IAN HERBERT: Police apology for Hillsborough is too little, too late

IAN HERBERT: The police apology for the Hillsborough disaster is too little, too late… It comes 34 years after the event, five years after a damning public inquiry, and STILL misses the point

  • Police Chiefs have apologsed to relatives of victims of the Hillsborough disaster
  • They admitted to ‘profound failures’ in a carefully curated press statement
  • The statement didn’t give details of the ‘failures’ that shifted the blame onto fans

It has been 34 years since police officers pursued despicable acts of deceit to cover up the incompetence which claimed the lives of 97 football fans at Hillsborough — and five years since that very treachery was spelt out in shocking detail, in the findings of an exhaustive public inquiry.

On Tuesday, police chiefs found themselves able to apologise.

‘Profound failures’ were the words used to describe the conduct of senior officers, in a carefully curated press statement from the national body for chief constables. 

Police Chiefs apologised to relatives of victims of the Hillsborough disaster on Tuesday

They admitted to ‘profound failures’ in a carefully curated press statement

It didn’t include the nasty little details of what those failures looked like: the deliberate distortion of junior officers’ evidence, which saw 164 statements substantially altered and comments unfavourable to the constabulary removed or changed in 116. 

Young officers were also expressly told not to record their experiences in their pocket books — the standard way of providing an accurate record.

‘Review and alteration’ was the dismal police-speak for this process, undertaken by South Yorkshire police chief superintendent Donald Denton, and Peter Metcalf, a lawyer from the force’s legal representatives Hammond Suddard. Neither man has been prosecuted for an act designed to shift blame on to fans.

Ninety-seven football fans would lose their lives as a result of the tragic crush at Hillsborough in April 1989

The police service could have taken action over this in 2012, when a Hillsborough Independent Panel delivered an excoriating report on the stadium disaster, after three long years of investigation. 

It could have taken action in 2016, when fresh inquests condemned the conduct of police and others and found that fans were unlawfully killed because of grossly negligent failures by police, among others.

But there always seemed to be some risk to the legal integrity of some case or other being brought before the courts. No case against the police has ever delivered a conviction. Only now do they apparently see the light. 

The Rt Rev James Jones (above), a former bishop of Liverpool, said it was ‘intolerable’ there had been no formal response from the Government on his 25 essential recommendations published in November 2017 

All these years on, they have announced that officers in the 43 forces of England and Wales will be trained in ‘candour’. As if that were not a pre-requisite for every individual who puts on a uniform to maintain the law and, in the football sphere, keep people safe.

The Rt Rev James Jones, the former bishop of Liverpool who sat on the independent panel, found in 2017 that policing still required a change in ‘attitude, culture, heart and mind’ to prevent a ‘patronising disposition of unaccountable power’.

He observed how the endless resolve and persistence to seek justice required by bereaved Hillsborough families demonstrated something disturbing at the heart of our country. As did authorities ‘spending limitless sums’ on representation. The Grenfell families would also relate to that, Jones observed.

There has been no Government response to his conclusions, in the five years since he completed that report, commissioned by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary. 

On Tuesday, he described the Government’s failure to respond as ‘intolerable’ for the victims’ families, many of whom are campaigning for a ‘duty of candour’ to be enshrined in law.

That would put an immediate stop to families having to battle against the state and police malfeasance. 

When failing to comply becomes a criminal offence, the backsliding and obfuscating soon stops. Wouldn’t police chiefs want to see a law like this? They conveniently neglected to make any mention of it.

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