A policing boss has blasted senior officers’ lies and an alleged cover-up over the Hillsborough tragedy – and is calling for a new law to stop it happening again.
North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Andy Dunbobbin hit out following the collapse of the trial against senior police officers and a South Yorkshire Police solicitor over the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans at Hillsborough 32 years ago.
Mr Dunbobbin has added his voice to the protests and has written to Home Secretary Priti Patel backing the Public Authority Accountability Bill proposed by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham.
Also known as the Hillsborough Law, it would make it a legal duty for public authorities and their employees to tell the truth.
The “long overdue” legislation would also ensure that bereaved families received funding so they had proper legal representation at inquests, just like public bodies.
Among the 96 victims whose names are on a roll of honour at Liverpool’s Anfield stadium were Holywell’s John McBrien, an 18-year-old student, from Holywell, and James Hennessy, 29, from Ellesmere Port, whose daughter, Charlotte, lives in Flint.
Many fans from across North Wales were also at Hillsborough, in Sheffield, on that sunny April afternoon and survived the deadly crush at the Leppings Lane end.
Mr Dunbobbin said: “I’ve spoken to Charl Hennessy whose father, James, passed away that day and I know how upset and angry she is because she is seeking justice not just for her dad but also for all the families of the 96.”
Charlotte, a mum of four, was just six at the time of the tragedy and she said: “I was just a little girl and my memories are a bit vague but he was a good man and well liked.
“They said there was no case to answer because these men had only been collecting information for a public enquiry but that makes me worry about the families of Grenfell and the Manchester bombing – does it mean they will only get the information the authorities want them to have?
“The families of Hillsborough have always been very clear that we wanted to make sure no other families ever had to go through what we have.
“People trust that public bodies have a legal duty to tell the truth but they actually don’t and there’s nothing that makes that a criminal offence but the Hillsborough Law will change that.
“It’s not 1989 anymore, it’s 2021 and if lessons are to be learned then huge changes have to be made.”
The trial of retired police officers Chief Supt Donald Denton and Det Ch Insp Alan Foster and former South Yorkshire Police solicitor Peter Metcalf at the Nightingale Court at the Lowry Theatre in Salford was halted after more than four weeks by Mr Justice William Davis who ruled they had no case to answer.
Mr Denton, 83, of Sheffield; Mr Foster, 74, of Harrogate; and Mr Metcalf, 71, of Ilkley, had denied two charges of perverting the course of justice by altering statements to minimise the blame placed on South Yorkshire Police in the aftermath of the disaster.
The judge said the statements had been prepared for the public inquiry chaired by Lord Taylor in 1990 which was not a statutory inquiry and therefore not considered “a court of law”, so it was not a “course of public justice” which could be perverted.
In his letter to the Home Secretary, Mr Dunbobbin said: “Families of the Hillsborough victims and local politicians have campaigned for 27 years for the truth despite senior officers’ lies and an alleged cover-up.
“Surely all public bodies need to act in the public’s interest. The Hillsborough Law would change the unfair and failing legal system that currently exists in this country.
“I believe that this law, which would make it illegal for those in public service to give misleading information and which would set out the penalties and fines for those who are wilfully non-compliant, to be the least the families of those involved should expect.
“It is unfair that families are denied legal funding to fight their cases and, as laid down in the proposed law, all families should be offered the same resources as public bodies to make their cases at inquests.
“Currently the scales of justice are heavily weighted against ordinary people.
“The proposed law will ensure that no family will have to suffer the same fate again as those in years gone by and I hope that you will give this law your full backing.”
Andy Burnham, who campaigned with the Hillsborough families, said: “We’ve all given it our all but our all was not enough to secure any accountability for the 96 unlawful deaths on British soil.”
Sue Hemming, from the CPS, said: “That a publicly funded authority can lawfully withhold information from a public inquiry charged with finding out why 96 people died at a football match, in order to ensure that it never happened again – or that a solicitor can advise such a withholding, without sanction of any sort – may be a matter which should be subject to scrutiny.”
For more information on the work of the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner go to https://www.northwales-pcc.gov.uk/en/home.aspx