Police promise ‘cultural change’ almost 34 years on from Hillsborough disaster

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Police chiefs have promised a “cultural change” as they apologised to families of Hillsborough victims almost 34 years on from the disaster.

The pledge comes as a national police response to a report by the Rt Revd James Jones, former bishop of Liverpool, into the experiences of the Hillsborough families is published.

But campaigners say they are “extremely disappointed” and have called on the Government to bring in legislation.

The 2017 paper, The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power, made 25 recommendations – with 11 of them directly concerning policing.

Ninety-seven football fans died as a result of a crush at a match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on April 15 1989.

They were unlawfully killed amid a number of police errors, an inquest jury ruled in 2016.

A spokeswoman for the Hillsborough Law Now campaign said: “The apology, while welcome, makes no reference to a change in legislation which would put an immediate stop to families battling against the state.

“We have long been campaigning for a Public Authority (Accountability) Bill, often referred to as the Hillsborough Law, which would create a legal duty of candour on public authorities and officials to tell the truth and proactively cooperate with official investigations and inquiries.”

She called on the Government to respond and “do the right thing without delay”.

Tuesday’s response from the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and College of Policing said the code of ethics used by forces will be reviewed, with a duty of candour becoming a key theme.

Mr Marsh, who was born in Liverpool, said: “What we’re talking about is cultural change and cultural change takes a long time, but my goodness we have started.”

He said new recruits will study the report into the experiences of the Hillsborough families.

All forces in England and Wales have signed up to a Charter for Families Bereaved Through Public Tragedy, which says police organisations must acknowledge any mistakes.

In his report, Mr Jones urged the Government to give full consideration to a Hillsborough Law, including a duty of candour for police officers.

NPCC chairman Martin Hewitt said legislation is a matter for Parliament.

Gosport War Memorial Hospital Inquests
Former Liverpool bishop James Jones (PA)

Mr Marsh added: “We have been robust as possible and it’s for Parliament to make any legislation that they feel is necessary.”

Mr Hewitt said the response to Mr Jones’s report was not published earlier due to legal processes.

He said: “It was really important to us to ensure that the report was a full response to all the points raised by the bishop and a really clear response to the families around what we have done, but I absolutely accept that every week or month that has gone by has added to the pain of the families and not being able the whole process to conclusion.”

The police response also says there will be 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, and new guidance for family liaison officers.

Guidance on disaster victim identification has been revised, with officers told the terms “belonging to” or “property of” the coroner should not be used, the report said.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast on Tuesday, Mr Jones said it is “intolerable” for the victims’ families that there has been no full Government response to his report.

He said: “This year it will be 34 years since the tragedy, and for them to wait for so long for a response to these 25 points of learning is intolerable and adds to their pain and, I think, in some instances even affects their own grieving.”

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said it is “deeply wrong” that Hillsborough families are still waiting for justice.

She said: “Today’s response from the police rightly includes a fulsome apology and recognition of the need for a new duty of candour.

“But shamefully there is still no response from Government and still no commitment from ministers to change the law. It is unacceptable that the Home Secretary could not even provide a timetable when questioned today.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said part of the delay was to avoid the risk of prejudicing legal cases.

He said: “The Government has been working closely with the relevant departments and organisations to carefully consider and address the points directed at Government.”

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