Hillsborough families' lawyer calls for permanent 'commission of truth'
A new "commission of truth" that can hold state institutions to account is required to prevent further cover-ups like Hillsborough, according to a high-profile barrister who is assisting families of the victims of the tragedy.
QC said the success of the Hillsborough Independent Panel in uncovering the truth behind the death of 96 football fans and the ensuing cover-up has provided a template for a permanent body. He added that although the panel's findings were the latest proof that the state could not be trusted to investigate itself, its conclusions also showed how a historical pattern of "institutional denial followed by institutional deceit" could finally be challenged.
"If the authorities from now on knew that there was an independent body, a standing body not always with the same people – they need to be changed regularly so they don't become corrupted – but a body with the facility to move in and demand all the documents and do a proper inquiry would benefit us all," said Mansfield.
The Hillsborough panel, headed by the bishop of , James Jones, gained access to 450,000 documents that had not been disclosed, despite 23 years of strenuous efforts by families and their lawyers.
"An independent commission of truth that has nothing to do with the authorities, the establishment or the police [meant that] there was no whitewash or fudged report; instead, a hard-hitting solid and evidenced report. Is this not some precedent for the future?" said Mansfield.
He hopes that the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, will examine charges of manslaughter by gross negligence and attempts to pervert the course of justice.
"Effectively they were concocting a public story. I think the DPP has to look at everybody's role in this because it was a massive smear that they hoped would stick.
"There was a flawed investigation that was driven by deceit, an attempt to pervert the course of justice."
Mansfield also believes that prosecutors at some stage should be in a position to examine the role of Kelvin MacKenzie, the then editor of the Sun, who ran a story vilifying the fans under the headline "The truth", as well as former Tory MP Sir Irvine Patnick, outed as a source for peddling the police's fabricated version of events.
"It may not be possible to show they were part of a conspiracy but on the other hand the DPP has to look at how this rapidly spread. People who were part of the wider smear campaign should be looked at in relation to perverting the course of justice."
Mansfield's call comes as the 23-year battle for the truth has been won and the quest for justice begins. The Hillsborough Families Support Group (HFSG) return to Anfield on Sunday at 12.30pm for a meeting with Mansfield and former cabinet minister Lord Falconer, who has also been advising relatives of the victims, to discuss the next steps in what they hope will be the final chapter of their campaign.
The number one priority is to overturn the inquest verdicts of accidental death – the responsibility of attorney general Dominic Grieve, who is being urged to open a new investigation – and consider criminal proceedings against those responsible for the tragedy and subsequent cover-up.
Sheila Coleman, spokeswoman for the Hillsborough Justice Campaign (HJC), said the sense of vindication for the fans, combined with that shocking statistic, had led to an outpouring of emotion in the city. Thousands of survivors have contacted the campaign shop on Walton Breck Road, opposite Liverpool's Anfield stadium, since Wednesday, mixing messages of congratulations with queries about what legal action might be open to them now that the extent of the cover-up by the authorities has been exposed.
"Fans were effectively criminalised by South Yorkshire police and now they want to know what to do about it. This is where it gets complex," Coleman adds. "The only logical outcome now is if people are held accountable," says Coleman. "It is not about being vindictive, it's about people involved in the cover-up being subject to the same rules as you or I. A lot of us feel a sense of resignation – that this is the best it's going to get, which is marginally better than it was when people were telling us lies."
Dominic Grieve has already begun to examine the fresh evidence as he determines whether to order a fresh inquest into the 1989 disaster.
South Yorkshire police, roundly condemned for myriad failures and its role in the cover-up, will this week continue examining the documents as it considers referring its officers to the Independent Complaints Commission.
The IPCC itself is scouring the newly released material for evidence of a criminal offence and sources say it will have no hesitation contacting the force if it finds issues that the force has failed to uncover. The next stage would be the involvement of the Crown Prosecution Service, which can begin evaluating charges once it receives a file of evidence from the police watchdog or a force.
After the panel's verdict, there is a new tragic number to go alongside the 96 who died. Margaret Aspinall, who lost her 18-year-old son James at Hillsborough, told the Observer of her shock at hearing how many victims might have been saved. "We didn't realise the scale of it – it was an awful lot to take in."
The report found that 41 victims were still alive after the original inquest cut-off point of 3.15pm, meaning the failings of the emergency services after that time were not scrutinised.
Anne Williams believes her 15-year-old son Kevin was one of the 41 who could have survived. He had been taken to the Sheffield Wednesday gymnasium that was being used as a temporary mortuary and simply said "mum" to Special WPC Debra Martin, who was watching over him and wanted to give him CPR. She was given a tap on the shoulder and told not to bother.
Where families were united in a bid to reach the truth, Aspinall believes it is entirely down to each of the victims' families whether or not they want to discover from Dr Bill Kirkup, a member of the panel, if it was their loved one who was among those who could still be alive today.
"Families have the option of seeing Dr Kirkup, who has done a great job, if they want to," said Aspinall, "as nobody knows who all the 41 are and it is entirely up to each family if they want to find out. It's a private issue, and if families want to discuss it in public after they find out, that's up to them too."
Aspinall and Williams have barely had time to digest the report's 400 pages of findings. The pair, along with Trevor Hicks, who lost both his daughters Sarah, 19, and Victoria, 15, at Hillsborough, have campaigned tirelessly for the truth about their children's deaths to emerge.
The HJC shop has been a hive of activity all week. Supporters from Manchester United, Chelsea and other rivals have been in touch in the wake of Wednesday's report offering their admiration.
Across the city, messages to the 96 continue to fill up the condolence books of condolences at Liverpool's Anglican Ccathedral. "I hope you've found peace," reads one.
The truth is out. But relative peace of mind may only come only when justice has been achieved."There is so much to digest due to the scale of the cover-up," says Aspinall. "We need to sit down, start to analyse it all and decide where we go from there."