Hillsborough files: E-petition numbers growing fast

Hillsborough memorial Ninety-six Liverpool fans were killed in the disaster

Who could have more influence over government policy?

Chris Graham, the Information Commissioner who officially oversees whether public bodies are implementing the Freedom of Information Act, or the tens of thousands of members of the public who have signed an e-petition calling for ministers to release documents relating to the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster?

This question is raised because this e-petition has just become the second most signed petition on the government e-petition website, with over 52,000 signatures.

The rapid growth of signatures has happened in a couple of days since the Cabinet Office announced on Wednesday that it would appeal against a ruling by Mr Graham, rather than disclose records in response to a Freedom of Information request from the BBC.

The rate at which the petition was signed accelerated after it was tweeted on Wednesday night by the Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish, who wrote "Think it is very important that we support this". It has since been enthusiastically taken up by other footballing figures with large Twitter followings, such as the Newcastle midfielder Joey Barton.

'Irrelevant argument'

The petition calls for the government to publish all documents relating to the tragedy, "as requested by information commissioner Christopher Graham".

In April 2009 we asked the Cabinet Office for files about discussions which the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher had about the disaster. After the government refused to give us this information, we appealed to the Information Commissioner, who then ruled last month that releasing the papers would be in the public interest.

The Commissioner argued that it would add to public knowledge and understanding of how the Thatcher government responded to the event.

But the Cabinet Office is now planning to fight this decision by taking its case to the Information Rights Tribunal, which handles appeals against Commissioner decisions. This is expected to hear the case in the next few months, unless the public pressure helps to change the government's intentions.

The Cabinet Office argues that any release of information should be managed by an independent panel set up by the previous Labour government to review the documentation about the Hillsborough tragedy and assess what should now be made public.

Its statement said: "The Cabinet Office absolutely agrees with the principle of providing information to families about the Hillsborough stadium disaster, but we believe it is important that any release of information should be managed through the panel's processes and in line with their terms of reference."

But the Commissioner discarded this as an irrelevant argument, since the panel had not existed at the time in April 2009 when our FOI request was initially made.

Intense emotions

Ninety-six Liverpool supporters were killed due to an appalling crush of fans within the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield, where the club was playing an FA Cup semi final. A subsequent inquiry held that the main reason for the overcrowding was the failure of police control.

Mrs Thatcher was briefed about the disaster in the days that followed it, and it was discussed at a number of meetings. The records involved include reports presented to her, correspondence between her office and that of the Home Secretary Douglas Hurd, and minutes of meetings she attended.

If an e-petition obtains 100,000 signatures then the House of Commons backbench business committee has to consider whether to give it time for debate.

So far only one petition (calling for convicted rioters to lose benefits) has hit that target since the coalition government's new e-petition system was introduced last month.

The Hillsborough petition still has a long way to go, but the numbers it has attracted so far demonstrate how the intense emotions surrounding this terrible event continue to resonate across the years.

Martin Rosenbaum Article written by Martin Rosenbaum Martin Rosenbaum Freedom of information specialist

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  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Jacknimrod: Not for one second am I suggesting that the Police did not make serious errors. But that's hindsight & the Police have admitted their failures.
    I agree that fans were treated disgracefully at the time: The fences were inhuman treatment of any public, let alone football fans. I'm sure many experts were strongly against their installation. Yet someone gave the OK: Named in the report?

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    there are some very ignorant and ill informed people commenting on this report. i suggest some people need to put their prejudices aside and brush up on the actual facts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Stevero. I agree with you. Let us have the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The Taylor report says one thing, but it is not what the Sheffield public saw that day. I think the Taylor report could be likened to the dossier on "Weapons of mass destruction" We know the real truth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I usually prefer to let sleeping dogs lie, however in the case of the Hillsborough tragedy I have signed the petition as I think it's important for the country (particularly the families of the victims) to get closure on an incident which scarred this nation domestically and internationally. Once the original records are released we will all know the truth about what happened on that black day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    #33 Ged: I've got no concerns about the content of your post but I wonder if you would be prepared to let us know how you managed to achieve 799 characters? I've asked the moderators but like most organisations today they only answer questions they want to answer and ignore anything else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    I hope that this petition will succeed. However, I suspect that sections will be obliterated "in the public interest" to save face for senior politicians mainly Mrs M. Thatcher. It will I'm certain, cause great to embarassment all round. When you seek answers, the ones you find are rarely those for which you would wish. And when you go seeking revenge; dig two graves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Tez - Simple. It is NOT fair to say this had anything to do with 'crowd misbehaviour'. The crowd did what crowds do. And they followed police advice after poor crowd management by the police. That much is already known and laid down in stone in Taylor's report. How, then, it is possible for something other than that to APPEAR to be the case, or that it is FAIR TO SAY it is anything different is alarming. You may have been to many matches and experienced all manner of stuff, but that is not relevant, and suggesting the crowd misbehaved is a perpetuation of the myths that are still able to survive precisely because the full story is still repressed. I restate my point. Yours is not a fair assessment, and ANY reading of Taylor's report cannot appear to give such an assessment any credibility.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    31.Ged - IN REPLY:

    I SAID it would be 'FAIR to say' - and that 'it APPEARS' - NOT that it was FACT...
    Perhaps you should get YOUR facts straight rather than 'jumping the gun'??

    On the other hand - I REALLY DO appreciate your councern - and the concern of all those affected by this tragedy. The sad fact is, I have been to many Matches and felt the effects of a pushing crowd AND the lack of control - MANY times - with respect. (Tez)

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    # Tez - it would NOT, REPEAT NOT be fair to say that "this disaster appears to have been caused by BOTH Police-tactics AND crowd misbehaviour." Lord Justice Taylor's report set that out clearly. Where, oh where, do the incapable and ignorant like you go to get this misinformation. THIS is the very reason that full disclosure is needed. Your ignorance and insistence on continuing with at best erroneous opinion set down as fact is salt into what remains an open wound. I don't think you did this intentionally, but the hurt wouldn't have been any more if you did.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I think it would be fair to say that this disaster appears to have been caused by BOTH Police-tactics AND crowd misbehaviour.

    On the other hand - It was well known at the time, that such large meetings could be dangerous - and Government'S should have realised this earlier.

    Hopefully, we HAVE learned...

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    There were possibly some ticketless fans, as there were at the CL final in Istanbul. There was possibly a few who were drunk or who had been drinking, Very possible infact.
    However, there were many more factors that caused the disaster. Of which none involved the fans as it has been determined already that the fans were not at fault.
    Errors made in Policing, opening the gate and not the other sections of the end and squashuing all the people into 1 paddock.
    I don't think there shall be much different to be released, there hopefully shall be disclosure to those and it may give some proper answers to decisions made regarding the policing, declaring when people died (was there not a time given in the enquiry? 3:15 rings a bell).
    My wishes are with the families of those involved, who died, left disabled and many more who have been left scarred for life by those scenes. YNWA

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Actually disclosure of the Hillsborough files is not that far off:
    1. Justice for the Hillsborough disaster Signatures: 424 as of 09/08/2012;
    2. Full disclosure of all government documents relating to 1989 Hillsborough disaster SIGNATURES 81,910 as of 09/08/2012.
    What happens now (as far as getting to 100,000 signatures), depends on the need to know of less than 20,000 individuals.
    Never mind what the previous Govt should have done; is that any excuse for the current govt to continue wrongdoing?

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    CameBlunt. The "usual blame the police without taking responsibility" ???

    How come it's only ever the "people" who have to take responsibility?? Do the authorities have a total hold on having all the power without the burden of responsibilities? Are normal folk the only ones who have this burden?

    You are right though in saying the previous government should have sorted it out, but please remember that there were also governments prior to that who should also have resolved this issue, not least the Thatcher administration who were complicit in the whole cover up in the first place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    There is no legal reason why this information shouldn`t be released to the BBC via a FOI request. It`s in the public interest to do so and the cabinet offices arguement relies on a technicality rather than any legal basis to stop it being released. The public have a right to know what happened on that dreadful day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    24 Cameblunt
    I think you'll find an inquiry at the time did indeed find the police at fault, they even acknowkedged it. It is difficult to know what information has being kept back all these years - there's no real excuse for the secrecy, except perhaps out of a sense of sensitivity to the victims families. I think there should have been greater openess at the time but the truth does need to be told.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I see the usual Blame the Police without taking responsibility, frankly this affair should've been sorted out once and for all by the previous government, but they messed up again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Stevero Yes and I'm sure every single Notts Forest fan was a paragon of virtue too that day.
    The truth as to what what went so horribly wrong, has everything to do with the chaotic way inwhich the game was policed. Also staduim building pre-Hillsborough was obsessed with keeping fans off the pitch and away from each other instead of considering their safety. You must take your info from The Sun newspaper who also blamed the fans for this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    So Stevero, a couple of idiots who you suspect may have been Liverpool fans threw what you suspect to be beer cans out of a car, and you think that justifies the actions of the South Yorkshire Police that led directly to the deaths of 96 people.
    That sounds reasonable and proportionate...
    Nice to see some balance in the discussion at last.
    Does it really matter whose fans died?-it could have been any team`s fans there that day: it was a cup game after all.
    The sad truth is that ALL football fans were treated with equal contempt by the authorities at that time, and the circumstances that led to these deaths could have happened anywhere on any given Saturday.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    On the morning of Hillsborough, I was following a convoy of scarf- bedecked cars over the Woodhead pass..(A628 Mc/r-Sheffield)..
    A route taken by many Liverpool fans that day....
    People were stood up in the cars, throwing beer cans from the sunroofs at other vehicles, I know,because I had to dodge a few myself.
    At this point these fans were within an hour of Hillsborough: It was 8.45
    I wonder how many of them were comfortably within the ground before kick-off.?? & how many still propping up a bar at 3pm??
    (No, not mentioned on the radio, Marie)
    So, let's have it all out in the open shall we. Should be interesting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I am so sorry for the many families that are still battling for justice. This is outrageous and shameful. Every government since this happened has failed. It's time the real culprits (and we know who they are) were put in jail. You can bet that if a group of rich people and their kids were killed like this there would have been justice and a proper, unbiased enquiry.


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