Campaigners are calling for the police and public officials to be compelled to tell the truth by law.
Their demands for reform have been reignited by ITV drama Anne, which tells the story of a mother’s fight for justice after her son Kevin was killed in the Hillsborough disaster.
The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, was joined by families of the victims to call for a fairer justice system. But they say it isn’t just Hillsborough relatives and survivors who would benefit from legislative change.
Margaret Aspinall’s son James was 18 when he was killed at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, one of 97 people who died from the injuries they sustained that day.
‘Hillsborough cover-up shows system is corrupt’
“I think this Hillsborough Law is so important,” she said. “It won’t be any good now to the families, obviously – our journey is more or less done. But it’s going to be important for other people. The system is so unjust and unfair, I feel like we’re back in the dark ages.”
Mrs Aspinall says the police cover-up after Hillsborough shows the system is corrupt, and that’s why a new law is needed.
Mr Burnham is leading calls for a statutory duty of candour on all police officers, which would mean they are legally required to tell the truth during all forms of public inquiry.
“We’ve been living in a country where bereaved families often come up against public bodies that close ranks that create false narratives,” he said. “It’s just not a level playing field, and so you see this pattern repeat itself and repeat itself.”
His calls for reform are based on a report in 2017 reflecting on the Hillsborough families’ experiences. The recommendations include creating a charter for relatives bereaved through public tragedy, providing publicly-funded legal representation for families at inquests, and appointing a public advocate to act for them.
Former Tory and Labour PMs back campaign
Mr Burnham hopes the government will listen: “I’m saying directly to the prime minister: you talk about levelling up, so, prime minister, level up the scales of justice in favour of all the bereaved families.”
The campaign has attracted cross-party backers – former prime ministers Theresa May and Gordon Brown spoke out in support of the Hillsborough Law. So too did the families of victims of other tragedies, including the Manchester Arena bombing and the Grenfell Tower fire. Both events have triggered long-running public inquiries.
Lisa Rutherford’s daughter Chloe was killed in the terror attack at Manchester Arena in May 2017.
“We need to prevent bereaved families in the future from facing the same long, difficult, heart-breaking search for truth,” she said. “Please hold your hands up and tell the truth. We would respect you so much if you could do that, and then we can ensure other families don’t have to live this hell we are living.”
Adel Chaoui lost four relatives in the Grenfell fire in June 2017. He wants more transparency from the inquiry.
“What it shows is that the fine-tuning structure of justice in the UK is simply not balanced fairly between everyday victims and what are effectively much richer suspects, or even perpetrators, responsible for the deaths of their loved ones,” he said.
The families say an improved justice system would allow them to hold public bodies to account and enable those bodies to learn from these awful events.
Mrs Aspinall says this new law would be the legacy her son deserves.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Hillsborough disaster was a devastating tragedy, and the families of the 97 people who died have shown tremendous courage.
“Bishop James Jones identified the Hillsborough Law as one of the twenty-five points of learning in his 2017 report on the experiences of the Hillsborough families which span a number of departments and organisations.
“The Home Office has been working closely with its partners in the relevant government departments and organisations to carefully consider the points of learning made by Bishop James Jones.
“Our focus now is engaging with the Hillsborough families and publishing the government’s overarching response to the Bishop’s report in due course.”