Prime Minister David Cameron addressed the House of Commons following the release of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report. Watch his speech now or read his entire speech below.
Today the Bishop of Liverpool, The Right Reverend James Jones, is publishing the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel. The disaster at the Hillsborough football stadium, on April 15, 1989 was one of the greatest peacetime tragedies of the last century. 96 people died as a result of a crush in the Leppings Lane terrace at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. There was a public inquiry at the time by Lord Justice Taylor which found, and I quote, 'that the main cause of the disaster was a failure of police control'. The inquiry did not have access to all the documents that have since become available. It did not properly examine the response of the emergency services. It was followed by a deeply controversial inquest and by a media version of events that sought to blame the fans. As a result, the families have not heard the truth and they have not found justice. That is why the previous government and in particular, the Right Honourable Member for Leigh, have set up this panel. And it is why this government insisted that no stone should be left unturned and that all papers should be made available to the Bishop of Liverpool and his team.
Mr Speaker, in total, over 450,000 pages of evidence have been reviewed. It was right that the families should see this report first. I have only had a very limited amount of time to study the evidence so far but it is already very clear that many of the report's findings are deeply distressing. There are three areas in particular - they are the failure of the authorities to help protect people, the attempt to blame the fans and the doubt cast on the original coroner's inquest. I want to take each point in turn.
There is new evidence about how the authorities failed. There is a trail of new documents which show the extent to which the safety of the crowd at Hillsborough was, and I quote, 'compromised at every level'. The ground failed to meet minimum standards and the deficiencies was well known. The turnstiles were inaccurate, the ground capacity had been significantly over-calculated, the crash barriers failed to meet safety standards and there had been a crush at the same match the year before. And today's report shows very clearly that lessons had not been learned. The report backs up the key findings of the Taylor Report but it goes further by revealing for the first time the shortcomings of the ambulance and the emergency services' response. The major incident plan was not fully implemented, the rescue attempts were held back by failure of leadership and coordination. And significantly, new documents today show there was a delay from the emergency services when people were being crushed and being killed.
Second, the families have longed believed that some of the authorities attempted to create a completely unjust account of events that sought to blame the fans for what happened. And Mr Speaker, the families were right. The evidence in today's report includes briefings to the media and attempts by the police to change the record of events. On the media, several newspapers reported false allegations that fans were drunken and violent and stole from the dead. The Sun's report sensationalised these allegations under the banner, 'The Truth'. This was clearly wrong and caused huge offence, distress and hurt. News International has cooperated with the panel and for the first time, today's report reveals that the source for these despicable untruths was a Sheffield news agency reporting conversations with South Yorkshire Police and Irvine Patnick, the then MP for Sheffield Hallam. The report finds that this was part of police efforts, and I quote, 'to develop and publicise a version of events that focused on allegations of drunkenness, ticketlessness and violence'. In terms of changing the record of events, we already know reports were significantly altered. The full extent was not drawn to Lord Justice Taylor's attention. Today's report finds that 164 statements were significantly amended and 116 (statements) explicitly removed negative comments about the policing operation including its lack of leadership. The report also makes important findings about particular actions taken by the police and the coroner while investigating the deaths. There is new evidence which shows that police officers carried out police national computer checks on those who had died in an attempt, and I quote directly from the report, 'to impune the reputations of the deceased'. The coroner took blood-alcohol levels from all the deceased including children, and the panel finds no rationale whatsoever for what it regards as an 'exceptional' decision. The report states clearly that the attempt of the inquest to draw a link between blood-alcohol level and late arrival was fundamentally flawed and that alcohol consumption was unremarkable and not exceptional for a social or leisure occasion.
Mr Speaker, over all these years, questions have been raised about the role of government, including whether it did enough to uncover the truth. It is certainly true that some of the language in the government papers published today was insensitive but having been through every document, and every government document including cabinet minutes will be published, the panel found no evidence of any government trying to conceal the truth. At the time of the Taylor Report, the then Prime Minister was briefed by her private secretary that the defensive, and I quote, 'close to deceitful behaviour of senior Yorkshire police officers,' was, and I quote, 'depressingly familiar'. And it's clear that the then government thought it right that the Chief Constable of the South Yorkshire Police should resign. But as the Right Honourable Member for Leigh has rightly highlighted on a number of occasions, government then and government since have simply not done enough to challenge publicly the unjust and untrue narrative that sought to blame the fans.
Third and perhaps most significantly of all, the Bishop of Liverpool's report presents new evidence which casts new doubt over the adequacy of the original inquest. The coroner, on the evidence of the pathologist, believed that victims suffered traumatic asphyxia leading to unconsciousness within seconds and death within a few minutes. As a result he asserted that beyond 3.15pm there were no actions that could have changed the fate of the victims and he limited the scope of the inquest accordingly. But by analysing post mortem reports, the panel found that 28 people did not have obstruction of blood circulation and 31 did have evidence of heart and lungs continuing to function after the crush. This means that individuals in those groups could have had potentially reversible asphyxia beyond 3.15pm and that is in contrast to the in findings of the coroner and the subsequent judicial review. And the panel states clearly that is highly likely what happened to these individuals after 3.15pm was significant in determining whether they died.
Mr Speaker, the conclusions of this report will be very harrowing for the families affected. Anyone who has lost a child knows that the pain never leaves you, but to read a report years afterwards that says, and I quote, ' a swifter, more appropriate, better focused and more properly equipped response had the potential to save more lives' can only add to that pain. It is for the Attorney General to decide whether to apply to the High Court to quash the original inquest and seek a new one. In this capacity he acts independently of government and he will need to examine the evidence himself. It is clear to me that the new evidence in today's report raises vital evidence which must be examined and the Attorney General has assured me he will examine this new evidence immediately and reach a conclusion as fast as possible. But ultimately it is for the High Court to decide. It is also right that the House should have the opportunity to debate the issues raised in this report fully. And my Right Honourable friend the Home Secretary will be taking forward a debate in government time and this will happen relatively quickly when the House returns in October.
Mr Speaker, I want to be very clear about the view the government takes about these findings and why after 23 years this matters so much, not just for the families, but to Liverpool and our country as a whole. Mr Speaker, what happened that day and since was wrong. It was wrong for the responsible authorities, who knew Hillsborough did not meet minimum safety standards and yet still allowed the match to go ahead. It was wrong that the families have had to wait for so long and fight so hard just to get to the truth. It was quite profoundly wrong that the police changed the records of what happened and tried to blame the fans. We ask the police to do difficult and often very dangerous things on our behalf and South Yorkshire Police is a very different organisation today from what it was then. But we do the many, many honourable police men and women a great disservice if we try to defend the indefensible. It was also wrong that neither Lord Justice Taylor, nor the coroner, looked properly at the response of the other emergency services. Again, these are dedicated people, who do extraordinary things to serve the public but the evidence from today's report will make some very difficult reading.
Mr Speaker, with the weight of the new evidence in the report, it is right for me today, as Prime Minister, to make a proper apology to the families of the 96 for all they have suffered over the past 23 years. Indeed the new evidence that we are presented with today, makes clear in my view that these families have suffered a double injustice. The injustice of the appalling events; the failure of the state to protected their loved ones and the indefensible wait to get to the truth and then the injustice of the denigration of the deceased, that they were somehow at fault for their own death. So, on the behalf of our government, and indeed our country, I am profoundly sorry that this double injustice has been left uncorrected for so long.
Mr Speaker, because of what I have described as the second injustice; the false version of events, not enough people in this country understand what the people of Merseyside have been through. The appalling death toll of so many loved ones lost was compounded by an attempt to blame the victims. A narrative about hooliganism that day was created which led many in the country to accept that somehow it was a grey area. Today's report is black and white: the Liverpool fans were not the cause of the disaster. The panel has quite simply found no evidence in support of allegations of exceptional levels of drunkenness, ticketlessness or violence amongst Liverpool fans. (It found) no evidence that fans had conspired to arrive late to the stadium and no evidence that they stole from the dead and the dying. Mr Speaker, I'm sure the whole House would like to thank the Bishop of Liverpool and his panel for all the work they have done and I'm sure that all sides will join me in paying tribute to the incredible strength and dignity of the Hillsborough families and the community which has backed them in their fight for justice. While nothing can ever bring back the people who were lost, with all the documents revealed and nothing held back, the families at last have access to the truth and I commend this statement to the House.