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Government’s response to Hillsborough report welcome, but falls short of families’ hopes, says Bishop Jones

07 December 2023


Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son, James, died at Hillsborough, speaks to the media on Wednesday

Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son, James, died at Hillsborough, speaks to the media on Wednesday

THE former Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd James Jones, has welcomed the Government’s belated response to his 2017 report on the Hillsborough disaster, but said that he will “continue to press for further action”.

On Tuesday, the Justice Minister, Alex Chalk, said that he recognised that the delay in responding had “only compounded the pain of the Hillsborough families and survivors, and the Government apologises for that”.

The Government has signed the Hillsborough Charter, which states a commitment to “place the public interest above our own reputation”, but stopped short of introducing legislation that would enshrine this in law.

Bishop Jones chaired the independent panel that ultimately led to fresh inquests and a final verdict of unlawful killing for the 97 victims of the football stadium disaster in 1989 (News, 14 September 2012, 29 April 2016).

Speaking after the Government had published its response, he said: “Although the Government’s statement falls short of the hopes of the Hillsborough families, it is a serious and substantial response to my report, and rises above that given to other panels and inquiries.”

He welcomed the Government’s decision to sign the charter, which, he said, “put the right of the bereaved above public authorities’ protecting their own reputations”, and praised the decision to put a “duty of candour” on the policy, encouraging the future extension of this in law.

He said that the Government had made “significant changes”, but that he would “continue to press for further action”.

In February, Bishop Jones criticised the Government’s long delay in responding to his report (News, 1 February), after police chiefs in England and Wales issued an apology for failings that led to the deaths of 97 people at Hillsborough Stadium in 1989, and subsequent cover-ups as to the causes of the tragedy.

The report, The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power, was published in 2017, and made suggestions about how systems and institutions could be made more honest and accountable (News, 2 November 2017).

It made 25 recommendations, which included that public institutions should sign the Hillsborough Charter in a commitment to honesty, accountability, and the public good.

Many of the families of those who were killed at Hillsborough criticised the Government’s response to Bishop Jones’s report. Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son, James, died at Hillsborough, told the BBC that the Government response was “like giving a child a packet of crisps, but when you open it, there’s nothing in it”.

Charlotte Hennessy, whose father died at Hillsborough, criticised the Government’s decision not to introduce a law enshrining the “duty of candour”, and the delay in responding to the report. “Six years down the line, for them to now come out and not adhere to that and not say that’s what they’re going to be putting forward, of course it’s disappointing,” she said.

The Prime Minister said on Tuesday that “the Hillsborough families have suffered multiple injustices, and, more than 34 years later, there can never be too many apologies for what they have been through.

“And I want to repeat that apology today, and thank the Hillsborough families for their tenacity, patience, and courage.”

Speaking to journalists after making his statement, Bishop Jones said: “We need a cultural change in the relationship between our public institutions and individuals, especially after a tragedy because our public institutions put their reputation over and above the needs and rights of the bereaved and the aggrieved. And that has got to change.”

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