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Will Hillsborough disaster files be made public?

Category: England

Published: 17th Oct 2011 04:00:23

For the first time since the Hillsborough stadium disaster 22 years ago, MPs will debate whether or not to release all documents relating to the tragedy.

On 15 April 1989, 95 Liverpool supporters were killed in a crush of fans at Sheffield Wednesday's ground, where the club was playing an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.

The 96th victim was in a coma for three years and died in 1992.

If the House of Commons votes in favour, Cabinet documents would reveal discussions held by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the days that followed.

The debate was triggered when more than 139,000 people signed a government e-petition calling for the full, uncensored release of 40,000 documents relating to the disaster and its aftermath.

Signatures increased significantly after it was tweeted by Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish, who said "it is very important that we support this".

Steve Rotheram, Labour MP for Liverpool Walton, will put forward the motion on Monday and, unless home secretary Theresa May agrees to the motion, there will then be a Commons vote.

Mr Rotheram said a vote in favour would be "a major a step towards finally achieving justice for the 96".

In 2009, the then Labour government set up the Hillsborough Independent Panel to "oversee the maximum possible public disclosure of governmental and other agency documentation relating to the Hillsborough tragedy and its aftermath".

However, the Cabinet Office has maintained no material should be disclosed before the panel finishes its work, planned for next year.

But, in response to a BBC Freedom of Information request in April 2009, Information Commissioner Christopher Graham ruled a full release of the papers was in the public interest.

The Commissioner also strongly criticised the Cabinet Office for its "unjustified and excessive" delays in handling the BBC's request.

The government then appealed insisting the documents should be released to the panel first.

If its appeal is successful, the papers will not be released until spring 2012.

Mrs Thatcher was briefed about the disaster in the days that followed.

The records to be disclosed include reports presented to her, correspondence between her office and that of the Home Secretary Douglas Hurd, and Cabinet minutes.

Some campaigners for the victims' families have suggested Mrs Thatcher sought to avoid the police being criticised.

An inquiry into the disaster, led by Lord Justice Taylor, rejected the police case that fans were to blame and instead said it was caused by a police failure to control the crowd.

It was later estimated that more than 3,000 supporters were admitted to the central pens - almost double the "safe" capacity.

The Hillsborough Family Support Group has always accused the police of conducting a cover-up, while the force has argued it was entitled to edit the statements, removing comment and hearsay.

Prime Minister David Cameron has stated he is committed to releasing the 1989 Cabinet minutes.

A spokesman said: "The Government has confirmed its commitment to full transparency about the Hillsborough disaster through full public disclosure. All papers had previously been shared with the Hillsborough Independent Panel.

"The Government is happy for all the papers, including Cabinet papers, to be released as soon as the Panel so decides, in consultation with the families.

"We expect them to be shared with the Hillsborough families first and then to the wider public."

But petitioners are demanding that the information given out is not pre-filtered before being given to the families.

That view was recently endorsed by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who told the Commons "it is very important we get to see all the relevant papers over the tragedy in which 96 Liverpool football supporters died".

The debate is due to begin at 1900 BST on Monday.

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BBC News, 2011. Will Hillsborough disaster files be made public? [Online] (Updated 17th Oct 2011)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/194402/Will-Hillsborough-disaster-files-be-made-public [Accessed 23rd Aug 2014]

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