Theresa May: Key lessons 'have not been learnt' from Hillsborough cover-up

  • Former Prime Minister Theresa May sat down with ITV Granada Reports Merseyside Correspondent Andy Bonner

Resistance to investigate the Hillsborough disaster and fears it would "rake over the past" led to one minister hiding in a cupboard to avoid families, a former prime minister has said.

Theresa May said her decision to continue the work of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, set up by the former Labour administration, was met with resistance from the new coalition government in 2010.

"There was a reaction that just happened long time ago. Why try going over it again?" she said.

"There was just a sense of why should we do this when this has been going on for so long, let's just close the door on it."

Speaking exclusively to ITV Granada Reports the former prime minister revealed the feelings were so strong, one secretary of state even hid to avoid confronting families.

"There was, I'm told, but this is third or fourth hand, one secretary of state who hid in a cupboard rather than meet the families," she added.

Theresa May would not be swayed to reveal who the Secretary of State was however.

"I didn't actually confront anybody about it," she said. "But it's what came through to me.

"Here were relatively new secretaries of state, well, most of them, one had been in government before, but they will have been being advised by their departments.

"Their departments will not have wanted to rake over the past, possibly a defensive mechanism again, 'maybe we made mistakes in not properly addressing the results of some of the previous reports that had come out'.

"So that whole push would have been, you know, just don't, just stonewall, don't do this."

  • The full 45 minute interview between Theresa May and Andy Bonner

Speaking ahead of the publication of her new book, 'The Abuse of Power', the Conservative's visit to Merseyside, a Labour heartland, was met with some scepticism.

But, she said, her reason, was to highlight the lessons of Hillsborough, saying they had still not been learned by public bodies like the police, and there was still a natural instinct for officials to "close up and defend themselves rather than searching for the truth".

"I fear, sadly, that we haven't seen things getting better," she said.

"Institutions, be it the police, government departments and others, often when something goes wrong, when a mistake is being made, they actually sort of close up and defend themselves rather than searching for the truth.

"And I'm afraid I think we still see that tendency that that sort of natural instinct to defend rather than saying, well, what has actually happened here? Let's find the truth."

She added it was important "people feel able to trust the police" as it could lead to more information being shared and criminals being caught.

But, Theresa May said: "On a number of occasions... what we see is people actually losing trust in the police because of the way the police protect themselves rather than working for those they serve."

Theresa May met Hillsborough campaigner Margaret Aspinall while at Anfield. Credit: ITV Granada Reports

A total of 97 football fans died as a result of a crush at a match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield on 15 April 1989.

After initial reports, and an inquest recording accidental death, the families fought to have the case reopened, and in 2009 the Hillsborough Independent Panel was formed to review the evidence.

It confirmed criticisms first raised in the Taylor Report in 1990, revealing the extent of South Yorkshire Police's effort to shift blame onto fans, as well as errors in the first coroner's inquests.

The panel's report resulted in the previous findings of accidental death being quashed, and the creation of new coroner's inquests.

A new inquest was held in 2016, where a jury ruled had been unlawfully killed amid a number of police errors.

A report, entitled The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power, was published by Bishop James Jones in November 2017, and aimed to ensure those suffering in the Hillsborough disaster is not repeated.

The Bishop called for institutions to sign up to a charter putting families first.

The so-called 'Hillsborough Law' would see victims and their families given publicly-funded, equal legal representation and for organisations like the police to act with honesty, rather than prioritising their reputations.

But there have been four Home Secretaries since the former Bishop of Liverpool published his review, and since its publication only two of his 25 recommendations have been implemented.

When I look back on it," Theresa May said, "When I think one of the problems was this sense when Hillsborough occurred that naturally any problem was down to fans.

"There was that atmosphere that everything was about hooliganism, everything was about crowd control.

"That's very much the theme that comes from the various statements made by home secretaries at the time that despite the various references that there were to the actions of the police, it was very much that the police were doing their best to control the crowds."

When asked if governments of both persuasions had let the families down she agreed, adding "things could have been done at an earlier stage to really get to the truth".

She added she visited the families affected the former prime minister said she had met them, but in London, not in Liverpool.

She said: "It was that sense that here were people who for so long have been struggling to get the authorities to listen to them.

"When you look back, actually, that shouldn't have been the case because from a very early stage, the Taylor report actually pinpointed what had gone wrong, and yet that seemed to have been ignored.

"And they'd been fighting and fighting and fighting to get the truth, to get to the truth and to clear the names of their loved ones who so sadly had died in this tragedy."

Theresa May said she did not intend her new book, focused heavily on the Hillsborough Disaster, to "seek credit" for the fight for the truth.

"No, [I'm not seeking the credit]. That goes to [campaigner] Margaret Aspinall and all those who campaigned over those years to get to the truth.

"If they had given up, you know, a decade in, two decades in, then the truth would not have come out. The fact that they kept going was what was so important."

Want more on the issues affecting the North? Our podcast, From the North answers the questions that matter to our region.