The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and the College of Policing have published a joint report recommending action to ensure the police failures made after the Hillsborough disaster can never happen again.
The National police response to the Hillsborough Families Report outlines a number changes to policing in England and Wales’ 43 police forces (see box below) and promises a ‘cultural change’.
Published on last week (31 January), the report is the force’s response to Rt Reverend James Jones KBE’s critique of the ‘police and other agencies and individuals across the criminal justice system and beyond’ and how bereaved families are treated.
The former Bishop of Liverpool’s ‘The patronising disposition of unaccountable power’: A report to ensure the pain and suffering of the Hillsborough families is not repeated, published in November 2017, highlighted the mind-set that defines how many organisations and the people who work in them behave.
‘One of its core features is an instinctive prioritisation of the reputation of an organisation over the citizen’s right to expect people to be held to account for their actions,’ he said in the report. ‘This represents a barrier to real accountability.’
Reflecting on the experiences of the bereaved families in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster in April 1989, which resulted in the deaths of 97 Liverpool FC fans at the Sheffield stadium, the Rt Reverend recommended 25 changes, including three crucial ones.
The first was the creation of a Charter for Families Bereaved through Public Tragedy, which is made up of a series of commitments to change, with each one related to transparency and acting the public interest. The former Bishop encouraged leaders of all public bodies to publicly sign up to it.
The other main one specifically directed at the police was a ‘duty of candour’ for police officers to improve accountability in the force and to deal with any ‘unacceptable behaviour’ from police officers, both serving and retired, who ‘fail to cooperate fully with investigations into alleged criminal offences or misconduct’.
Responding to the learning points for policing identified by the Rt Reverend, the NPCC and the College of Policing and police forces across England and Wales have adopted the Charter for Families Bereaved through Public Tragedy.
‘Signing the charter means police leaders across England and Wales have committed to embedding its core tenets of care, compassion, openness, transparency and accountability into policing’s response to disaster,’ says the report.
‘Those who lead police organisations must acknowledge when mistakes have been made and must not, as the charter sets out, seek to defend the indefensible.’
The new report also highlights more recent changes in police approaches to supporting families, notably the establishment of family liaison as a distinct and professional function in policing.
In direct response to the Rt Reverend’s report, the College of Policing published revised police disaster victim identification (DVI) authorised professional practice (APP) in August 2018. As the report notes, this included an ‘explicit statement that the terms “belonging to” or “property of the coroner” should not be used.
The report also highlights the College of Policing’s Code of Ethics published in 2014, which was identified in the Rt Reverend’s report three years later.
‘Ethical considerations are now woven into recruitment, promotion and assessment methods, training and development and, most importantly, the approach that officers and staff must take when making key decisions – the national decision model,’ the report notes.
The joint police response also recognises the critical role that police leadership has in embedding the lessons learned from Hillsborough.
The report says: ‘Senior and chief officer level leaders are being challenged to reduce hierarchical barriers and take steps to avoid defensiveness and a “blame culture” in their organisations. The expectation that anyone seeking promotion in policing at any rank will now be assessed on their values is a strong driver for ethical leadership.’
Both the NPCC and the College of Policing have supported the proposal for a duty of candour and the report notes that candour will be a key theme in the revised Code of Ethics and the supporting code of practice on ethical and professional policing.
‘This code of practice will require chief constables to ensure their organisations and all their staff demonstrate ethical decision making and professional behaviour,’ says the report.
‘This will include the need to address institutional defensiveness, challenge unacceptable behaviour and effectively investigate misconduct when it does occur.’
Publishing the report on Monday , National Police Chiefs’ Council Chair, Martin Hewitt, said: ‘Collectively, the changes made since the Hillsborough disaster and in response to Rt Reverend James Jones’s report aim to ensure the terrible police failures made on the day and in the aftermath can never happen again.
‘Police chiefs today are committed to responding to major incidents with openness and with compassion for the families involved. All police forces in England and Wales are signed up to the Charter for Families Bereaved through Public Tragedy. In signing this, they [are] committed to putting the interests of victims and families above any other interest and acting with candour at every turn.
Chief Constable Andy Marsh, College of Policing CEO, added: ‘Policing has profoundly failed those bereaved by the Hillsborough disaster over many years and we are sorry that the service got it so wrong. Police failures were the main cause of the tragedy and have continued to blight the lives of family members ever since.’
He added that the former Bishop of Liverpool’s Hillsborough Families Report is now included in training for new recruits entering the police through the College of Policing’s updated routes.
In November 2019, David Duckenfield, the former South Yorkshire police chief superintendent, who was in charge of the FA semi-final held at Hillsborough, was cleared of manslaughter after a seven-week trial at Preston Crown Court .
In April that year, Graham Mackrell, the safety officer in charge of Sheffield Wednesday FC whose home ground is Hillsborough stadium, became the first (and only) person to be convicted of an offence relating to the disaster (https://www.ioshmagazine.com/safety-officer-hillsborough-disaster-fined-inadequate-turnstile-arrangements). He was found guilty of failing to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act after a 10-week trial.
Image credit | Alamy
Reforms to policing outlined in the new report include:
- All police forces in England and Wales have signed up to a Charter for Families Bereaved Through Public Tragedy which sets out that police organisations must acknowledge when mistakes have been made and must not seek to defend the indefensible.
- The College of Policing and National Police Chiefs Council have agreed the content of a new code of practice on police information and records management to prevent the problems faced after the Hillsborough disaster when records were lost or destroyed. This code has been submitted to the Home Office for ministerial approval, following which it can be laid before Parliament in accordance with the Police Act 1996.
- The College of Policing’s Code of Ethics – applicable to everyone working in policing – will be revised this year and candour will be a key theme. There will be a supporting code of practice, which chief officers must have regard to, which will state that ‘Chief officers have a responsibility to ensure openness and candour within their force’.
- New national guidance for family liaison officers has been issued, incorporating learning from the Hillsborough Families Report, the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the 2017 terrorist attacks.
- The College of Policing released updated disaster victim identification Authorised Professional Practice in August 2018 in direct response to the report, including an explicit statement that the terms ‘belonging to’ or ‘property of the coroner’ should not be used in future disasters.