Police call for action against ‘disgusting’ Hillsborough chants and apologise to victims’ families

Paramedics and police officers attend the disaster at Hillsborough on April 15, 1989 - Bob Thomas/Getty
Paramedics and police officers attend the disaster at Hillsborough on April 15, 1989 - Bob Thomas/Getty

Police chiefs said action was needed to tackle “disgusting” Hillsborough chants at football matches as they issued a profound apology to the families of the 97 people unlawfully killed in the in the disaster.

The apology on behalf of all 43 forces in England and Wales comes five years after James Jones, a former Bishop of Liverpool, published a report into the pain and suffering endured by the relatives of the victims in the aftermath of the April 1989 tragedy.

Martin Hewitt, the chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), expressed his sorrow over the actions of police on the day of the disaster and the behaviour that followed.

He said that in future the police would embed “humanity and humility” in their response to public tragedies and would never again “defend the indefensible”.

“As police officers our number one job is to keep the public safe and, as a service, we failed to do this at Hillsborough,” he said. “I am deeply sorry for the tragic loss of life, and for the pain and suffering that the families of the 97 victims experienced on that day and in the many years that have followed.”

Mr Hewitt also addressed the ugly spectacle of rival football supporters mocking the Hillsborough disaster in sick chants, saying: “It is disgusting, and action needs to be taken to stop people doing that.”

He said he would raise the matter with the NPCC lead for football and make sure match commanders and stewards were aware of their responsibilities.

A memorial at Anfield, Liverpool’s home ground, to those who died at Hillsborough - Peter Byrne/PA
A memorial at Anfield, Liverpool’s home ground, to those who died at Hillsborough - Peter Byrne/PA

The police apology was not only for the failures on the day of the disaster that led to the deaths but also for the response in the days, months and years that followed.

This included changing statements, losing evidence and perpetuating the lie that ticketless fans had caused the disaster by forcing their way into Liverpool’s FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.

Chief Constable Andy Marsh, the chief executive of the College of Policing, added: “Policing has profoundly failed those bereaved by the Hillsborough disaster over many years, and we are sorry that the service got it so wrong.

“Police failures were the main cause of the tragedy and have continued to blight the lives of family members ever since. When leadership was most needed, the bereaved were often treated insensitively and the response lacked coordination and oversight.”

In 2016 a second inquest, which had heard two years of evidence, concluded that a litany of mistakes by South Yorkshire Police on the day had led directly to the disaster and concluded that the fans had been unlawfully killed.

Bishop Jones’s report, which was commissioned by Theresa May when she was home secretary, looked at the experiences of the bereaved families, who fought tirelessly for justice and to expose the lies spread about their loved ones.

He made a series of recommendations, including a charter for bereaved families and a “duty of candour” for all police officers to avoid cover-ups similar to the one that happened after Hillsborough.

As part of the changes being adopted in policing, all forces in England and Wales have signed up to a Charter for Families Bereaved Through Public Tragedy, which sets out that police organisations must acknowledge when mistakes have been made and must not seek to defend the indefensible.

All chief constables have also signed up to a new code of conduct that requires them to ensure openness and candour within their force.

Chief Constable Marsh said: “Descriptions of how the bereaved were treated by police officers in the immediate aftermath of the disaster make harrowing reading. As the leaders of police organisations operating at a national level and speaking on behalf of the wider service, we are sorry that the service got it so wrong.”

The Government is still to publish a response to Bishop Jones’ report. A government spokesman said: “The Hillsborough disaster was a devastating tragedy, and we recognise the significant impact it continues to have on those affected, their families and communities.

“Our full response to this report will be published in due course, and we will engage with the Hillsborough families prior to publication.”