Hillsborough papers: Bishop of Liverpool on role chairing panel
- 14 September 2012
- From the section Liverpool
"On my desk in my study I have a photograph of the stadium on the day, I have the names of all the 96 and I put those there at the very beginning to remind me each day of the importance of the task."
For nearly three years the Bishop of Liverpool the Right Reverend James Jones has chaired the Hillsborough Independent Panel.
The group was tasked with examining 450,000 pages of previously unseen documents detailing events surrounding the UK's worst sporting disaster.
Bishop Jones, speaking at a BBC religion and ethics festival in Salford, said he was acutely aware of the significance and potential impact of what they were about to reveal.
Even so, when Hillsborough families were given the report, three people fainted in distress at the scale of the cover-up.
He said: "We felt immediately our responsibility to enable the families to receive it with dignity, because we knew how traumatic this information would be.
"A huge amount of attention was given not just to [the disclosure], but the whole process of the families absorbing and assimilating this distressing material.
"I said to the families that their comfort, their security, their dignity had been uppermost in our minds in planning that day."
Bishop Jones said there were two key reasons why he decided to accept the offer of chairing the panel, which was set up in January 2010.
He said: "The more I have worked with the panel, in consultation with the families, the more their pleas resonated with two fundamental aspects of my own faith and ethics.
"First, the call to heal the broken hearted and secondly, the plea to grant justice to those who are denied it."
Despite undergoing a heart bypass operation in 2011, Bishop Jones said he was determined to see out his responsibility, chairing all but three of the 40 panel meetings.
"The first question I asked the consultant was, 'would I still be able to do Hillsborough?' And I am delighted to say the answer was yes."
The panel was established by Andy Burnham MP, who was then Health Secretary under the Labour government.
As power shifted to the coalition, Bishop Jones revealed he had to be "robust" in convincing MPs to continue the public funding to allow the panel to continue.
"I said that if you did not know 21 or 22 years on how and why your child died, your grief would be unresolved."
But it was meeting the Hillsborough families for the first time, he said, that was the driving force behind the panel's work to search for the truth.
"At this point, their dignified determination made a huge impact upon me personally and upon all my colleagues and that almost provided the glue that bound us together in our common purpose to achieve this work.
"When you hear how they have been treated in the past, I found that very hard to hear."
The panel's work is not yet over, despite its report being presented to the families and published online.
It will continue to work until the end of September so there is support for the families following the report's publication.