Hillsborough response: Families say Government response 'does not go far enough'

Elkan Abrahamson, a lawyer and director of the campaign Hillsborough Law Now, has accused the government of "misleadingly" labelling its plans as legally binding when they aren't.

The government's response to a report into the Hillsborough Disaster has been slammed for being "meaningless" and falling "way short" of what the affected families have asked for.

Margaret Aspinall, who's son died at Hillsborough, has welcomed certain aspects of the Government's plans but doesn't think they go far enough.

The government reiterated its support for a duty of candour on police forces, legally requiring officers to cooperate during official investigations and inquiries following major incidents.

As the families finally get the response they have waited six years for ITV Granada Reports' Merseyside Correspondents Andy Bonner and Ann O'Connor take a look, in the latest episode of From the North, at whether it goes far enough?

But unlike the Hillsborough Law, created by families and backed by the Labour Party, the duty only covers police forces, and not other public authorities such as councils, social services or fire and ambulance services.

She said: "We need all public bodies to be able to tell the truth. Not just the police, it goes beyond the police."

Margaret Aspinall has campaigned tirelessly for the Hillsborough families. Credit: PA Images

As the chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, Margaret has been campaigning since 1989 to get justice for the families and ensure public bodies are not able to cover up any wrongdoing.

She said: "We don't want to be here still campaigning after 34 years. I want to be able to get on with my life.

"But we are fighting this campaign for the good of the people of this country, for people in future disasters to never go through what we've gone through."

Despite waiting six years for a Government response, Margaret still believes the victims have not gotten justice.

She said: "97 innocent people died, but not one person has been held to account. That is not justice."

The Government's reasoning for not implementing the duty of candour is that there are already existing rules in place, and that to follow the recommendations of the report would only confuse public bodies.

However, Charlotte Hennessy, whose father died at Hillsborough, says the existing guidelines do not go far enough.

She said: "The [Government] response focuses on codes of conduct and code of ethics. That's not law. That's not a legislative framework."

Failing to tell the truth can result in public servants losing their jobs under current rules, but they would not be at risk of breaking the law.

The Hillsborough memorial Credit: PA Images

Charlotte added: "There's no legal duty of candor to ensure that all public servants have got a legal duty to tell the truth.

"There were two police officers who refused to come and give evidence at my dad's inquest when they knew full well that he was alive in his body bag."

Elkan Abrahamson, a lawyer and director of the campaign Hillsborough Law Now, has accused the government of "misleadingly" labelling its plans, which involve the signing of a Hillsborough Charter, as legally binding when they are not.

"The one relevant clause in the Criminal Justice Bill (clause 73), falls way short of what campaigners have asked for - it is not a 'Hillsborough Law' and it does not have the support of the families," Mr Abrahamson said.

"It merely provides for a meaningless code of conduct for the police which does not add to what already exists.

"It lacks any accountability for other public servants, for national and local public services, and for private companies and their officers responsible for public health and safety."

He continued: "Only the full reintroduction of the Public Authority (Accountability) Bill, which was introduced by Andy Burnham but fell when the 2017 general election was called, will do; namely making a duty of candour enforceable, and ensuring a level playing field between public authorities and those affected by disasters and wrongdoing at inquests and inquiries."

Mr Abrahamson also criticised the government's timing in publishing its response.

"To wait six years for a government to respond to a report about a disaster that took place 34 years ago speaks volumes.

"To deliver that response on a day when all eyes are on a former prime minister giving evidence to the Covid Inquiry only seeks to increase the cynicism felt amongst Hillsborough families and the thousands of others who would benefit from a change in the law."

An All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) meeting on public accountability will be held on Wednesday evening where campaigners will be able to share their views on their government's response.

Charlotte's father, James Hennessy, died when he was 29.

The response, published on Wednesday, was to a review published by the former Bishop of Liverpool in 2017, which set out 25 "essential" learning points following fresh inquests into the disaster at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield, where 97 Liverpool fans died.

Responding to the report, he said: "Although the Government’s Statement falls short of the hopes of the Hillsborough Families, it is a serious and substantial response and rises above that given to other Panels and Inquiries.

"It is clear that the Families are winning the argument for change in both lawand culture."

Under the plans, the government reiterated its support for a duty of candour on police forces, legally requiring officers to cooperate and requiring Chief Constables to "ensure their officers act with openness, and speak up on behalf of victims" during official investigations and inquiries following major incidents.

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