Back in 2009, on the evening of its 20th anniversary, I promised the Hillsborough families at Liverpool town hall that I would do everything I could to support them. Twelve years later we have come to the end of the legal line. But one more war remained, and the biggest of them all: the root and branch reform of British justice.
Families '32 – the annual fight for justice provides us with all the evidence anyone could ever need that our legal system is broken. Aside from its brutal, re-traumatizing way towards bereaved families, it has comprehensively failed to provide any real accountability for illegal deaths and the cover-up96. Second, the falsehood that was briefed to newspapers days after the tragedy took the form of a crime-changing narrative, sustained by South Yorkshire police throughout the Taylor investigation and the initial investigation, and was repeated only last week by a senior QC involved with the BBC.
Hillsborough is not an isolated case. Rather, it is the most high-profile example of what is unfortunately still a common experience for families in the investigation and subsequent criminal cases.
People grieving the loss of a son or daughter still find themselves in courtrooms, raw from grief and only legally recruited against the highest paid QCs in the land, by public agencies that always try to protect reputation rather than reveal the truth. The worrying thing about last week's decision is that it might make it even easier for them to do so in the future.
The provision that government investigations are not a public remedy – and that, in reality, public officials cannot be held legally responsible for the evidence presented to them – risks giving a dangerous green light to those who wish to withhold or alter evidence. Furthermore, it has been clarified that there is no “obligation to be forthright” towards public officials in investigations, and the scales of justice have been pushed further in favor of the authorities.
But the great irony is this: this is the final act of the Hillsborough legal drama, making the case for “Hillsborough law” more conclusive than anything else.
After ending in , I submitted the Public Authority (Accountability) bill to parliament. It has two main proposals: legal funding equality for bereaved families and a duty of honesty to public officials.
For justice to work, courtrooms must be on equal footing. I'll never forget to hear Margaret Aspinall talk about how she needed to cash the check she got from the criminal injuries compensation program for her son James to pay her contribution to the families' statutory fund. And even then it was not enough and he had to borrow the rest from his family. He helped pay for a single lawyer, who in the initial investigation vastly outnumbered those representing South Yorkshire police and other government agencies;
That's how the circumstances of partial or false narratives are set from the start - and why, in last week's verdict in the light, the bill is now essential to be legalized. However, based on what I have seen in the two cases since the second investigation, I will add three other measures.
First, criminal proceedings following investigations,
The 2016 investigation was the longest trial heard by a jury in British legal history, and it was clear that Liverpool fans should not be blamed for what happened. It was therefore a great shock to me that at the match commander's next hearing in Preston, the denied insults of being late, drunk, and ticketless were once again presented in court as credible evidence, even though they had been extensively refuted in the investigation.
I was also surprised that the defendants were not required to sit at the ballot box. You have to ask: Will young people on trial in the tougher areas of Liverpool or Manchester be given the same treatment? I suspect. In court, there should be a rule for everyone, regardless of status, and therefore the use of scaffolding should be clarified by law.
Finally, we need a major reform of the Crown Prosecution Service. Could it be true that bereaved families do not have an independent legal representation in criminal cases? If they agree, I'm sure the decision will be appealed at this final hearing.
I urge MPs of all parties to pass this expanded Hillsborough law. Please give the Hillsborough families the comfort of knowing that at least in the future they will not experience what others have done. If “leveling up” is to be the defining theme of our time, it must now be extended to the English scales of justice.
Andy Burnham is mayor of Greater Manchester