QUB: Hillsborough disaster research 'world-leading'

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

Published
Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
The Hillsborough disaster led to the deaths of 97 Liverpool fans

Queen's University Belfast (QUB) research into the Hillsborough stadium disaster in 1989 has been judged to be "world-leading".

The disaster led to the unlawful deaths of 97 Liverpool fans in 1989.

Prof Phil Scraton received the top possible score for impact in the UK's national audit of university research.

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a UK-wide assessment which ranks research from over 76,000 academics at 157 universities.

It examines university research and can influence how much UK government research funding they will get in future.

Research is partially judged on how much impact it had on wider society beyond academia.

The results of the REF for 2021 - the first since 2014 - have just been revealed.

Prof Scraton's work 'Beyond Hillsborough: Inquests, Public Understanding of the Truth and Wider Significance' was one of four studies submitted by the School of Law at QUB.

The other submissions from the school included research on Northern Ireland's judiciary, dealing with the past and the role of 'grooming' in child sexual abuse.

All received the highest possible impact ranking in the REF denoting "quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour".

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Image caption,
Prof Scraton headed the research for the Hillsborough Independent Panel

Ninety-seven Liverpool fans died due to overcrowding at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough stadium on 15 April 1989 ahead of an FA Cup semi-final between the club and Nottingham Forest.

Another victim, Andrew Devine, died in July 2021 and a senior coroner ruled he was the disaster's 97th fatality and therefore the conclusion was the same.

In 2021, South Yorkshire Police and West Midlands Police agreed to pay damages to more than 600 people following a cover-up in the aftermath.

Prof Scraton headed the research for the Hillsborough Independent Panel, whose 2012 report led to new inquest hearings into the deaths.

He has continued to work alongside the families of the victims and their legal teams and was research consultant and interviewee on the 2017 BAFTA award-winning documentary Hillsborough.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Phil Scraton speaking during the memorial service marking the 25th anniversary of the disaster

In their submission to the REF, QUB said: "Professor Scraton's continuing, in-depth research into the Hillsborough disaster, accumulated over three decades and involving work with bereaved families, survivors and their legal teams, has had a direct and material impact."

Prof Scraton told BBC News NI that it had been a "long journey" to having the truth of what happened at Hillsborough widely accepted.

"Obviously I am pleased that my research has been recognised as being of national and international significance," he said.

"In celebrating this, however, I am conscious of the continuing suffering of the bereaved and survivors of Hillsborough.

"I began my work together with them in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, and wrote the initial research reports in 1990 and 1995.

"The formal records tell us that 97 men, women and children died as a consequence of institutional failures in the lead up to the 15 April 1989 and events on the day.

"That doesn't tell us the full extent of death and suffering, for many of those with whom I have worked have died prematurely, some taking their own lives.

"What this recognition demonstrates is that there is space within our universities to develop research that exposes systemic injustices in our society, that works alongside those who have endured those injustices, and that speaks truth to power."

Elsewhere in the REF, the Institute for Global Food Security and the School of Biological Sciences at QUB was ranked as the best for research in agriculture, food and veterinary sciences in the UK.

Ulster University, meanwhile, scored especially highly in enabling research in the allied health professions - dentistry, nursing and pharmacy - and in the impact of its research in subjects related to music, dance, drama, performing arts and film studies.