Andy Burnham: ‘There is still an echo of Hillsborough’ in the Manchester Arena inquiry

Andy Burnham has said ‘there is still an echo of Hillsborough’ in the Manchester Arena public inquiry.

Greater Manchester’s mayor spoke as he championed calls for a ‘Hillsborough Law’ to ‘break the cycle of injustice’ for families bereaved in public disasters.

Families joined politicians and other public figures – including those who lost loved ones at Hillsborough and have fought for justice for decades – at a rallying event in Manchester on Friday to call for changes to the justice system to prevent others from going through what the Hillsborough families endured.

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The mothers of a young couple who lost their lives in the Arena attack also spoke movingly of the ‘similarities’ and ‘many parallels’ they see in terms of the legal aftermath of the UK’s worst sporting disaster and the Manchester terror attack of 2017, in which 22 people were murdered.

Liam Curry, 19, and Chloe Rutherford, 17, were both from South Tyneside and have been described at the ongoing Arena inquiry as ‘inseparable’ teenage sweethearts, who died side-by-side in the bombing.

Renewed calls for the law followed the moving four-part drama Anne, which aired on ITV this week and starred Maxine Peake as long-standing Hillsborough campaigner Anne Williams, whose 15-year-old son Kevin died in the disaster.

The ‘Hillsborough Law’ campaign aims to ‘rebalance the scales of justice’.

Police at the scene after the Arena attack

It includes calls for a public charter for families bereaved through public tragedy, which would be legally binding on all public bodies, and a ‘statutory duty of candour’ on public servants during all forms of public inquiry and criminal investigation following disasters.

Another pillar of the campaign is for families to be able to participate properly at inquests and public inquiries, through publicly-funded legal representation, and an ‘end to near limitless legal spending by public bodies’.

The campaign also calls for a public advocate to act legally for families bereaved by major incidents.

Many of the points were recommended in a review of the experiences of the Hillsborough families carried out by former Bishop of Liverpool the Right Reverend James Jones, which was published in 2017 and strongly referenced in the Anne drama.

Two former Prime Ministers – Conservative MP Theresa May and Gordon Brown – spoke out in support of the new law at the event held at the People’s History Museum.

Maxine Peake, former Liverpool manager Sir Kenny Dalglish and ex-Manchester City boss Peter Reid were among others to publicly back the campaign today – together with the family of Yousef Makki, who was stabbed to death aged 17 in Hale Barns in 2019.

Mr Burnham, on the Manchester bombing, said: “I know that people in this city will never ever forget the night of May 22, 2017.

The 22 lives lost in Manchester

“It’s hard to believe it’s almost five years.

“We made a commitment that we would support the families bereaved on that night and those injured all the way through. It’s hard to imagine actually what they have gone through. We know that the inquiry is ongoing at the moment and we continue to support them through that.

“And actually changes have been made following Hillsborough. The Manchester Arena inquiry is different because of the fight of the Hillsborough families. Those 22 young people have been placed at the heart of that inquiry, and that is something.

“There is progress. But would you believe there is still an echo of Hillsborough in this inquiry too.”

Lisa Rutherford, Chloe’s mum, and Caroline Curry, Liam’s mum, sat side-by-side as they addressed the debate over video link.

Lisa said: “The truth equals change – that’s what we would like to put forward.

“Bereaved families must come first. Accountability must happen.”

Referencing the Arena inquiry, she said she and Caroline ‘feel like collateral damage in a process’.

“Our kids went to a concert and didn’t come home – and I understand this is the same for your loved ones,” Lisa added addressing the Hillsborough families present.

“They went to the football match and they didn’t come home.

“The similarities that we can see through reading Bishop James Jones’ report and watching the Anne programme that everyone has watched this week have really made us worry and cement the parallels that we can see between Hillsborough’s inquests and the Manchester Arena inquiry.”

Liam and Chloe

Lisa said the families have been ‘looked after very well’ while in Manchester since the atrocity – and thanked the city for that.

But she said: “There are many parallels we can see. We feel like an insignificant cog in a huge wheel.

“We were told lots and lots that families come first.

“But the fact that companies can say whatever they want, truth or lies, and we are expected to sit and listen knowing the truth is not being told without any compassion or care for the families at all is a very difficult one to take.

“How can we learn if the truth is not told.”

Caroline said she was told ‘quite forcibly’ that a post-mortem examination would be carried out on her son Liam.

“I asked that Liam wasn’t given a post-mortem because they knew how Liam had died,” she said. “I didn’t see there was any need.

“I was told that decision was out of my hands – Liam was a crime scene and therefore did not belong to me at that time.

“Therefore they would do a post-mortem.”

Former PM Gordon Brown addresses the debate

She said companies and bodies had offered condolences in court

“We don’t want their condolences five years on,” she said.

“What we want is the truth so lessons can be learned and practices rectified so no other family needs to walk in our shoes ever again.”

Caroline said there were ‘stark differences’ and ‘contradictions’ between statements given and evidence heard in court at the Arena inquiry.

“Everybody can deal with anything thrown at them, as long as they know the truth,” she said.

Lisa added: “The truth needs to be told at the first available opportunity.

“We need to prevent bereaved families in the future from facing a long, heart-breaking search for the truth.

“Please hold your hands up and tell the truth. We would respect you so much if you could just do that. As parents we will never stop until we get the answers for our children.”

Mr Burnham referenced the ‘fights’ of British people over the years for their ‘rights and for justice’.

Maxine Peake as Anne Williams in ‘Anne’

“When things go wrong in this country the fight that people face is too long and too hard,” he said.

“When things go wrong the authorities close ranks. They blame victims sometimes, they sometimes create false narratives which can be very hard to shift.

“It’s because power in this country is not necessarily in the hands of the many, it’s concentrated in the hands of far too few.

“Access to justice here is still very much linked to your class, your accent and whether or not you have social connections.”

He referenced the Peteroo Massacre in Manchester more than 200 years ago, Bloody Sunday, Orgreave, the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the fight of the families of nuclear test veterans.

“Ranks are closed and ordinary people who have often suffered bereavement experience the re-traumatising effect of having to fight for the names of their loved ones in the wilderness,” added the mayor.

“It’s time to break that thread.”

Mr Burnham said the country needed to ‘take the baton out of the hands’ of the Hillsborough families in terms of the ‘fight for justice for all’.

Mr Burnham with Hillsborough family members Sue Roberts and Margaret Aspinall

And he called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ‘level up the scales of justice in favour of bereaved families’.

He said many families were ‘going into court raw with grief’ and ‘finding themselves up against the highest paid QCs in the land brought in by public bodies spending public money in a limitless way to protect reputations, and often to create false narratives’.

“It can’t go on,” he said.

“From Peterloo 200 years ago to Grenfell today, ordinary bereaved families continue to be treated in a cruel and dismissive way by a justice system which favours the powerful and the connected. It is a pattern that keeps on repeating itself and it is time to break it.”

Margaret Aspinall, whose son James was among the victims of the Hillsborough disaster, also referenced the Manchester Arena bombing.

“These families deserve justice,” she said, speaking at the event.

Former Tory Prime Minister Theresa May said she was pleased to be able to join those ‘who are calling for action to change the system of support for those families who are bereaved as a result of a public disaster’.

She said Liverpool fans – and their families – were ‘failed by the state’ and what followed from the Hillsborough disaster was ‘injustice heaped on injustice’.

Ms May said she had been ‘struck’ by the way ‘the state in its various forms acts to protect itself from blame’.

As a result, she added, families were ‘all to often denied access to the truth and justice’.

“Unless we act the experience of the Hillsborough families and others will be repeated,” added the MP.

She also called for the Government to respond to the review of the experiences of the Hillsborough families published five years ago.

Ninety-seven men, women and children died in the disaster at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in Sheffield on April 15 1989.

New inquests which concluded in 2016 found the victims were unlawfully killed.

But match commander David Duckenfield was cleared of gross negligence manslaughter in 2019 and a trial of retired police officers Donald Denton and Alan Foster and former force solicitor Peter Metcalf, who were accused of perverting the course of justice, collapsed last year after a judge ruled there was no case to answer.

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