Hillsborough families say appointing The Sun's Trevor Kavanagh as media watchdog 'beggars belief'

He played a key role in the tabloid’s accusations that Liverpool fans had urinated on rescuers during the 1989 disaster

Families of those killed in the Hillsborough disaster have called for the immediate removal of one of The Sun’s most senior journalists from the board of the new industry-led press regulator. 

Last month, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) announced that Trevor Kavanagh, who was the paper’s political editor and associate editor and is still a columnist, would be joining its board. He played a key role in the tabloid’s infamous accusations that Liverpool fans had urinated on rescuers and pick-pocketed dead victims during the 1989 disaster.  

The Hillsborough Independent Panel, which investigated the tragic events at the FA Cup clash in Sheffield, concluded that no Liverpool fans had been responsible, and that “lack of police control” had compromised crowd safety. The report also revealed a police cover-up with inaccurate and untrue information passed to the press. 

With new inquests completed last week into the deaths of 96 fans at Hillsborough, victims’ families and supporters say the appointment of Mr Kavanagh “beggars belief”.

Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James died in the disaster, said Mr Kavanagh was “part and parcel” of The Sun’s actions, claiming he “played a great part in us [the families] not getting to the truth”.

Barry Devonside, who lost his son Christopher, 18, said The Sun was still a reviled newspaper on Merseyside because of the “thoroughly disgusting lies it published and the way it treated survivors and the dead”.

Mr Devonside, who attended every day of the two-year inquest, said he was “saddened and disappointed” that Ipso would have been fully aware of Mr Kavanagh’s track record at The Sun, yet appointed him anyway. “This is very, very wrong,” he said.

In 2012, Mr Kavanagh revealed how he passed on what he thought was an “apparently copper-bottomed corroboration” about the story his newspaper was about to run on Hillsborough. 

He said his sources – South Yorkshire’s chief constable, Peter Wright, and a trusted colleague of the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher – “don’t come much higher”. “At least partly as a result of my ‘evidence’ The Sun went ahead with its infamous headline: ‘The Truth,’” he said.

Mr Kavanagh has said that none of the later revelations about the police conspiracy to cover up what happened, was “an excuse” for The Sun’s coverage. He said he and his newspaper had “apologised profusely, repeatedly and sincerely”.

His appointment to the Ipso board is not the first relationship he has had with the would-be regulator. Following the Leveson inquiry into the media, and the public calls for a replacement body for the discredited Press Complaints Commission (PCC), the former PCC chairman, Lord Hunt, unilaterally appointed a friend and colleague, Lord Phillips, to chair a “foundation group” that was given the responsibility for setting up Ipso. 

Mr Kavanagh and four others were chosen by Lord Phillips to select a formal “appointments panel” that would lead to members of Ipso’s board being put in place. No minutes of the selection process have been published. Part of the initial “independent” process that began the creation of Ipso, Mr Kavanagh has now gone full circle, ending up on the main board. 

The-Kop-stand-during-the-memorial-service-marking-the-26th-anniversary-of-the-Hillsborough-Disaster,-at-Anfield-Stadium.jpg
The Kop stand during the memorial service marking the 26th anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster, at Anfield Stadium (Getty)

Among those who joined the board in 2014 was the former managing editor of The Sun, Bill Newman. However Mr Newman was effectively fired in June by Ipso’s chairman, Sir Alan Moses.

Mr Newman said Sir Alan told him his contract was not being renewed “because of your connection to The Sun”. The former Sun executive said the decision made no sense because Ipso knew his Sun connections. 

Ipso denies this was reason for Mr Newman’s exit.

Sheila Coleman, of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, said Ipso’s appointment of Mr Kavanagh as the replacement for another Sun executive indicated that the organisation was not serious about its independence. 

“Both of these men are tainted by the lies this newspaper told,” she said. “The fact they are deemed suitable adjudicators of complaints against publishers is an insult to any campaign or individual who has ever had to challenge lies peddled by parts of the media.” 

When Ipso announced Mr Kavanagh’s board appointment, it said he would bring “decades of knowledge of the industry from his time with The Sun”. Asked about the families’ objections, an Ipso spokesman said: “We have no further comment on this appointment beyond what we have previously said.”

Professor John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, who helped treat victims at Hillsborough, said: “It beggars belief that Ipso believe this helps their credibility.” Dr Evan Harris, co-director of the pressure group for media reform Hacked Off said: “It is hard to believe that any rational regulator would see fit to appoint someone directly involved in one of the most crass examples of press abuse in history.”

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