Hillsborough : Information Work and Helping People – July 21 2015
Jan Parry , CILIP’s President, gave a talk to NetIKX at the British Dental Association on the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989 and her role with the Hillsborough Independent Panel set up in 2009 to oversee the release of documents arising from the tragedy in which 96 people lost their lives at an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest held at Hillsborough, the home ground of Sheffield Wednesday FC. It was a very thought provoking talk which was received in near silence. Jan began by outlining the previous signals of potential disaster that had occurred in the 1980’s when serious ‘crushing’ incidents took place in the “pens” – standing areas in front of the West Stand accessed by gates on Lepping Lanes. She then talked about the day in question where Liverpool fans arrived late after being delayed by roadworks on the M62, traffic flowed along Leppings Lane until 38 minutes before the kick off and there was no managed queues at the turnstiles. The “pens” were full 10 minutes before the match started. There was a lack of signs and stewarding to direct fans to other standing areas. At 3:00pm crowds were still outside the turnstiles and the police Chief Superintendant in charge – who had been appointed to oversee policing on the day a little before the semi-final event itself – gave an order to open the gates. There was a rush of fans towards the “pens” – people at the front were pushed forward, crushing and fatalities took place quickly. At 3:06pm the game was stopped. Then there was a Police Control Box Meeting at 3:15pm. The gymnasium became a temporary mortuary and witness statements started to be taken.
Official investigations began – Lord Justice Taylor (1990); West Midlands Police investigated South Yorks Police (1990); The Inquest (1990); Lord Justice Smith Scrutiny (1998). On the 20th anniversary memorial Andy Burnham (then a government minister) called for the early release of all documents. The Hillsborough Independent Panel was set up. Jan’s role was to undertake research and families disclosure :- oversee document discovery; manage information; consult the families. It began with finding family information – there were 3 established groups of families and all the other families as well.
There were lots of issues. Significantly, there had been a big impact on the mental health of the families involved in the tragedy. Also, regarding documents – that is, getting hold of them, it needed real persuasion to obtain them. Following on from that the documents had to be scanned, digitised, catalogued and redacted on a secure system. This called for researchers with medical knowledge too. What came out of this great exercise ?
In essence, the last valid safety certificate for the football stadium was issued in 1979; the code word for a “major incident” was never used; there was poor communication between ALL agencies; there was minimal medical treatment at the ground; witness statements had been changed; information on “The Sun’s” notorious leading article was obtained. Having achieved so much a disclosure day was put in the calendar – 12th September 2012. Again, the families were put first and informed that 41 victims could have lived.
On Disclosure Day itself PM David Cameron publicly apologised for the tragedy. The report was put on the website. Note that this website is a permanent archive for the documents : http://hillsborough.independent.gov.uk Disclosure had quite an impact – Sir Norman Bettinson (Chief Constable of South York at the time of the tragedy) resigned; the original inquests were quashed. Now there are new inquests and inquiries. Lord Justice Golding started a new Inquest in March 2014. There is an IPCC investigation and a Police investigation into misconduct or criminal behaviour by police officers post-tragedy. Coroners Rules 1984 have been tightened up regarding consistency of classes of documents. Police Force records have been put under legislative control. Crucially, for the families and Information Professionals records discovery and information management delivered the truth.
Jan showed a couple of video clips during her talk these are available from the Report pages online but you need to scroll down to the bottom of the page :
It must have been a very moving talk, thank you for writing about it.