Anger over delays that will see bereaved families have to wait more than two years for investigations into Hillsborough to be concluded have prompted campaigners to abandon a meeting with the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) planned this week.
“We will not be meeting with the IPCC until they can show some actual progress with the investigation, rather than just talking about it. The families need to see action, we have heard enough words. The truth is out, there’s no excuse for delaying with justice,” said Sheila Coleman, spokeswoman for the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, last night.
This comes after families learnt last week that the IPCC investigation will take at least two years, with the criminal investigation into Hillsborough, being headed up by former Durham chief constable Jon Stoddart, set to take even longer.
Concern is mounting that a growing number of grieving relatives will go to their graves knowing the truth about what happened to their loved ones but being denied justice. John Glover, 72, founder member of the HJC, who lost his 20-year-old son Ian at Hillsborough, died last Monday.
Although the Hillsborough Families Support Group still intend to meet with Mike Benbow, recently appointed as IPCC director for the Hillsborough investigation this week, they are running out of patience. Margaret Aspinall, whose son James was just 18 when he died at Hillsborough, said last night: “The evidence is there and there’s no excuse for any delays. They need to get moving on this.”
Six months on from the publication of the Hillsborough report, the IPCC has a fraction of the staff needed to undertake the biggest investigation in its history. A team of just 30 is working on Hillsborough, far short of the 70-100 it says are needed. Campaigners are also angered by the former Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, Sir Norman Bettison, escaping punishment last week despite the IPCC concluding he could have been sacked for gross misconduct over allegations he tried to manipulate the way complaints about his involvement with Hillsborough were handled. But by resigning late last year, he placed himself beyond the reach of any sanctions it could have imposed.
“With the length its taking, one of the biggest concerns is that more people will die waiting for things to happen and that blame will be placed on officers where there can be no consequences – dead officers, officers that have resigned or retired already,” commented Ms Coleman.
Hillsborough families continue to endure an agonising wait for justice, with details of new inquests not due to be announced until April 25th, when Lord Justice Goldring will conduct a pre-inquest hearing.
Meanwhile, personal accounts of the legacy of the disaster will be revealed in a new documentary being broadcast on BBC2 on Wednesday [3 April], featuring survivors and members of the Hillsborough Independent Panel. The panel’s report, published last September, exposed how police had mounted one of the biggest cover-ups in modern times after the deaths of nearly 100 football fans at an FA cup tie between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in 1989.
James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, who chaired the panel, admits: “Some people told me it was a poisoned chalice. I suppose because there was a fear that by setting up the panel you would raise the expectations of the families and then if those expectations weren’t satisfied then people might then turn on the panel.” Hillsborough had become a “festering sore” for the people of Liverpool, he says in the film. Bishop Jones recalls the day the report was released at Liverpool Cathedral: “It felt to me that here in the house of God, Truth was calling out to Justice.”
“It consumes you,” says Steve Kelly, whose brother Michael died at Hillsborough. The cover-up meant his mother went to her grave with doubts about her dead son. “One of the last conversations I had with my mum, she asked me was he a hooligan? Is that what caused this?” He is determined to fight for justice. “I’m the last surviving member of my family. So, you know, I’ve got to keep on fighting till I go.”
Hillsborough Panel member Dr Bill Kirkup, who helped establish that almost half those who died that day could have been saved, says the cover-up was a “gigantic tissue of falsehoods.” He added: “I would not have believed that a cover up on that scale would have been possible to engineer…the fact that it survived for 23 years is utterly shocking.”
Debra Martin, a special constable who tried to save the life of Kevin Williams, one of the youngest to die, was called a “liar” and a “fantasist” by a woman police officer who said: “There’s other people like you… you’re the last threads to be swept under the carpet.” Ms Martin was bullied into signing a changed statement. “I feel as though they’ve stabbed me in the heart and they’ve twisted that knife and pulled my heart out with it. The trust I put into the police force.”
And Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James died, says: “When he most needed me, I wasn’t there for him. When he took his last breath, and left this earth, his mum wasn’t with him. The only thing I can do for James is fight…for the truth.”
Neil Fitzmaurice, co-writer and co-star of Phoenix Nights, was one of those trapped in the terraces that day. Commenting on the Hillsborough report, he says: “I never thought I would live in my lifetime to see that much power being ripped apart…The ivory towers that they stood in for 23 years have been smashed.”
Police demonised the people of Liverpool, says Hillsborough Panel member Professor Phil Scraton. “What we see occurring in the aftermath of Hillsborough is the launch of the folk devil; the folk devil is the Liverpudlian.” The lies were told to protect the establishment “where the future of that institution coming out unscathed is more significant than the truth.”