Pressure grows on insurer over Hillsborough

Critics say RSA should be compelled to hand over documents relating to stadium disaster

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The Independent Football

One of Britain's biggest insurance companies is being urged to reveal Hillsborough's "final secrets", after it refused to hand over evidence to the inquiry into the disaster.

RSA, which acted as Sheffield Wednesday's insurer at the time of the tragedy, rejected the Hillsborough Independent Panel's repeated requests to open files relating to events before, during and after the fatal crush on 15 April 1989.

The panel report last month laid bare police attempts to push the blame for the disaster, which claimed 96 lives, on to Liverpool fans. The devastating exposure was assisted by almost half a million documents provided by parties including public bodies and bereaved families.

But the report revealed that one organisation had refused to co-operate fully – RSA, which, as Sun Alliance, insured the owner of the stadium. It stated: "The Royal Sun Alliance Insurance Company refused to waive its entitlement to privilege, thus denying the panel access to its material …. Strenuous efforts were made to persuade the company to allow the panel confidential access to the relevant material, but it maintained its refusal. This is a matter of considerable regret to the panel."

Critics have said that the refusal will prevent disclosure of discussions between authorities, including the police, the Football Association and the club, over the causes of the disaster and the extent of the club's liability. It has emerged that Sheffield Wednesday did not have a safety certificate for the stadium in 1989.

RSA, which has more than 1,000 employees in Liverpool, is facing mounting pressure, including demands for a boycott of its products. The company said it provided some information, but insisted it does not release "legally privileged" materials.

Andy Burnham, the Labour MP who was deeply involved in the campaign to get to the truth, last night claimed that RSA should be forced to disclose all its information if new inquests are ordered for the victims. "There is a moral obligation on RSA to provide that information, and they need to answer the question of why a ground with no safety certificate was insured. It is essential that this company is forced to reveal everything that it knows at any inquest."

Another Labour MP, Maria Eagle, said the RSA decision was "ill-advised". She added: "It just raises the suspicion that they have something to hide."

Kenny Derbyshire, who chairs the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, said the group would push for full disclosure. "It makes you wonder how many other documents might be out there that have been withheld," he said.

Sun Alliance was among a group of insurers who insured the organisations involved in Hillsborough, including the police, the club and the local council.

In 1996, insurers paid £1.2m in compensation to 14 police officers who claimed they had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing the disaster. RSA was a party to Sheffield Wednesday's decision to contribute £1.5m to compensation payments for the injured and bereaved families.

A spokeswoman for RSA said last night: "We willingly co-operated with the panel, disclosing all relevant materials. It is not our practice to release legally privileged materials. None of the documents would have impacted the outcome of the report or any subsequent investigation."