Tuesday 26th April 2016 was an historic day for justice.  As we watched the Hillsborough families join arms outside the court after a 27 year battle for the truth to be acknowledged, we witnessed a rare event.  Justice delivered to the little guy, the one with no voice, the public.

Now the untangling of the web of deceit begins and our politicians put on their faces of mock horror at the level of corruption shown by South Yorkshire Police.  Mock horror that those in authority could conspire, collude, and distort the course of justice through 27 years of inquests and investigations.  As the web unfolds the best thing to do is point the finger at someone else.  The narrative will be that in this instance a unique combination of undue influences came together to deny justice, but the truth is that Hillsborough represents ‘business as usual’ as the establishment swings neatly into self-preservation mode.   The number of British citizens who have been delivered the same injustice, the same vilification and the same official denial would fill the Hillsborough stadium many, many times over.  The statement that it should never happen again are hollow words.  It has happened again, and is still happening right now, this very day and tomorrow and the next.  It is how the system works.

It did not surprise me that ‘near misses’ of catastrophe at Hillsborough had been ignored by those in authority.  In 1981 thirty-eight fans were injured in a crush.  Tottenham fans were blamed for arriving late.  Sounds familiar.  In 1987 one Leeds fan told of a bad crush in the Leppings Lane pens, he reported to authorities (and the Minister) that the crowd was so tightly packed he was ‘unable to clap his hands’.   In 1988 Liverpool fans and police gave accounts of crushing in the Leppings Lane pens during the FA semi-final.  Sheffield Wednesday denied knowledge of any ‘crowd related concerns’.  Here are the usual ‘missed opportunities’ and as a consequence in 1989 ninety-six lives were lost and many more suffered bereavement and injustice.  Hillsborough – 5 key mistakes

As criminal charges follow the ruling of ‘unlawful killing’ will a few sacrificial lambs be sent to the slaughter or will we get to the very heart of the establishment cover-up?  On Question Time yesterday, Andy Burnham spoke these words;  Question Time 28.4.16 (30 mins in)

“There is an elite in politics, in the police, in the legal system, in the media too, that colludes together to exercise power over ordinary people – that’s the story of Hillsborough”

He added that there needed to be a fundamental rebalance of the system to give ordinary people the ability to get truth and justice when they need it.

So who will deliver the fundamental rebalance of the system?

In this regard, we continually look to the system to reform itself and are continually surprised by its failure to do so.  The single golden thread which holds the whole thing together is ‘political appointment’.  All the key posts for accountability are political appointments.  A safe pair of hands.   admit-only-what-is-harmless

Citizens with NHS complaints should be looking at a brighter horizon.  The new Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) will soon be investigating serious medical incidents in forensic detail to discover what went wrong and how to put it right.  Equally, within the next parliament, legislation will be drawn up for a new Public Service Ombudsman (PSO) with a vision of ‘better serving the public’.   Is this a case of the establishment putting its house in order following the scandals of Mid Staffordshire, Morecambe Bay and now Southern Health?  Or is it an opportunity to step away from the stench of scandal with the creation of shiny new bodies, untarnished by cover-up? To determine whether these bodies will be any more effective than the last we need to look at the small print.

The HSIB directive states:  HSIB_directions

3.(1) The Investigation Branch must comprise— (a) a Chief Investigator, to be appointed by the Authority subject to the approval of the Secretary of State and who may only be dismissed with the approval of the Secretary of State;

10 (3) The Authority must ensure that each annual report is published after it has been provided to the Secretary of State

The Chief Investigator of HSIB, the one who sets the culture for the whole organisation, is a political appointment.  Not only that, but the annual reports produced by this new ‘independent’ body can only be published after they have been provided to the Secretary of State.  This may be innocent protocol, or maybe not.

Although HSIB has been designed to have the patient at the heart of the process, in line with current NHS mantra, this tiny clause providing ‘discretion’ is effectively a ‘get out of jail free’ card for the organisation should they wish to conduct their investigation without the scrutiny of the complainant.  Note the key words ‘appropriateness’ and ‘reasonable’ and think how you would argue against this clause if the matter came to court.

6 (5) In this paragraph— (a) at sub-paragraphs (2)(a)(i) and (d) and (4)(b), subject to any lawful requirement to the contrary, the Chief Investigator has discretion to decide about the appropriateness of involving members of the family of a patient, or a patient’s representative, but so far as reasonable must seek to reflect the wishes of the patient and the patient’s representative;

The new Ombudsman will be appointed by the Crown.  Effectively, the interplay between crown and state is merely sleight of hand to distance politicians from key appointments.  It has been suggested by Robert Gordon CB that accountability for the Ombudsman should be strengthened by the addition of a statutory board with a non-executive Chair to give independent oversight.  Robert_Gordon_Review

“I am clear that the PSO should be established as a corporate entity, with a statutory Board. There should be a clear division of responsibility between such a Board with a non-executive Chair, responsible for the overall strategy and effective operation of the organisation, against agreed strategies, plans and performance targets and the office holder (the Chief Ombudsman) invested with statutory powers of investigation.”   (106 Gordon review)

“I am clear also that the position of Chair should be a Crown appointment, with the approval of Parliament, and that non-executive members of such a Board should be appointed by Parliament. “  (107 Gordon review)

A politically appointed Ombudsman given oversight by a politically appointed board.  What could possibly go wrong?

The fundamental rebalance of the system will only come when it is demanded by the public.  The Hillsborough families had three things in their favour.

  • They acted as a group and they stuck together.
  • They didn’t give up.
  • Along the way, they found professionals willing to give them the help they needed. 

We must build on the justice delivered at Hillsborough.  It is time for the little guy to be heard.