The Home Secretary's statement following the Hillsborough verdicts was read in the House of Lords yesterday. The former Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, who chaired the Independent Panel, was seated in the gallery.

The whole exchange can be read here. My question, towards the end of the debate, was as follows:

My Lords, I declare an interest because I come from Liverpool and most of my family still live there. My grandmother lived on Anfield Road at the time of the tragedy—no one in Liverpool was so remote that they did not know someone who was affected by it. People who have not been recognised in the comments so far are those such as Steven Gerrard and Rafa Benitez, who gave huge amounts of money to support families and did so without expectation of gratitude or publicity. A lot of individuals, like them, showed enormous generosity at a time when the cause was not popular. Can the Minister assure us that the independent panel sets a model for how such investigations ought to be continued in the future in similar circumstances, with objective scrutiny of documentation? Also, does he think that current levels of press regulation under IPSO—before we get to Leveson stage 2—would be in any way stronger in preventing the sort of press abuse that continued until only three years ago?

Lord Ahmad's response was as follows:

I thank the right reverend Prelate for those questions. We have learned lessons from every element of the inquiry, and from the panel in particular. We will take forward all the issues, particularly good governance. We have set up an ongoing relationship with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool on the issue of press regulation. As I ​have said already, we are waiting until the Government can look at the second part of the Leveson report to ensure that a comprehensive response can be given. On press regulation and review, we live in a very different world now from that of 27 years ago—indeed, of 10 years ago—and the press, along with everyone else, need to reflect on their responsibilities, particularly when reporting such tragedies as Hillsborough.

The second stage of Leveson will investigate the links between the police and the media. If this stage is ever reached. In the meantime, we have a press that is self-regulated, despite the 'independent' in IPSO.

Would current regulation make it any less possible for the Sun to do what it did 27 years ago? I doubt it. And it took the Sun 23 years to even begin to address its behaviour.

This is the text of an article published in the Yorkshire Post a few minutes ago:

I remember where I was on April 15, 1989. I was leading a youth weekend at Rydal Hall in Cumbria, eager to finish a walk in the hills so I could catch up on the Liverpool versus Nottingham Forest FA Cup semi-final being played at the same time. My brother was at the match in Sheffield, and I knew a few other people who had been lucky enough to get tickets.

I got back and turned on my car radio. I couldn’t understand what was going on – even the commentator on the BBC sounded so traumatised that for a long time he simply assumed we all knew. As the news then became clearer, so did the horror begin to dawn.

In the end 96 people died. That is enough for everyone in Liverpool to be connected in some way with someone bereaved. The classic journey of bereavement has shock giving way to anger, anger to grief, and grief to acceptance. However, here, it seems that the grief exploded in a sea of flowers and mementoes at Anfield, while the anger slowly burned. It burned for nearly a quarter of a century before a new inquiry was sanctioned.

It is still hard to buy a copy of the Sun newspaper in Liverpool today. Shameful allegations of fans’ alleged sub-human behaviour pushed grief aside and fired an anger that has simmered ever since. Police behaviour, doctoring statements and all the other stuff now well documented put the reputations of the officers concerned ahead of the grief of bereaved people.

Now a verdict of unlawful killing has been returned, this time on the basis of proper investigation and fully-informed inquests. After more than 27 years, those involved can now move on, knowing that the truth has been heard – not only about what happened on that dreadful day, but also about the deliberate manipulations that subsequently condemned a city to unrequited misery.

One constant throughout this appalling business was the bond between Yorkshire and Liverpool, my home city and the place where four generations of my family still live. One of the most impressive campaigners for justice came from Keighley – Trevor Hicks, who with his then wife lost two daughters in the crush at the Leppings Lane end of the ground. The city of Sheffield recognised from the outset its inescapable involvement in the huge grief of those who had been denied not only the lives of those they loved, but also the justice needed from such an avoidable tragedy.

It was perhaps neither random nor coincidental that the person asked to chair the independent panel, and whose work led to the new new inquests, was a Church of England bishop.

The then Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, understood not only the anger of those offended, but also the need for the sort of justice that can lead to reconciliation.

Pulling back from the blame game, he was able to establish a panel that scrutinised documentation. Objective, rational and concrete, the panel was able to identify just where truth had been obscured, leads missed, facts misrepresented, evidence manipulated. His brief was to expose the truth and then leave it to the judicial authorities to address the consequences

The bishop was equipped to chair this panel because he had the courage, clarity and committed impartiality to search for the truth, regardless of what it might cost those involved. It was also a pastoral response to the destroyed lives, wrecked relationships and demolished hopes of some very distraught people. He also clearly had the confidence of those paying for the whole thing that the narrative of events would be properly pursued under his leadership.

So, where to from here? Well, at least the bereaved – who held their final memorial service at Anfield last month – can know that the truth has been told and heard. Dignity can now be allowed where reputations lay questioned and character suspected.

Justice has been done and been seen to be done. If forgiveness is possible as those affected look to put this quarter of a century to rest, then it can now be credible – arising from knowledge of the facts (even uncomfortable facts) and full awareness of the degree of justified grievance they have borne for so long.

This changes something else. The police and others now deemed to be in some way responsible for the tragedy must address their personal and collective response. This will not be easy for them. Justice must in the end be liberating for everyone, even those for whom the truth is painful.

I am a Scouser and live in Yorkshire. The former Bishop of Liverpool has retired to Yorkshire. (The current Bishop of Liverpool was born and bred in Bradford, West Yorkshire) The bond between the two is not sentimental. It is a fatal error ever to accuse Yorkshire people or Liverpudlians of sentimentalism. But, the shared experience of this grief and anger has constructed a bond that generates mutual respect when it comes to the game of football that should always bring competitive pleasure, but never bring death and humiliation.

In circumstances such as these we often speak of ‘closure’. Not that memories are closed off or emotions allowed to run cold. But, a sense of justice for those who can no longer speak for themselves – who can neither justify nor explain themselves – does allow a future unchained from the grief and anger that will not stop stinging until the sting itself has been drawn.

A verse in the biblical book of Proverbs pleads: “Open your mouth for the dumb!” It has been quoted as an indictment against those who allow injustice to prevail because to protest would be too costly or wearing or inconvenient. Today it can be cited with pride on the part of families, supporters, football clubs, cities and even bishops: the voice of the dead has been honoured and now they can lie in peace.


Today marks the 28th anniversary of the fire that killed 56 and injured over 265 people during a football match in Bradford. The city marks the event each year, led by the Cathedral.

These sorts of scars remain for generations. I remember coming back to Bradford for a six-week parish placement at the end of my first year at theological college in 1985. There were men in the church who had to go to Pinderfields Hospital almost daily to get their burns treated – one of them whose head had been 'melted' by dripping bitumen from the roof.

I had studied modern languages at Bradford University from 1976-80, so knew the city well. I had come from Liverpool where, later, another stadium disaster would scar a city and the nation. In 1989 96 people were crushed to death in the now infamous (and ongoing) Hillsborough debacle. Only now is justice beginning to be done, whilst the families see some light at the end of a cruel and unnecessarily long tunnel.

Both these disasters led to radical re-thinking about the design and construction of football stadia. Safety became the priority – which makes it boggling that the well-being of the paying customers had not been previously. Going to a game in England these days is a totally different experience from thirty years ago. OK, I still miss being able to stand on the Kop at Anfield (rather than sit, that is), but you generally feel safe and that the signage, etc has been seen through the eyes of the punters.

Perhaps none of this would have happened had these two stadium disasters not happened. We learn from what goes wrong. But, the changed rules about ground construction and crowd safety came at the cost of considerable suffering on the part of people who in 1985 and 1989 set off (or watched their family go) to watch a footie match. The scars will not heal quickly.


I know I am a bit late, but, for the sake of completeness, here is the full statement issued by the Church of England after the House of Bishops decided on the final version of the legislation to come before the General Synod in November. Now it will need a two thirds majority in each of the three Houses of Synod (Bishops, Clergy and Laity) for it to go through. Being pragmatic, this probably means that we will need all supporters of women bishops to vote for the Measure and as many opponents as possible to abstain rather than vote against. We shall see.

Anyway, here it is (with a preliminary statement about the Hillsborough report):

PR99.12 –

12/9/12 – For immediate release

Women Bishops: Draft Legislation

The House of Bishops has today by an overwhelming majority settled the text of the legislation to enable women to become bishops in the Church of England.

The House of Bishops made clear its desire for the draft legislation to be passed into law when it goes forward for final approval to the Church of England’s General Synod in November.

Speaking on behalf of the House at the conclusion of their meeting the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams said:

“Before turning to the matters we have been discussing, I want to say, on behalf of the Bishops, that our thoughts and prayers are very much with the people of Liverpool and all affected by the Hillsborough tragedy on this day when the report is released. The Bishop of Liverpool has done a great service in steering this work to a conclusion and helping us as a nation to confront this deeply traumatic memory.”

Dr. Williams continued:

“Since women were first made priests in the Church of England in 1994, their ministry has hugely enriched both church and society. It has become increasingly clear to most of us that barring women from becoming bishops is an anomaly that should be removed, for the good of the Church’s mission and service.

“In July this year, the General Synod asked the House of Bishops to reconsider an alteration it had made to the proposed legislation on this subject. The Bishops have taken very seriously the anxieties expressed about the possible implications of their amendment and there has been widespread consultation since then. We are very grateful for all the points and suggestions offered by synod members and others.

“In light of this consultation, the Bishops have discussed the measure again and are now bringing forward a new text that expresses both our conviction of the need to see this legislation passed and our desire to honour the conscience and contribution of those in the Church of England whose reservations remain.

“It is particularly significant and welcome that the new text emerged not from the House of Bishops itself but rather from a serving woman priest.

“I hope all members of Synod will now reflect carefully on what the Bishops have decided and will continue to give thought and prayer to how they will vote in November.”

“I am convinced that the time has come for the Church of England to be blessed by the ministry of women as bishops and it is my deep hope that the legislation will pass in November.”

At its meeting in July the General Synod asked the House of Bishops to reconsider a provision in the legislation – Clause 5(1)(c) of the draft measure1.

The new amendment submitted by the Rev. Janet Appleby during the consultation process received overwhelming support from the House of Bishops in both their discussions and in the final vote.

In discussion the Bishops welcomed the simplicity of the new text, its emphasis on respect and the process of dialogue with parishes that it will promote.

The final text proposed by the House of Bishops is:

Substitute for the words in clause 5(1)(c):” the selection of male bishops and male priests in a manner which respects the grounds on which parochial church councils issue Letters of Request under section 3″

The House also agreed to establish a group to develop the illustrative draft Code of Practice published in January to give effect to the new provision.

One of the things that winds me up is when people say that it's actions, not words, that matter. It assumes that words are somehow not actions. They are. Much language is performative: it makes happen what it says.

I have been sitting in the decisive House of Bishops meeting in Oxford discussing (seriously, constructively, intelligently and eirenically) the proposed wording of an amendment to the wording of the draft legislation to allow women to become bishops. The consensus on the way ahead was overwhelming and this will be evident in the statements being issued shortly. I don't want to preempt that, but I only have a few minutes to write this and then go to my next engagement. However, we leave Oxford having taken words apart and debated meanings. Words matter – as is evident if you ever get them wrong or use the wrong ones.

But, what shares my mental and emotional space today is not bishops, but Liverpool. The Hillsborough Inquiry has reported (excellent work led by the excellent Bishop of Liverpool) and it is deeply shocking. The gracious and poignant dignity, perseverance and faithfulness of those family members bereaved at Hillsborough stands in remarkable contrast to the cover up by police, emergency services, politicians and others. The then editor of the Sun, Kelvin MacKenzie, must have made his position worse with a statement of such vacuous blame-throwing insincerity that I read it with incredulity.

The cry for justice has now been heard. But why did it take 23 years?

Simple words of apology from the Prime Minister matter. He has admitted the offence and has, therefore, performed a vital act for the families and the rest of us: he has articulated and set the course for the next period of life. At last.

23 years.

23 years.

23 years for words to be uttered that might just allow the beginning of healing.

23 years.

It is eight years since Boris Johnson commented so helpfully on the Liverpudlian psyche. I suggest a moment's silence while we consider it and await his apology.

More anon.

It’s all about memory.

We can only know where we are going if we first know where we are – and we can only know where we are if we know where we have come from. No wonder so many people are now spending time and money trying to reconstruct their family tree, even famous people on the telly. We need to know who we are.

That might sound trite or obvious, but it is also poignant today.

9/11 changed the world – not just because it brought upon us the disastrous ‘war on terror’ and re-defined the shape of Islam in the western world’s consciousness and imagination, but also because several thousand people left bereaved families and friends to shape a future without them, the particular loss impacting deeply in its brutality and scale. And today is one of those days when everyone can remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the planes exploding into the twin towers in New York.

Tomorrow sees another powerful memory evoked and, hopefully, reconciled. The Bishop of Liverpool is not here in Oxford as he will be presenting the Hillsborough Inquiry report in Liverpool. Not just friends and families of the 96 Liverpool fans who died on that awful day in Sheffield, but everyone in or with a connection to Liverpool. I remember exactly where I was when I heard on the radio what was happening and my mind just wouldn’t compute it at first.

The sense of injustice in Liverpool has been compounded by two things: (a) the refusal of successive governments to release papers and hold a proper inquiry, and (b) the offensive reporting as fact by the Sun newspaper of crude and shocking allegations about the behaviour of Liverpool fans while people lay dying on the pitch. The Sun has never been forgiven. The energy and persistence of those who have pushed for transparency and justice has defined their life… and it shouldn’t have been necessary. I only hope that tomorrow will bring with it the security of certain knowledge, the peace of resolution, and the beginning of healing of memories.

We live out of our memories. We inhabit an internal world shaped by memories. We know who we are by where we have come from and how we got to be where we are. Today and yesterday bring to mind (for some of us, at least) the searing sadness of loss, injustice and fearfulness – and invite us to begin a different journey to a different place of resolution in which the sting of particular memories begins to be drawn.

Or as Bruce Cockburn put it:

There you go swimming deeper into mystery,

Here I remain, only seeing where you used to be.

Stared at the ceiling ’til my ears filled up with tears;

Never got to know you, suddenly you’re out of here.

Gone from mystery into mystery

Gone from daylight into night

Another step deeper into darkness

Closer to the light

1. Jamie Oliver is one of the top ten geniuses of our world. Die Zeit says so.

2. Our ethics are a mess. Prominent newspapers in Britain are proud to show Gadaffi’s dead head on the front pages along with a message of revenge? Which particular ethic are we trying to teach our children here?

3. We always knew he was an evil nutcase anyway – which was why we never did business with him. Obviously.

4. Bankrupt Greece is hanging on for an awful long time. Or, at least, being hung onto for reasons which are debatable.

5. It’s hard trying to work out what to do when anti-capitalists occupy the front of your cathedral.

6. The nights are fair drawing in.

7. The scandal of Hillsborough and the injustice to the bereaved looks soon to be illuminated. The truth will always out…

8. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is just brilliant.

9. The National Media Museum in Bradford is wonderful and should be visited by everyone. Yes, everyone.

10. I can finally have a day off tomorrow.


One of my earliest memories of being bewildered goes back to my first reading of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales at my comprehensive school in Liverpool. I didn’t understand a word, but later learned that poetry is not only about content, but also about rhythm and sound and evocation. And  day like today – warm sun shining and a cloudless blue sky ( also empty of aircraft because of the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland) – and it is Chaucer who springs to mind:

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

The Canterbury pilgrims were moved by the promise of spring to walk to the Mother Church of England. But they started in the Tabard pub in Southwark.

I sometimes wonder where I was in the queue when the spirituality ‘genes’ were given out. I know many people today love spiritual pilgrimages and the mysticism of ‘holy sites’ and ‘holy journeys’. In my own experience the best pilgrimages (of mind and spirit) have begun in the open world of the pub and only ended (if they ever really did end) in the church – not usually the other way round. The best questions are raised in the common places of human discourse, even if they find their ‘home’ eventually in the place of worship and freedom.

But this spring is starting well as the blossom flourishes outside my study window and the trees are budding green. The Hillsborough Inquiry has begun this week under the chairmanship of the Bishop of Liverpool, Liverpool Football Club is finally on the market (and, hopefully, out of uncomprehending American hands), the Liberal Democrats have blown a hole in lazy British assumptions about two-party politics (and brought the election to life), and I’ve got Bruce Springsteen competing with Chaucer – maybe because he put a good tune to it:

And the girls in their summer clothes
In the cool of the evening light
The girls in their summer clothes
Pass me by.

Somehow that (and the music that goes with it) welcomes the spring and captures the optimism engendered by not having to wear loads of clothes.

Summer is coming…

It was announced yesterday that a new independent panel has been appointed to oversee the release of documents related to the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster.

According to the Home Office, the panel’s job will be to make sure the Hillsborough families and wider public receive the maximum possible disclosure of governmental and other agency information on the events that occurred and their aftermath. The panel will also produce a report illustrating how the information released adds to public understanding of the tragedy and advise on options for establishing a designated Hillsborough document archive.

It will also consult with the Hillsborough families, to ensure their views are taken into account.

The Right Reverend James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, has been appointed as chair, and the rest of the panel will be appointed early in the new year.

This is very good news for all concerned. Will disclosure finally lead to a public apology from the Sun for their disgraceful coverage of the events that day?

hillsboroughmemorial6So, the Hillsborough Memorial is past and Andy Burnham has agreed to the need for full disclosure of all the facts for the sake of the people affected by the tragedy on 15 April 1989. The Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police has publicly affirmed the responsibility of his force for the disaster. This means that there is some hope of people being allowed to move on in the light of the facts.

But there is still silence from the Sun newspaper about its own behaviour. So, I ask again: when will the newspaper do the decent thing and say something about its own role in reporting the tragedy and the distress it caused to so many people? So far there is a deafening silence. And it is disgusting.

No more to say until or unless the Sun comments.

For a personal account, see Alastair Cutting’s blog – excellent and personal.