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The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power – bishop James Jones

December 14, 2017

THE former Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd James Jones, has urged the Government to end “the patronising disposition of unaccountable power” in a follow-up report based on the experiences of the Hillsborough families.

Bishop Jones chaired the independent panel that ultimately led to fresh inquests and a final verdict of unlawful killing for the 96 victims of the football stadium disaster.

The title of the report, The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power, is a phrase used by Bishop Jones to sum up how public bodies, from the police to the coroner’s court and the Government, treated the loved ones of those who died in the 1989 disaster.

It was commissioned by Theresa May, then Home Secretary, in April last year, and is the fruit of hundreds of meetings and submissions from the families of the Hillsborough victims and others involved in their quarter-century campaign for justice.

In his opening foreword, addressed to Mrs May, Bishop Jones writes: “In your manifesto you also set out your plans to confront and overcome a number of ‘burning injustices’. I suggest that the way in which families bereaved through public tragedy are treated by those in authority is in itself a burning injustice which must be addressed.”

The reforms he sketches out would benefit not only the Hillsborough families, but many others who have also experienced a dismissive, uncaring, and defensive attitude when trying to challenge public authorities, Bishop Jones argues.

“There are others who have found that when, in all innocence and with a good conscience, they have asked questions of those in authority on behalf of those they love, the institution has closed ranks, refused to disclose information, used public money to defend its interests, and acted in a way that was both intimidating and oppressive.”

Whatever the Hillsborough families achieve will therefore be of “value to the whole nation”.

The families have not got over their grief, and never will, Bishop Jones writes. But he hopes that his report, and the changes that it recommends, will be another milestone on their “journey without a destination”.

The Government’s recent proposal of an independent public advocate for bereaved families after a disaster is welcomed, but, among its 25 “points of learning”, the report also recommends the creation of a Charter for Families Bereaved through Public Tragedy: commitments to transparency and public accountability for institutions to sign up to.

It is also imperative that the inquest procedure is reformed, to enable families to participate fully and be treated with respect and sensitivity, the report concludes. Public bodies should not be allowed to use taxpayers’ money to outspend the families, and so procure far superior legal representation.

Coroners should permit family members to read out “pen portraits”, and display images of their dead loved ones, and public bodies must undergo a cultural shift so that they approach inquests as a place to learn lessons and disclose information honestly, not simply attempt to minimise their culpability, the report says.

Finally, there should be consideration of how to enshrine a “duty of candour” upon police officers, to ensure that they co-operate fully with investigations.

The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, said: “I am grateful to Bishop James Jones for undertaking this important piece of work. His thoughtful and considered report raises important points. The Government will now carefully study the 25 points of learning, and we will provide a full response in due course.”


Over the last two decades as I have listened to what the families have endured, a phrase has formed in my mind to describe what they have come up against whenever they have sought to challenge those in authority – ‘the patronising disposition of unaccountable power’. Those authorities have been in both the public and the private sectors.

I was taken to the mortuary. This was cruel. This was my brother, who I knew inside out; who I had slept with. It was just through a window… I asked if I could go in and see him. There was a kerfuffle. They said no, he was the property of the coroner. I said “he is not, he is my mother’s property”.’

‘Police officers visited my mum shortly after the disaster… They brought my dad’s belongings in a bin liner and just tipped them on the floor. They said, “What was an old man doing going to a game like that?”’

People talk too loosely about closure. They fail to realise that there can be no closure to love,  nor should there be for someone you have loved and lost. Furthermore, grief is a journey without a destination. The bereaved travel through a landscape of memories and thoughts of what might have been. It is a journey marked by milestones, some you seek, some you stumble on. For the families and survivors of Hillsborough these milestones have included the search for truth, accountability and justice. But even these are not the end of the road. They are still travelling. And this report is another step along the way‘…West Midlands Police phoned up to say that they had Brian’s personal effects and that they would be available to collect from a police station in Liverpool. However, this was the same day as Brian’s funeral, but we were told that if they did not come to collect them on this particular day then they would be disposed of. So we went to the police station and waited all day. Eventually Brian’s possessions were brought out, but the police officer just emptied the contents onto a table. This included the polaroid photograph of Brian which had been taken hours after his death, and which we had never seen before. The police officer was from Merseyside police.’

‘I had to run the gauntlet to go to school while I was doing my GCSEs. The press

besieged my house. It should never have been allowed – it should have been a child

protection issue. The press took photographs of children and something needs to be done to stop this.’

I note the recent Conservative Party manifesto commitment not to proceed with Part 2 of the inquiry. The manifesto states that this is because of ‘the comprehensive nature of the first stage of the Leveson Inquiry and… the lengthy investigations by the police and Crown Prosecution Service into alleged wrongdoing’. Nevertheless, I register here the fact that families who raised the Leveson Inquiry with me expressed strong support for Part 2 proceeding.

‘[At the first inquest] they actually read out the names of everybody and the amount of alcohol. They read our 14 year old son’s name out and then said “nil”. I was horrified. They had his height and weight wrong… They hadn’t taken much care. But surely you would take care to take measurements etcetera? It was very hurtful.’

‘We have always been led to believe that Paul was being helped in the pen by [a witness] which gave me and my family great comfort knowing there was somebody with my son and he wasn’t alone and scared.’ [At the recent inquests this was shown to be not the case.] ‘That destroyed me.’

‘Because the Inquests were being held in Warrington, I lived out of a hotel for 25 months which caused greater anxiety and stress to me as I was away from home five days per  week. I would like people to start considering us families who don’t live in Liverpool, when they choose locations and take into consideration the miles we have to travel to attend meetings and court. To put police witnesses in the same hotel as us bereaved families  who were staying at the Penta hotel during the inquests was absolutely disgraceful!’

‘Have you got more people coming or are they all here? It’s not like Liverpool fans to turn up at the last minute.’ Lord Justice Stuart-Smith: Speaking at his first meeting with bereaved families in  October 1997

‘I had a telephone call from the then South Yorkshire Chief Constable Med Hughes in

the stages before the HIP was set up in 2009. During the call he said “I am under no

obligation to disclose anything and the papers belong to me. If I wanted to I could take them into the yard and have a bonfire with them”. I replied if he did we would turn him into a guy and chuck him on the top of the fire.’

‘In 1997 I gave up my job, moved away from Bromsgrove in Worcestershire and away from my parents to live in Liverpool to be closer to the Hillsborough Campaign as we never knew what was going on. If it wasn’t on the national news or in the national papers, we never knew what was going on. It was like living on a different planet.’

‘You cannot have 96 unlawfully killed and no one held accountable for it.’

‘I went to Operation Resolve to view video material from the pens. [The member of staff  from Operation Resolve] said “Well, what do you see?” You are already on edge. I was looking for Pete. And I said, “I am looking”. He said “There he is, on the stretcher. Look – going, going, gone. They have dropped him”. He said, “I will show you again”, and they showed it again and he said exactly the same thing again. There were two or three other officers and they took us to one side and asked us if we wanted to make a complaint about his conduct. A complete lack of sympathy. I was devastated.’

…within my industry, as far as I am aware, no one trains journalists in specific techniques for interviewing trauma victims. This would appear to be an oversight. Both victims and journalists alike may be better served if journalists have training of this nature…’

You can download it from here.




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