Andy Burnham today launches a cross-party campaign to tackle many of the in-built legal injustices which prompted 27 years of additional suffering for the Hillsborough families.
Burnham, the shadow Home Secretary, has unveiled a raft of proposed reforms to inquests, the handling of police misconduct and the relationship between police forces and the media.
The launch comes as Margaret Aspinall, a longstanding Hillsborough campaigner who lost her son in the tragedy, addresses Parliament, and follows the verdict of a second inquest last month which ruled that 96 fans had been unlawfully killed.
The bereaved families faced additional anguish for decades because, in the aftermath of the disaster, police gave unofficial briefings to journalists accusing the fans of being drunk and arriving at the ground without tickets. The claims were entirely false and the second set of inquests cleared the victims of any bad behaviour.
Today Burnham says “the odds are often stacked against ordinary families in their quest for truth about the loss of loved ones” as he seeks support for a series of changes to the criminal justice system, including:
- Introducing a legal right for bereaved families to receive equal funding to the police in order to arrange for legal representation at inquests where officers are involved.
- Placing no time limit on the period that a retired officer can be investigated for misconduct. This power would apply retrospectively.
- Forcing the Government to proceed with an inquiry into relations between police and press, dubbed Leveson II.
- In the meantime, a ban on unattributable police briefings to the media regarding incidents under investigation.
- Securing the independence of the Independent Police Complaints Commission by banning the hiring of former police staff for its executive; and giving the IPCC powers to direct findings and sanctions following investigations.
- Codifying the common law offence of misconduct in public office and make it a criminal offence.
“The 27-year struggle of the Hillsborough families exposes just how the odds are often stacked against ordinary families in their quest for truth about the loss of loved ones, with too much power is in the hands of the authorities,” Burnham says today.
“Hillsborough must mark a moment of real change – when Parliament resolves to rebalance the police and criminal justice system and put more power in the hands of ordinary people to get justice. Never again should any bereaved families have to fight like the Hillsborough families have had to fight.
“I am seeking to build on the cross-party spirit that led to the Hillsborough verdict to make major changes to how our policing and criminal justice system works.
“We must call time on the uneven playing field at inquests where public bodies spend public money like water on hiring the best lawyers when ordinary families have to scratch around for whatever they can get. Public money should be spent on helping us get to the truth, not on protecting the public sector.
“There should be an end to the scandal where police officers can retire on full pensions and, by so doing, evade misconduct proceedings. There should be no time limit on police officers who have done wrong being held to account – and this change should be applied retrospectively. Those found to have acted wrongly should face reductions in their pensions and be forced to repay any compensation payments they may have received.”
Burnham delivered a moving Commons tribute to the Hillsborough dead and their families following the conclusion of the second set of inquests last month.