Hillsborough victims’ families expecting to oversee twin inquiries

Relatives have been offered a “challenge panel” which is intended to allow them unprecedented rights to oversee the police and the IPCC investigations

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The Independent Online

Hillsborough families have told chief prosecutor Kier Starmer that they expect to have “meaningful oversight” of the two inquiries into the disaster.

The families were promised a role in the investigations in the wake of last year’s Hillsborough Panel report which concluded there had been a major cover up by police and others to avoid the blame for the crush which killed 96 football fans.

Relatives have been offered a “challenge panel” which is intended to allow them unprecedented rights to oversee the police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigations.

However, at a meeting in Warrington today families expressed concern to Mr Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions in England and Wales, and Dame Anne Owers, chairman of the IPCC, that the panel’s terms of reference have not even been decided.

Shiela Coleman, who represents the Hillsborough Justice Campaign told the ‘i’ that the families had “pushed” Mr Starmer and Dame Anne for the panel’s terms of reference to be decided quickly.

“Time is going on. It’s a year now since the report and we can’t just let it ride,” she said. “We want it to have teeth. We want it to have meaningful terms of reference. We want the panel to be able to report back anything it’s not happy with.

“It all centres around transparency and accountability. We will push for this until we get better systems in place, until we do get agencies that are accountable and can be trusted.”

Lawyers representing the campaign group issued a statement welcoming the creation of the oversight panel but expressing concern at continued delays in the fight for justice for the families.

“We are pleased to see that the challenge panel is finally to be set up,” the group said in a statement released by Elkan Abrahamson, Jackson and Canter Solicitors.

“However delay remains a concern. The Terms of Reference are not yet finalised. It is not clear what documents the panel will be allowed to see. All we ask for is scrutiny to ensure that the IPCC and the police act with integrity and expedition.”

As the DPP was meeting Hillsborough families it emerged that Richard Whittam QC, First Senior Treasury Counsel, had advised Mr Starmer against including Professor Phil Scraton on the challenge panel due to the risk to any potential prosecutions. The professor was the lead author of last year’s report and has been vocal in his criticisms of police and IPCC failings.

The former Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, is expected to be appointed chairman of the challenge panel. Other members, the I understands, be of former appeal court judge Sir Stephen Sedley, criminologist Dr Silvia Casale, and policing expert Professor Roger Graef.

Plans to stage a musical about Hillsborough titled ‘Their Scarves Were Red’ has been scrapped by the Unity Theatre in Liverpool. A spokesman said the timing of the production and strong feelings of the local community meant it would be “appropriate” to host the show.