By Phil Scraton
“And I ensured justice for the families of Hillsborough”.
This was the remarkable claim made by Prime Minister Theresa May in the House of Commons today. It is clear that we now live in a political climate where ‘truth’ no longer matters; where reality can be reconstructed to suit the selfish interests of those whose disingenuous claims become accepted facts simply because they are made.
I have researched and published on the injustices of Hillsborough for 27 years: two major reports; four editions of Hillsborough: The Truth – first published in 1999; numerous academic articles and television/ film documentaries. I wrote the initial proposal for the Hillsborough Independent Panel and headed its research. The Panel was appointed by a Labour Government following Andy Burnham’s impassioned approach to Gordon Brown. He was supported by Merseyside MPs, not least Steve Rotheram.
The research was located in my university and I was principal author of the Panel’s 398 page, twelve chapter, report. On 12 September 2012 I delivered it to families and survivors in two extensive presentations, neither of which were filmed – nor were they recorded. David Cameron was then Prime Minister. It fell to him to make the now well documented double apology to families and survivors in the House of Commons. The families, their loved ones and the survivors were vindicated.
After the report’s publication, it was the High Court that quashed the accidental death inquest verdicts, ordering new inquests. As Home Secretary at the time, Theresa May had no option but to initiate a new criminal investigation and a full review by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Four years on, these most expensive investigations in legal history, employing hundreds of full-time officers, have still to conclude.
Following a year of preliminary hearings, the longest-ever inquests ran for two full years, concluding in late April 2016. Their inception, process and outcome had nothing to do with Theresa May. The jury’s verdict was unequivocal. The 96 had been unlawfully killed, the authorities involved particularly the South Yorkshire Police were condemned in 25 severe criticisms. The fans, so long vilified in the media and by politicians, were vindicated.
Establishing the truth of Hillsborough, both in the Panel’s work and via the inquests, was the result of years of painstaking research and investigation. It was conducted often against the odds, in a climate hostile to the truth, bringing threats and disdain to those of us involved. No people know that better than the bereaved families, the survivors and all who have worked throughout to reverse the injustices of Hillsborough.
To witness a Prime Minister, her ego possibly inflated by extraordinary recent events in the United States, claiming that she ensured justice for families is, at best, delusional. At worst it is a culpable untruth, perhaps uttered in the heat of the moment, to gain traction at a time when her integrity already is under scrutiny.
1 February 2017
Phil Scraton is Professor Emeritus in the School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast