshrined in law: “The lack of a statutory duty of candour allows rogue police officers to get away with criminality.”

Chief Constable Marsh paid tribute to Bishop Jones for his “dedication and insight which continues to support the police service in undergoing essential reform”.

The title of Bishop Jones’ report, The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power, summed up how public bodies, including the police and Government, treated the families of those who died in the Hillsborough disaster.

At the time of the report’s publication, the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, said: “I am grateful to Bishop James Jones for undertaking this important piece of work. His thoughtful and considered report raises important points. The Government will now carefully study the 25 points of learning, and we will provide a full response in due course.”

In a pre-recorded interview aired on BBC Breakfast on Tuesday morning, prior to the statement by the police chiefs, Bishop Jones criticised the delay. “I think we have to put ourselves in the shoes of the families. This year it will be 34 years since the tragedy, and for them to wait for so long for a response to these 25 points of learning is intolerable and adds to their pain and, I think, in some instances even affects their own grieving,” he said.

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