Date published: 5th July 2021

4th July 2021

This weekend, Elkan Abrahamson, Director & Head of Major Inquiries here at Broudie Jackson Canter, along with the other solicitors who have represented the Hillsborough families since 2013, wrote a letter to the Rt Hon. Robert Buckland MP and the Rt. Hon. Priti Patel MP calling for the Hillsborough Law (Accountability Bill) to be adopted as a Government Bill and to be put before Parliament as a matter of urgency. We await their response. Read the letter in full below. 

Dear Mr Buckland/Ms Patel,

We are the solicitors who represented the Hillsborough families during a number of legal processes, including the 2012 High Court challenge which led to the fresh inquests, and the inquests themselves, heard between 2014 and 2016.

In September 2012, the Government-instituted Hillsborough Independent Panel, chaired by the then Bishop of Liverpool, published its report into the disaster and subsequent investigations. The conclusions were forthright and shocking.

Consequently, on 12 September 2012, the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police (SYP), gave a statement in front of TV cameras.  In that statement he acknowledged not only that police failures were responsible for the disaster, but also that senior officers had told deliberate lies and records had been changed, in order to cover-up those police failures. He apologised to the bereaved families and to the football supporters who had been blamed for the disaster.

On that same day the Prime Minister, David Cameron, made a statement in the House of Commons, asserting that the families long-held belief that authorities had attempted to create a completely unjust account “to blame the fans”, was correct. He went on to refer to the fact that police had changed statements. 

In quashing the original inquest verdicts, the Lord Chief Justice was equally damning, and ordered the fresh inquests.

On 26 April 2016, following the longest such proceedings in the history of our jurisdiction, the jury concluded that the 96 were unlawfully killed due to the gross negligence of the police commander, that the actions of the supporters did not cause or contribute to the disaster, and that there were various other failures by the police, ambulance service, and Sheffield Wednesday FC, which contributed to the loss of life.

Following the conclusion of the inquests, the police investigation, Operation Resolve, and the IPCC (as it then was), submitted files to the CPS, and two prosecutions followed.  Despite the fact that the inquest jury had found that the 96 were unlawfully killed, the Match Commander, David Duckenfield, was acquitted of manslaughter after two trials.  Although inquests and criminal trials have different purposes, the test for unlawful killing and manslaughter was the same. At the inquests, the Coroner (correctly) directed the jury that they could only conclude ‘unlawful killing’ if they were sure (to the criminal standard) of each of the elements of gross negligence manslaughter, with respect to Mr Duckenfield.

At the second trial, two former senior officers and the police solicitor were cleared of charges of perverting the course of justice, not by the jury, but because the trial judge ruled that whatever they had done, the original judicial inquiry conducted by Taylor LJ was not a “course of public justice”.

Despite the findings of the inquest jury, the public admissions of SYP, and the fact that SYP and West Midlands Police (WMP) have settled civil claims with 601 bereaved family members and survivors, relating to the cover-up and not the disaster itself, the criminal investigations and criminal justice system have failed to bring a single public official to justice.

Following the conclusion of the inquests in 2016, the families turned their attention to legacy.  In conjunction with us their lawyers, they sought legal reform to prevent the failures which had prevented them from achieving justice for decades, from happening to anyone else.  The ‘single point of failure’ was the lack of an effective duty of candour, which protected those who either corruptly blamed others for their own failings, or relied upon the apparent lack of a positive duty to assist investigations and inquiries to protect their reputations.  This culture of denial, or institutional defensiveness, led to a denial of justice for the families, it is anathema to the public interest, and it is entirely corrosive of the justice system.

The families therefore put forward the Public Authority (Accountability) Bill 2017 (PA(A)B 2017), sometimes referred to as ‘Hillsborough Law’. The proposed new law seeks to prevent future such failures by codifying the duty of candour, and providing a legal toolkit to enforce it. The proposed law was subject to an academic conference and widespread consultation before reaching its final draft.  That draft was provided privately to Theresa May. Mrs May had been Home Secretary who had taken a keen interest in ensuring the Hillsborough families were provided with a proper process and full engagement after the HIP report was published, and by the time the Bill was drafted she was PM.

Subsequently, the Bill had its first reading on 29 March 2017, but its progress was halted by the general election which occurred soon after. Andy Burnham, who had been the Minister responsible for setting up the HIP, had advanced the Bill before the House. However, the families had expressly requested that the Bill should only be advanced on a cross-party basis. In the event, although advanced by Mr Burnham, it was sponsored by MPs from the Conservative, Labour, Lib Dem, SNP, SDLP and Green parties.

Recognition of the lack of an effective duty of candour goes far further than Hillsborough, and has been repeatedly been raised by chairs of a wide range of inquiries. These include the 2013 Francis Report (Mid Staffs NHS Trust), the 2015 Equality and Human Rights Commission inquiry report into Deaths in Adult Mental Health Detention, the 2015 Harris Review into self-inflicted deaths of young persons in custody, the 2015 Kirkup Report into failures in Morecambe Bay NHS Trust maternity facilities, the 2017 Dame Eilish Angiolini’s Report into Deaths in Police Custody, and the recent Daniel Morgan Panel report.

In addition, the government-commissioned post-Hillsborough 2017 report of Bishop James: ‘The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power’, appended the PA(A)B asking the Government to give it careful consideration.  The 2020 Justice Working Party report ‘When Things Go Wrong’, called for the enactment of a statutory duty of candour as set out in the Bill.  The particular significance of this latter report is that the WP included three former senior judges with extensive experience in this area of law: Sir Robert Owen (who chaired the Litvinenko Inquiry), Sir John Goldring (the Hillsborough Coroner), and Sir Peter Thornton (the former Chief Coroner).

The call for a statutory Duty of Candour has also been supported by the bereaved charity INQUEST and a number of diverse bereaved family groups, including those involved in the Grenfell and Manchester Arena inquiries, and those awaiting the Covid inquiry.

We note that the PA(A) Bill has been directly raised in the House in recent debates following the collapse of the second Hillsborough trial, and the publication of the Daniel Morgan panel report. As stated, the Bill was provided to Government well before it had its first reading, it has widespread support and the serious lacuna it seeks to rectify continues to undermine public confidence in the legal system in this country. This is not a partisan issue, indeed there has been a remarkable parliamentary consensus on these issues in recent years. We therefore respectfully ask you to adopt the PA(A)B as a Government Bill and put it back before Parliament as a matter of urgency.

We look forward to your early response.


Elkan Abrahamson

Broudie Jackson Canter Solicitors

Marcia Willis-Stuart

Birnberg Peirce Solicitors

Jules Carey

Bindmans Solicitors

Terry Wilcox

Formerly of EAD Solicitors

Ruth Bundey

Harrison Bundey Solicitors

To read more about our ongoing work fighting for the Hillsborough Law, click here.