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.

 

This is the text of this morning’s Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2’s Chris Evans Show – with Chris just having returned from the Monaco Grand Prix:

Well, there I was at the weekend, listening to some old Bruce Cockburn stuff, when, in one of those coincidences you just can’t plan for, Lewis Hamilton’s face came on the telly while Bruce was singing his epic song Anything can happen.

Basically, Anything can happen simply makes the point that when you go out in the morning, anything can … er … happen. And, as Lewis discovered in Monaco, we can’t control everything all of the time. The best laid plans, and all that… I mean, I’m a Liverpool fan, so I know what I’m talking about.

But, why should this be a surprise? And what are we supposed to do when things don’t go according to plan?

I guess people fall into two camps. There are those who whinge and moan and think the world is against them; and there are those who just get on with it – whatever the ‘it’ is, and however good or bad ‘it’ is. After all, we can’t change the world to make it suit us, and we can’t control other people to make them fit in with what might make us feel happiest.

This isn’t exactly new, is it? You sometimes hear people speak as if you only have to get the formula right (pun intended) and everything will fall into place. Follow these seven steps to success, and you will be healthy, wealthy and wise! But, we know that nothing can be guaranteed and formulae don’t work. There can even be a temptation – for people of faith – to think that if you press all the right ‘God buttons’, life will go well and you will be spared the messiness and sickness and fragility that being mortal brings with it.

But, the reality is that even for the faithful, there are no promises other than that: whatever the world throws at us, we will not be abandoned.

So, anything can happen and anything can happen! No deals, no bargains and no fixes. Frightening? Maybe. Exciting? Definitely. But, the good news is – and I say this through gritted teeth – that you’ll never walk alone…

Here's the text of this morning's Pause for Thought on the Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2. The guests on the show today were Chas n Dave, Keane's Tom Chaplin and Darcey Bussell. Rather cheaply I called the script 'Mustn't grumble' – an early song title by the Rockney duo – and I smuggled in a title by Keane. Not very adventurous, I know, but I ran out of inspiration.

A couple of weeks ago we had the Bishop of Khartoum in Sudan staying with us. On my day off I agreed to take him – Ezekiel – to Liverpool for the day because he wanted to see Anfield. No, really, he did. So, when we got there I took a photo of him standing next to the statue of the great Bill Shankly. On the plinth beneath Bill it says: “He made the people happy.” Ezekiel said to me: “He obviously wasn't a bishop, then!”

Ha! Well, he was right, wasn't he? The job of a bishop is not primarily to keep people happy and being happy isn't always the best thing to aim for, either. Especially if my happiness is achieved at the expense of someone else's misery. Ezekiel had left behind him tens of thousands of people whose homes in Khartoum had been washed away when the Nile flooded recently – and most of these people had fled from violence in Darfur and elsewhere in the first place. He needed to know that they aren't forgotten by those who live in safety elsewhere – like being “silenced by the night”.

People suffering this week from violence in Syria, Pakistan and Kenya need the assurance that their plight is not being ignored by an apathetic world that cares only about its own satisfaction.

But, happiness need not be simply selfish or self-indulgent. What if it is about opening people's eyes to joy, awakening curiosity and teasing the imagination, offering hope of a new start and forgiveness and reconciliation and love… and helping people hear – amid the cacophony of the present – the music of the future? What if making people happy has to do with enabling them to know that they are infinitely valuable and eternally loved – that whatever the world throws at them, they matter? Or, that however dark life gets, the light cannot be extinguished? That they are loved to death and beyond?

Well, they'll never put up a statue to me – in Liverpool or Bradford or anywhere else. But, I think there are worse epitaphs than Bill Shankly's: “He made the people happy.”

 

I am about to depart for a break. The timing is terrible. The new Premier League season begins on 17 August, my fantasy league squad is ready, and… er… I won’t be here.

So, in order to distract me from Luis Suarez’s shameful behaviour at a club that has nurtured and defended him despite at least 18 games missed by ‘bad behaviour’ bans, here is a video I have only come across (courtesy of a friend in the USA) after everybody else.

Last night I was the president and preacher at the ordination of Nick Dill as the Bishop of Bermuda. The Cathedral in Hamilton was packed and it was – for us feeble Brits, at least – hot and sweaty. For me it was a privilege to represent the Archbishop of Canterbury here.

I know I am always banging on about this, but being somewhere different invites (or compels) you to look at 'home' through a different lens. Familiar themes and assumptions have to be re-thought when applied in a different context. So, preaching here made me ask basic and simple questions about what a bishop is actually called to do – when you strip away all the detailed stuff and try to identify the big picture of the church's vocation. I don't know what it feels like to be a bishop in Bermuda and I can't look through the eyes of people for whom this reality is in their DNA. But, I can recall the fact that a bishop is called to hold before the people – whoever and wherever they might be – the story told in the Bible of God's engagement with his people: that we are to give our lives in order that the world might see who and how God is.

If we lose the plot (the basic narrative of our vocation), we will lose the plot (the stuff that speaks to us of our identity – as Israel lost the land during the prophetic years of the eighth and sixth centuries BC).

Anyway, the hospitality, welcome, kindness and friendliness of the people we have met here is wonderful. The new bishop is hugely popular and is a source of hope and encouragement – and, I suspect, of necessary challenge.

I have also discovered the link between Bradford and Bermuda: Nakhi Wells, the Bradford City footballer who is very popular here. At the same time I read today that Liverpool's brilliant Luis Suarez is complaining that the British press don't understand him. Fan though I am, this is not a bleeding heart moment of sympathy. Suarez is brilliant, but he dives a bit, bites opponents and then feels 'misunderstood'. I'd hate to see him go, but, even given appropriate criticism of the British press, this is a fatuous reason for heading for Spain.

Oh well, better go and cool off in the sun.

 

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.

 

What do you do when you find out the great Suggs is going to be in the studio when you go in to do Pause for Thought on the the great Chris Evans Show on the great BBC Radio 2? And how do you do justice to the great Bradford City cup final at Wembley (on Sunday) at the same time as recognising the shocking child poverty realities I referred to yesterday… when Liverpool have just gone out of the Europa League on an away goal… and Suggs is in the studio?

No idea. So, here’s what I said this morning – including sixteen Madness song titles:

It’s a bit of a strange experience living in Bradford at the moment. Believe me, it was a grey day when I left yesterday, but whatever the weather this weekend, nothing will dampen the spirits as Bradford City go to Wembley for their first ever cup final. If Liverpool could bang in five against Swansea last week, anything is possible. What an embarrassment!

Isn’t it great when the underdog threatens the top dog? No shadow of fear – just the sheer madness of enjoying what most people thought was one step beyond possibility. You can take it or leave it, but in the middle of the night, when Bradfordians wake up in a cold sweat thinking of the glory ahead, nothing will take away the joy of celebration.

Now, there’s lots of serious stuff going on in the world – I know that. Oscar Pistarius. Syria tearing itself apart. In this country we are still finding it hard to wake up to the appalling statistics of child poverty – forgetting that poverty doesn’t just make life a little bit miserable for a child now; it affects the whole of their life, their physical growth, their education, aspiration and life opportunities. It is bad for children, families, schools and society.

But this runs alongside the excitement of good stuff that goes on. Life is always a mixture of the grim and the great. Our house might be a place of weeping, while next door is a house of fun. As the Old Testament Ecclesiastes put it, “there is a time for everything.” Honest, if not always comfortable.

It’s a crying shame, but I will miss the final at Wembley cos I’ll be driving in my car to Cambridge. But my heart will lift on Saturday night, Sunday morning in anticipation of the joy to come. Wonderful? Absolutely! Or, as the song puts it: “Oui oui si si ja ja da da.”

I know it sounds weird, but I always have this feeling as 31 December motors on towards midnight that we have climbed a long, high ladder… only to fall off and have to start again on the bottom rung. So, 2012 ends as 2013 appears over the horizon. The Sound of Music is on the telly, Harry Hill's Livin' the Dreem is on my lap, the world continues, but some things never change.

The Bradford Telegraph & Argus, our excellent local paper, consistently gets one thing wrong. The proposals that three dioceses in West Yorkshire should be dissolved and a single, new diocese created in 2013 presents a fantastic and creative opportunity to re-imagine and re-shape the Church of England's mission in this part of the country. Yet, despite numerous explanations and careful use of language, the T&A persists in stating that “Bradford will be subsumed into the Diocese of Leeds” and that the Bishop of Bradford will “lose his job”. This just feeds the local prejudices about Leeds and misrepresents what is proposed.

First, there is no 'Diocese of Leeds' into which the Diocese of Bradford can be 'subsumed'. Secondly, the proposal sees the dissolution of three dioceses: Bradford, Wakefield and Ripon & Leeds – all three on the same terms. Thirdly, a completely new Diocese of Leeds – to be known as the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales – would then be created: a new entity and not a simple 'merger' or 'amalgamation' of three. Fourthly, I won't “lose my job”; rather, the post of (Diocesan) Bishop of Bradford would go, paving the way for a more focused (Area) Bishop of Bradford to be appointed. What happens to me is irrelevant to this; the Church is not to be held hostage to the role, 'career prospects' or security of bishops when re-shaping its organisation and ministry.

Right, got that out of my system. It isn't that hard to grasp, is it?

Anyway, 2013 remains as unknown and unpredictable as every other year, every other month, very other day in history. We live as if the past was ordered and coherent when, in fact, it never has been. We largely make it up as we go along. Assumptions that everything should continue as before should by now be seen to be a fantasy. The banking crisis caused the disappearance of pensions that people had paid into for decades; jobs with 'tenure' simply disappeared in a moment; business that looked permanent simply broke down. A contingent world inhabited by mortal human beings can change in an instant.

I am not being miserable or encouraging short-termism here. I am simply commending a reality check on our perspectives and expectations.

So, 2013 beckons. As poverty worsens and the government seems increasingly impervious to an understanding (I am avoiding the 'soft' word empathy) of how most people live, the gambling industry grows in ubiquity by the day. Might there just be the merest hint of a link between increasing poverty and the desperate illusion of instant unearned financial salvation… even against both all the odds and all experience? The new year holds no prospects of an Olympics or a Diamond Jubilee – although the prospect of Liverpool re-building under Brendan Rodgers keeps some of us going with some degree of optimism – and there doesn't seem to be a prospect of any repeat of the national celebration we saw in 2012.

What does lie ahead? Continuing inhumanity in Syria, endless suffering of Christian communities in places like Nigeria and Pakistan, relentless tribal conflict hiding behind identities labeled by race, religion or political creed. Economic austerity at home will bring challenges that can only be ignored by wilful blindness. The world will continue to face new challenges and opportunities – as it has done in every other generation. With a bit of humility, a developing sense of history (and what can be learned from it), some creative ambition and a renewed love of God and neighbour, we might just face some of these challenges with renewed ambition, creative imagination, generous humility and solidarity.

And what does the Christian gospel offer? I suggest the following:

1. Hope – rooted in a community of ordinary people who have been grasped by a refusal to consent to the assumption that death, violence and destruction have the final word in this world: God does, and it sounds something like 'resurrection'.

2. Commitment – followers of Jesus (however often we fail) cannot do other than get stuck in to the real world we inhabit: the good news is that God has, in Christ, opted into the contingent, contradictory and vulnerable messiness of the world… and refused to exempt himself from it. Christians inescapably commit themselves not only to worship and the building of the church, but to sacrificial service of their local community and the wider world.

3. Confidence – even when ridiculed or lazily dismissed by the effortlessly superior commentariat: the Christian church doesn't confuse repeated mantras of 'weakness' or 'irrelevance' with 'reality'. Whatever else happens, we won't either give up or go away. Confidence is not arrogance – it is grounded in reality coloured by hope.

So, having long ago rejected inventing soon-to-be-moved-on-from New Year Resolutions, I face the new year with the words of some largely anonymous Palestinians from two millennia ago. Mark 10 contrasts the blindness of those close to Jesus (James and John, in particular, who think godliness is all about personal status and security) with the vision of a blind man, Bartimaeus. The former see it as their job to keep Jesus from being disturbed or distracted – away from people like Bartimaeus; but, Jesus confounds their narrow little world and tells them to bring the blind man to him. So, they go to him… and these are the words that hang in my consciousness at a time of uncertainty:

Take heart, get up, he is calling you.

In other words: be encouraged and stop colluding with the fatalism and defeatism hanging in the air; don't be bound by the miserable prejudices of those who see themselves as the guardians of mercy. Now, get up, do something about it: faith is never merely notional, but has to be worked out and lived in choices and priorities and action. And don't think this is for others: he is inescapably calling me/us/you to commitment to this community of motivated people who dance to a different tune in this world – a tune that is an echo of another world.

Happy new year!

(And now back to the Sound of Music…)

 

I'm writing this before the QPR-Liverpool. Just in case all motivation has evaporated by the end of the game. I need Raheem Sterling to score a hatrick today, if my fantasy league team is to recover from its current despair.

Last night we watched the Julia Roberts film Eat, Pray, Love. Only because the film club thing sent it. Having watched over two hours of selfish psychobabble (how to find yourself by using other people), the DVD got stuck in the final scene – so, we still have no idea what great wisdom she articulated at the end of her search for herself. But, there were two good lines in it and I'll stick with them.

An at-the-end-of-her-tether Roberts decides to pray. Not being sure where or how to start, she suggests she might go with “I am a big fan of your work.” She could have chosen a worse opening line! She's actually summarised half the Psalmists with that line.

The second – and funnier – was when a bloke says to her: “When I look into your eyes I hear dolphins clapping…” Er… was that supposed to be romantic? I don't even know what it means. If you were a girl and a bloke said that to you, would you be flattered, swoony, seduced or what?

Mind you, I'm not sure what might be funnier. “When I look into your eyes I hear the Kop laughing at Everton…”? Or, “When I look into your eyes I hear cows fertilising the field…”? Or, “When I look into your eyes I hear Iron Maiden singing 'Only the good die young'…”? The mind boggles. However, I am open to alternatives.

I really should take lessons from the excellent blog of Stephen Cherry – this year's best find – and do something serious about looking ahead to the new year. Sitting here in the pub watching Liverpool beating QPR 2-0 (so far), my imagination isn't proving very fertile, but I'll venture the following quickies:

  • Liverpool to finish in the top six of the Premier League
  • Rowan Williams to enjoy his new post as Master of Magdalene, Cambridge, after a decade of ABC
  • Justin Welby to get a good start as ABC despite those who will either (a) chop his legs off while pleading 'mission', or (b) look for any weakness to exploit
  • West Yorkshire dioceses to have vision, courage and creativity when we vote for a creative and different future organisation in March
  • The safe arrival of a granddaughter in March
  • A useful visit to Sudan in January
  • Growing confidence in the churches
  • World peace and economic justice…

Oh, and Liverpool are now three up. I'm going while we're winning…