A COALITION OF BEREAVED FAMILIES and victims of public disasters, campaigners and MPs have launched a campaign calling for a Hillsborough Law Now. Groups involved in the campaign include families of those unlawfully killed at Hillsborough, Grenfell United, Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, and people affected by the contaminated blood scandal and nuclear weapons testing.

The Hillsborough Law, or Public Authorities (Accountability) Bill, is the legacy project of the bereaved families and survivors of the Hillsborough disaster.

The new law would:

  • Create a new legal duty of candour on public authorities and officials to tell the truth and proactively cooperate with official investigations and inquiries.
  • Ensure victims of disasters or state-related deaths are entitled to parity of legal representation during inquests and inquiries, meaning they are funded for lawyers, putting them on a level playing field with public bodies.

The Law would also make it a criminal offence for the failure to comply with the duty of candour.

The original Bill was introduced in 2017 by Andy Burnham (then a Labour MP, now Mayor of Greater Manchester) and went to its Second Reading debate, but fell after the 2017 General Election was announced. Campaigners are now calling for the Bill to be reintroduced in Parliament as a matter of urgency.

At an online launch of the campaign, speakers discussed the culture of denial, delay and institutional defensiveness they have witnessed during investigations into the conduct of the state.

Margaret Aspinall, whose son died in the Hillsborough disaster, said there had been no accountability for the 97 people unlawfully killed at Hillsborough. “It’s a disgrace that we have to put this into law because I always thought there was a duty of candour for the police to tell the truth anyway… we’ve got some bad laws in this country, and they need to be fixed.”

Edward Daffarn talked about Grenfell families and survivors ongoing fight for justice, despite the “merry-go round of buck passing” at the Grenfell Tower inquiry.

Pete Weatherby QC, a human rights barrister who represented Hillsborough families and co-authored the original Hillsborough Law, said it was shocking that a law requiring public bodies to tell the truth was needed at all.

Hannah Brady of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice said the planned Covid inquiry would be better because of the long justice campaigns of others. “I remember learning at school about Hillsborough and contaminated blood as though it was history – like they happened without human intervention or culpability, they just were.” she said. “The government will lie first, apologise second, and then lie again with impunity.

“Rather than organisations seeing public scrutiny as an opportunity to learn from past mistakes, reform dangerous procedures, and safeguard lives in the future, they’re more concerned about reputation management, hiding the truth and defending their policies and procedures even where there is clear cut evidence of systemic or individual failings.”                                                   

In 2017 the former Bishop of LIverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones published his landmark review into the experience of Hillsborough Families, ‘The patronising disposition of unaccountable power.’ Many of the recommendations he made are reflected in the Hillsborough Law.

Speaking at the Hillsborough Law Now launch event, Bishop Jones said: “It’s time for Parliament to act. This isn’t just an historic issue, it’s about the here and now. Not to act on the lessons learned is in effect to perpetuate an injustice. Can Parliament not see this? Everybody else can.”

The Government has still not produced a response to the Bishop’s review.

* Watch the online launch of the campaign here.

* Read: ‘The patronising disposition of unaccountable power’ here.

* Follow the Hillsborough Law Now campaign on Twitter here.

* Source: INQUEST