Hillsborough inquiry by Blair government criticised

Liverpool fans in the Kop show their respect to the 96 people killed in the Hillsborough disaster Liverpool fans paid their respects to victims of Hillsborough earlier this month

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The last government "failed very badly" in accepting a report that rubber-stamped the original Hillsborough inquiry, says Lord Falconer.

After the 1997 election, Labour set up a review of evidence that may have been withheld from the 1989 Taylor inquiry.

Reviewing judge Lord Justice Stuart-Smith found the new evidence added nothing to Lord Taylor's conclusions.

Former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer described the government's acceptance of his conclusion as "disastrous".

In an interview for the BBC Radio 4 programme Law in Action, Lord Falconer said the government of which he had been a member had "failed very badly in relation to this".

Ninety-six Liverpool fans were crushed to death in the disaster 22 years ago.

Sir Murray Stuart-Smith, as he became on retirement, was appointed to re-examine Lord Taylor's public inquiry together with the wider question of whether the inquest process had been satisfactory.

Start Quote

Lord Falconer

It made the families in the Hillsborough disaster feel after one establishment cover-up, here was another”

End Quote Lord Falconer Former Justice Secretary

"He, I think unwisely, concluded that there were no problems in relation to the way that the thing had been handled," said Lord Falconer, who also served as Justice Secretary during the Blair government.

"We accepted that. And that was a disastrous and wrong-headed decision. It made the families in the Hillsborough disaster feel after one establishment cover-up, here was another."

It was suggested to Lord Falconer that the government had wanted Sir Murray to come to the conclusion that evidence was withheld from the Taylor inquiry - and that he had come to the wrong conclusion.

"I am absolutely sure that Sir Murray Stuart-Smith came completely to the wrong conclusion," Falconer replied, "because he concluded that all of the investigative processes… produced a satisfactory result.

"They obviously didn't because they didn't uncover all of the evidence, and they left the parties most affected by what happened with an utterly legitimate sense that the state had failed properly to investigate this matter."

Sir Murray has not commented on Lord Falconer's remarks, but the former Lord Chancellor acknowledged that the government of the time might have withheld from him the information he had needed.

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Law in Action is on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday 25 October at 16:00 BST and is repeated on Thursday 27 October at 20:00 BST

"That may be right," Lord Falconer replied. "I don't know what information was provided to him.

"But the reason why I am clear that he is wrong is because the purpose of these processes - the public inquiry, the inquest - is to allay public fears that they are not getting to the truth.

"And the reason I am critical of Sir Murray Stuart-Smith is because, whatever material had been withheld - and material had been withheld - he should have realised, I believe, that the inquiries and inquests had not given the public confidence that a proper inquiry had been undertaken."

In a House of Commons debate last week, the Home Secretary Theresa May promised that no government papers would be withheld from an independent panel set up by Labour in 2009 to oversee disclosure.

Law in Action is on BBC Radio 4 on 25 October at 16:00 BST and Thursday 27 October at 20:00 BST. Listen again via the Radio 4 website or download the podcast.

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