Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Baroness speaks out on Hillsborough in Lords

BARONESS Smith of Basildon rose on the floor of the House of Lords to speak on the subject of Hillsborough.

Baroness Smith of Basildon (Labour)

“My Lords, I am grateful to and thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement of the Home Secretary. It is very helpful for your Lordships’ House to be updated on the process and on progress being made. I also welcome the fact that the Minister reiterated the apology. We add our tribute to the families, survivors and all those who have had to campaign for the truth and for justice.

Twenty-five years later, as the new inquests begin, the families will have to relive that day, in granular and sometimes very graphic detail for each of the 96. It is necessary to establish the precise details and the truth but it will be traumatic. What action will be taken across government to ensure that counselling support is made available to the families having to attend the inquests?

I listened to the Statement in the other place and I should like to probe further one issue that was raised. The Minister will be aware of the concern of the families and the campaigners for justice that they were subject to undercover surveillance, not exclusively but including their phone calls being intercepted. The Home Secretary was unable to confirm or deny those fears in the other place. The Minister will recall discussions that we had on covert surveillance during Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill and the need for independent oversight following the experience of my noble friend Lady Lawrence. Given the circumstances, will the Government reconsider whether in this case it would be appropriate, because it is relevant to the inquiry, for any and all information relating to surveillance to be made available, including whether any requests were made to the Home Secretary? I am sorry to press the Minister further on this, but I know that he will understand the depth of feeling on this issue.

The Minister will also understand the anger over so many of the police and witness statements being altered. Presumably, that was to hide the truth so that they could not get the facts of what really happened on that day. It is vital that those who gave witness statements at the time feel able to come forward and verify their statements or take action to put the record straight if their statements were changed. What message or reassurance can the Minister give to those witnesses to encourage them to come forward? To paraphrase the words of the Home Secretary, we need these statements because we need to get to the truth in order to ensure justice.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Conservative)

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her comments on this moving and complex issue. I reiterate the sentimentsof my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in her response to a number of questions. She made it quite clear that she recognised that one of the traumas of the situation that the families now face was that they would now have to relive the moments of tragedy that they suffered 25 years ago. In terms of positive things that I can say, she reassured the families that additional consultation space will be provided to ensure that families have regular meetings with their legal teams, and further details will be shared with the family teams in the next few days about how that will work. The Government fully recognise that the appropriate support needs to be provided for all those involved in these inquests. The Department of Health and the Ministry of Justice, along with the coroner and his team, will work together to ensure that this is available.

The noble Baroness rightly focused on the anxiety that was expressed in the House of Commons by a number of Members about surveillance and the suspicion that the police had targeted families. The Home Secretary, I know, will reflect on what has been said in the House of Commons. She is well aware of the sentiment on that issue, as indeed is the IPCC, which is very much aware of that aspect of the case. It is, perhaps, another example of people feeling that tragedy has been compounded post the event. I suspect that the IPCC will be interested in following this up.

I was further asked by the noble Baroness about witnesses coming forward. As I mentioned in the Statement, a number have already done so. I will use the opportunity of being here at the Dispatch Box in this House to say to anyone who is listening to our discussions today who has something to say and wants to contribute to this search for the truth to please come forward. They will be given every help and support in doing so.


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