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The Grenfell Tower victims shouldn't have to wait as long as the Hillsborough families have for justice

Why have the families had to wait more than 28 years for this stage to be reached? 

Pete Weatherby Qc
Wednesday 28 June 2017 18:16 BST
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The victims of the Hillsborough disaster
The victims of the Hillsborough disaster

Today’s announcement of prosecution decisions in the Hillsborough case marks another milestone in the long road to justice for a most dignified and tenacious group of victims who have been so outrageously treated for nearly three decades. Apart from the obvious tragedy of the deaths of 96 men, women and children played out before TV cameras, the fact that it was followed by flawed investigative and judicial processes has and should shock us all.

The big break in the Hillsborough narrative came in 2010 when the campaigns of the families forced the Government to sit up and listen and set up the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which reported in 2012. The truth about what occurred began to emerge and this was to be followed by the new inquests, which, after the longest jury proceedings in history, reversed the original inquest verdicts in 2016. The story then moved on to accountability. I will say no more about that at the moment because of course the justice system must now take its course and no one can or should comment on the individual cases. Our system must proceed with the utmost fairness and reach proper conclusions whatever those might be.

But there are really important matters which must remain centre stage. Why have the families had to wait more than 28 years for this stage to be reached? It is often said that justice delayed is justice denied. We shall see, but reaching the truth about disasters, and considering accountability and learning lessons should never be allowed to wait again. From Hillsborough to Grenfell Tower may be a geographical couple of hundred miles but the parallels are much closer. What was needed at Hillsborough and what is now needed at Grenfell is a swift and transparent and wide inquiry, with the full involvement of the bereaved and the survivors, to urgently determine what needs to be done to prevent it happening again, how it was allowed to happen and who is responsible. In Hillsborough a swift, transparent inquiry with the families’ effective involvement did not happen for 25 years. How can this be assured in Grenfell?

On the same day as the CPS announced who they would charge, the former Bishop of Liverpool who has been so central to unpicking the Hillsborough story, announced that he had delivered his long-awaited legacy report to Theresa May and the Home Secretary. In fact the Bishop indicated he had delivered it a week or two ago. This was the report requested by Theresa May the day after the inquest conclusions. Straight away the families have called for its urgent publication. They want to know what his recommendations are. There is absolutely no good reason for it to be secret.

The families hope and anticipate that the Bishop will strongly endorse their draft Hillsborough Law – the Public Authorities (Accountability) Bill 2017 – which has already been before the House of Commons on an unopposed first reading. Hillsborough Law codifies a duty of candour requiring public authorities and public officials and public-facing private entities to come clean about their role in disasters. It requires them to make full disclosure, to admit failures and to cooperate fully with police and other investigations, inquiries and inquests. It provides a “toolbox” for victims to enforce these duties through the courts and backstop criminal offences where there is willful failure to discharge the duty. It supports ordinary public officials standing up to senior officers and managers, in refusing to go along with obfuscation and cover-ups. And importantly it provides a level playing field for victims and families to obtain legal advice and representation of the same standing as the public authorities involved.

Ex-police chief faces charge over Hillsborough disaster

The families insisted that Hillsborough Law should go forward with cross-party support if at all possible – in fact, it was formally sponsored by senior Tory MPs as well as Labour MPs, the leaders of the LibDems and Greens and the SNP and SDLP too.

With the horrible reminder of Grenfell fresh in their minds, Theresa May and Amber Rudd should immediately publish the Bishop’s report and they should urgently enact Hillsborough Law before another group of victims suffer the same issues and indignities as did the Hillsborough families.

Pete Weatherby QC is a barrister at Garden Court North Chambers, Manchester. He leads the team representing 22 of the bereaved Hillsborough families

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