Hillsborough crusader Margaret Aspinall: If police can cover up 96 deaths what can they do to individuals?
"The politicians of this country ought to be ashamed of themselves for what’s happened in their name. We as a nation should be ashamed that our families had to fight for 27 years to get to the truth"
Doughty Margaret Aspinall speaks for us all when she tells parliament that legal abuse and cover-ups using Judges and law must end.
Margaret Aspinall had waited more than 18 years to stand up in parliament and tell MPs they were wrong.
It was almost two decades ago that then Home Secretary Jack Straw, after promising a fresh inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster , told the families there was nothing a Labour government could do for them.
Back then Margaret walked out of Westminster in floods of tears, reeling from the latest kick in the teeth in her quest to find the truth of how her 18-year-old son James died in the 1989 crush, saying: “It is worse than anger. Everyone in this country should feel ashamed.”
She was proved right a fortnight ago, when jurors returned Unlawful Killing verdicts on the 96, and yesterday, in a committee room aptly named after another doughty northern woman, Betty Boothroyd, she returned in triumph and made sure MPs, Lords and current and former leaders of the two main parties felt their shame.
“The politicians of this country ought to be ashamed of themselves for what’s happened in their name. We as a nation should be ashamed that our families had to fight for 27 years to get to the truth.
“I personally am ashamed of the past governments. I am ashamed of the government I believed in at the time. Labour politicians in the 90s gave us fancy promises but they didn’t listen,” said the Hillsborough Family Support Group chair, in an emotional 22 minute speech that had the likes of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and former Tory leader Lord Howard, stunned into a silence that bordered on embarrassment.
Her main call was for them to create a level playing field for bereaved families in legal fights: “You have to change things in this country for the good of the ordinary people because if they can cover up 96 collective deaths what can they do to individuals?
“No-one should have to beg for information about the loss of their loved ones and everyone should be entitled to Legal Aid,” she said before relating a heart-breaking story which had many of the audience, including actress Sue Johnston and the Bishop of Liverpool, struggling to keep their emotions in check.
“When James died I had four other children; the youngest was six, the eldest was 15. We didn’t have money but my house was rich with love. I didn’t realise I had to pay for my own son’s inquest but Trevor Hicks asked 42 families for £3,000 to pay for a barrister. I thought ‘my god how am I going to raise £3,000?’” She said, before breaking off in tears then reading out an official letter, offering her £1,226.35 compensation.
“I would have loved to have told them to shove that cheque where the sun don’t shine. But we had to raise £150,000 to get a barrister. So I took it. Then I got to the inquests and saw the police had 10 barristers, paid by the state, against our one.
“We were the innocents but they got funded - that’s got to change. We saw David Duckenfield retire on ill health with a full pension, while he was still under investigation. He got another job afterwards too. That’s how ill he was.
“You politicians should be making laws that say if police officers are found guilty of charges they should pay all of their pensions back.”
She talked of a “disease in this country” citing South Yorkshire Police’s role in Hillsborough, Orgreave and Rotherham,” and ended by saying “Hillsborough was bigger than the police. It was political. So it’s up to you politicians to unite and never let the likes of it happen again.”
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She received raucous applause that went on for many minutes. Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham, who had arranged the event, took the floor and said “there is no politician who emerges with any credit from Hillsborough because we all let them down.
“The cover-up was perpetrated in committee rooms like this. Propaganda videos were shown here to MPs. We need to work out how that was allowed to happen. The only way we can make amends is for both parties and both houses to put it right.”
Burnham wants to introduce a package of reforms, known as The Hillsborough Laws, including providing parity of funding for legal representation to bereaved families, dropping time limits on retired police officers being investigated for misconduct, and seeking a Government commitment to the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry.
“The best thing we can do redress our inaction is to make sure that no-one has to fight again like these families had to fight,” he told the gathered politicians. “The least we owe them is to make Hillsborough a watershed moment that changed the country.”