Could Hillsborough’s legacy be a law to stop public officials lying?

Hillsborough - Sheffield's most loved place.
Hillsborough - Sheffield's most loved place.
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FAMILIES of Hillsborough victims have called on Prime Minister Theresa May to back a new anti-corruption law compelling public officials to tell the truth and help expose cover-ups.

The “Hillsborough Law” would make it a criminal offence for anyone to fail in their “duty of candour” to tell the truth and would impose a duty to assist investigations of public officials and bodies.

The demand comes after the conclusion of the Hillsborough Inquests in April this year, where the jury found that 96 Liverpool fans who died at the FA Cup semi final in 1989 were unlawfully killed.

Hillsborough: All you need to know about the verdicts

The victims’ families fought for 27 years to get justice for their loved ones, who died in the tragedy at Sheffield Wednesday’s football stadium on April 15 1989.

But the families and their lawyers have criticised the police, ambulance service and other bodies involved in the inquests, claiming a “culture of denial” means people protect their jobs and organisations protect themselves rather than act in the public interest and tell the truth when disaster strikes.

Hillsborough families and their lawyers say despite public apologies, they had to sit through two years of the inquests with South Yorkshire Police and South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service still trying to protect themselves, deflect blame and minimise their responsibilities for the disaster.

Lawyers for the families of the 96 have now drafted the proposed Hillsborough Law to prevent a recurrence and hope the Government will back a new bill to make it law.

Pete Weatherby QC, representing 22 of the families, said the families were only asking for public bodies to act in the public interest - not in their own.

He said: “It all seems obvious, but the best evidence on why it’s necessary to put it into law is the recent Hillsborough Inquests.”

Mr Weatherby said such a law would mean civil servants would be compelled to tell the truth or face a possible prosecution, rather than protect their job, their bosses or the reputation of the body they work for.

Elkan Abrahamson, a solicitor backing the Hillsborough families, said large organisations, especially publicly funded ones, “simply don’t feel the need to be truthful”.

He added: “These are people whose wages we pay. How can that possibly be right?”

At a press conference in Liverpool families of the 96 said they had met Mrs May, then the Home Secretary, after the inquests ended.

Dorothy Griffiths, who lost her brother Vincent Fitzsimmons in the disaster, said: “She came to speak to us all. Hopefully now as Prime Minister she will look at this proposal in a favourable light and realise the need to put it in place as soon as possible.”

Other families said the 27-year legal battle to get justice had caused grieving loved ones damage.

Lynsey Barker, who lost her father Eric Hankin, said: “This has had a massive effect on me and my family. I never want to see another family go through what we went through. All we are asking for is that the law makes you tell the truth.”

The proposed law would also cover private bodies carrying out public functions. The draft proposals are currently being reviewed before going back to Government lawyers.

Lawyers for the families hope with cross-party support the Government will adopt the proposals and pass the law in Parliament as early as next year.