In many ways, today showed this current Parliament and the Prime Minister at their best. David Cameron hadn’t brought Flashman with him to Prime Minister’s Questions today in any case, but for his statement on the Hillsborough tragedy, he adopted a solemn and respectful tone. The whole chamber was still, save for sharp intakes of breath from MPs as horrifying findings from today’s report from the Hillsborough independent panel were read to them. The worst was that many more – possibly 41 – lives could have been saved had the response to the disaster been adequate.
‘Anyone who has lost a child knows the pain never leaves you. But to read a report years afterwards that says – and I quote – “a swifter, more appropriate, better focused and properly equipped response had the potential to save more lives”, can only add to the pain.’
MPs, particularly those who have campaigned on this matter, dabbed at their eyes. They shook their heads in disgust at the revelation that 164 police statements had been significantly amended and 116 had had negative comments about the policing operation removed. Later, some struggled to control the emotion in their voices as they spoke and asked the Prime Minister questions. No-one brought party politics into the chamber during the debate. Nobody even raised their voice. The Prime Minister said:
‘On behalf of the government – and indeed our country – I am profoundly sorry for this double injustice that has been left uncorrected for so long.’
Cameron spent close to an hour reading the report this morning before his statement. He told MPs this afternoon that he would read it in detail afterwards, too. He said its findings were ‘black and white’: the Liverpool fans “were not the cause of the disaster”‘.
There are still many more steps towards justice for the Hillsborough victims: including whether there will be any consequences for the former Tory MP Sir Irvine Patnick, identified in today’s report as the source who, along with the South Yorkshire Police Federation, fed stories smearing the fans to the press. Attorney General Dominic Grieve will review the report now to decide whether to apply for the High Court to quash the original inquest into the disaster and order a new one.
Cameron showed us before with his Bloody Sunday statement that he does these occasions well, far better than his performances at PMQs. His colleagues across the chamber did this occasion well, too, praising the strength of the families of those who died, and pressing the Prime Minister for more information on what the next steps will be. The MPs who parliament should be the proudest of today, though, are those who plugged away to ensure that those 96 football fans are given justice: Andy Burnham, Steve Rotheram, Maria Eagle, and their colleagues.
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