Two former prime ministers have joined renewed calls by campaigners for a Hillsborough Law.
Gordon Brown and Theresa May have given their support for key changes to the legal system to prevent others going through what the bereaved families of Britain’s worst sporting disaster experienced over decades.
Ninety-seven men, women and children died in the tragedy at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in Sheffield on April 15 1989.
A Hillsborough Law would introduce a statutory duty of candour on public servants during all forms of public inquiry and criminal investigation.
It also aims to ensure proper participation of bereaved families at inquests, through publicly-funded legal representation, and the provision of a public advocate to act for families of the deceased after major incidents.
Former Labour PM Mr Brown ordered the creation of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which in 2012 went on to reveal police failings and eventually led to the quashing of the accidental verdicts from the first inquests.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) January 7, 2022
Speaking on Friday at the online Hillsborough Law Now event, Mr Brown said: “No-one should ever have to go through what all Hillsborough families have had to live through.
“No-one should be kept in the dark by bureaucratic indifference and deceitful lies like your families were kept in the dark.
“No group of families should ever again have to walk alone.
“I say that an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and to protect all, we need the Hillsborough Law now.”
Ex-Conservative PM Mrs May said: “What happened at Hillsborough, the death of 97 Liverpool fans failed by the state was tragedy enough for their families but what followed was injustice heaped on injustice.
“Years of beating their heads against the brick wall of government and the legal and judicial system, which added untold pain and suffering.
“I have been struck in the case of Hillsborough, but in other cases too, at the way in which the state in its various forms acts to defend itself from blame.
“The very bodies that we expect to protect and support the public seek instead to protect themselves, and this defensive attitude means that families are all too often denied access to the truth and with that often denied access to justice.
Let me pay tribute to the perseverance, the patience and most of all the dignity of all Hillsborough families who suffered such a grievous loss.
And it is to respect and honour the memory of all who died that we need the Hillsborough Law Now. #HillsboroughLawNow
— Gordon Brown (@GordonBrown) January 7, 2022
“If we can change the system so that others do not have to suffer in the way the Hillsborough families did, then it would be a valuable legacy for the 97.”
She also called for the Government to respond to the review of the experiences of the Hillsborough families that she asked for from former Bishop of Liverpool the Right Reverend James Jones, published in 2017 and which detailed 25 recommendations.
They include a duty of candour for all police officers and publicly-funded legal representation for families at inquests.
Friday’s event at the People’s Museum in Manchester was hosted by Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, and Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region.
Margaret Aspinall, whose son James was among the Hillsborough victims, said: “I find what’s gone on over these past 30-odd years has been a disgrace on the system in our nation.
“The scales of justice are unbalanced.”
“The Hillsborough Law will not do any good for the Hillsborough families. What we are here today is for all of us to be united to change things, because those 97 victims who died at Hillsborough, they deserve the respect and a Hillsborough Law in honour of their name.
“If that does any good for the likes of other people going forward, that’s all that matters. They have not died in vain.”
Steve Kelly, who lost his brother Michael in the tragedy, said: “A Hillsborough Law will allow ordinary people the same opportunity for legal representation from the beginning.
“I never want to see anybody go through this ever again, especially without support from the outset.”
Levelling up cannot only be about big spending announcements and shiny infrastructure projects.
It should also about righting long-term, structural injustices. There are few bigger than this. Levelling the scales of justice *is* levelling up.
— Steve Rotheram (@MetroMayorSteve) January 7, 2022
Sir Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool FC manager at the 1989 cup tie who went to many of the victims’ funerals, told the event: “The way that the various departments of the establishment went about this disaster was unbelievably poor.
“And for me, I would agree going forward with the Hillsborough Law because at the end of the day we are all equal. Everybody should be given the same opportunity to defend themselves, to get some proper justice done for them when they go to court.”
He said it would be a “fitting tribute” to the families and what they have endured.
Ex-Everton player Peter Reid said he went to Anfield to see the tributes “red and blue” in the wake of the disaster.
He added: “That will stay with me for the rest of my life.
“Why did the families have to go through what they had to go through? In a civilised society, justice should be a given. That’s why Hillsborough Law is essential.”
Bereaved families from the Grenfell Tower fire and the Manchester Arena terror attack also spoke to support changes to the legal system.
The fight for justice goes on – tomorrow.
For a more just country for everyone.
For a Hillsborough Law – now.
— Andy Burnham (@AndyBurnhamGM) January 6, 2022
New inquests which concluded in 2016 found the Hillsborough victims were unlawfully killed.
But match commander David Duckenfield was cleared of gross negligence manslaughter in 2019 and a trial of two retired police officers and a former force solicitor, who were accused of perverting the course of justice, collapsed last year after a judge ruled there was no case to answer.
Renewed calls for the law follow four-part docu-drama Anne which aired on ITV this week, starring Maxine Peake and written by Kevin Sampson.
It told the story of Anne Williams, whose 15-year-old son Kevin died in the disaster.
Mrs Williams fought to find out the truth of what happened to her son but died in 2013, before the start of the new inquests.