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Police chiefs issue apology over Hillsborough failures

Featured image credit: Rodhullandemu/CC BY-SA 4.0/Edited for size

Leaders from the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council have today (Tuesday) apologised for “profoundly failing” families bereaved by the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, which claimed the lives of 97 Liverpool fans.

National police leaders have promised “widespread changes” to policing after releasing their response to the Hillsborough Families Report. The report by the Rt Revd James Jones recommended action from public bodies and government to ensure the pain and suffering of the Hillsborough families could not be repeated. 

The national police response was published in November 2017 and can now be made public after the culmination of legal proceedings and other matters. The response includes a commitment to avoid the failures made during and after the disaster, which occurred at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

All police forces in England and Wales have signed up to a Charter for Families Bereaved Through Public Tragedy, which sets out that police organisations must acknowledge when mistakes have been made and must not seek to “defend the indefensible”.

The College of Policing and NPCC have agreed on the content of a new Code of Practice on police information and records management to prevent the problems faced after the Hillsborough disaster when records were lost or destroyed. The College of Policing’s code of ethics will also be revised this year, while new national guidance for family liaison officers has also been issued.

Martin Hewitt, chair of the NPCC said: “As police officers, we come to work to keep the public safe and as a service, we failed to do this at Hillsborough. I am deeply sorry for the tragic loss of life, and for the pain and suffering that the families of the 97 victims experienced on that day and in the many years that have followed.

“Collectively, the changes made since the Hillsborough disaster and in response to Rt Reverend James Jones’s report aim to ensure the terrible police failures made on the day and in the aftermath can never happen again.

“Police chiefs today are committed to responding to major incidents with openness and with compassion for the families involved. All police forces in England and Wales are signed up to the Charter for Families Bereaved through Public Tragedy. In signing this, they committed to putting the interests of victims and families above any other interest and acting with candour at every turn.”

Chief Constable Andy Marsh, the chief executive of the College of Policing, added: “Policing has profoundly failed those bereaved by the Hillsborough disaster over many years and we are sorry that the service got it so wrong. Police failures were the main cause of the tragedy and have continued to blight the lives of family members ever since. 

“When leadership was most needed, the bereaved were often treated insensitively and the response lacked coordination and oversight. Today’s report explains long-term, and more recent, developments in how the police responds to mass fatality incidents. Hillsborough is a touchstone for long-lasting change in policing and there is a commitment from the leadership in policing to create a modern, dynamic police service which acts without fear or favour, and with integrity and empathy.

“The changes include all police forces in England and Wales signing up to a charter agreeing to acknowledge when mistakes have been made and not seek to defend the indefensible; a strengthened ethical policy which makes candour a key theme; and new guidance for specialist officers supporting families during a tragedy which learnt lessons from the Hillsborough Families Report, the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the 2017 terrorist attacks.

“I would like to sincerely thank the former Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd James Jones, for his dedication and insight which continues to support the police service in undergoing essential reform.”

Families and campaigners have called for a ‘Hillsborough Law’ to support victims of future disasters. The government has not yet issued a response to these calls.

A government spokesperson told the Guardian: “The Hillsborough disaster was a devastating tragedy and we recognise the significant impact it continues to have on those affected, their families and communities. Our full response to this report will be published in due course and we will engage with the Hillsborough families prior to publication.”