Just as I was about to board my flight to Lanzarote last Thursday, 2 April 2009, I received a phone call from Paddy Shennan from the Liverpool Echo. He told me that the news of Phil Hammond’s critical illness was going to be reported in the Echo the following night. Phil Hammond is the Chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group.
I promised Paddy that I would pen a few words during the flight, describing my experience of the years that I had spent working alongside Phil. True to word, I started to scribble a few words on the back of my flight confirmation sheet. Before I knew it, I’d written four pages of notes. My granddaughter, Chelsea Sheedy, was then instructed to get the laptop out and I proceeded to dictate some further thoughts while she typed them up.
The bottom line is that it’s impossible to write a brief tribute to Phil Hammond without giving some background information about the Hillsborough families’ fight for justice. So here goes.
I am acutely aware of Phil’s dedication to the fight for justice as I worked closely with him for many years and I am the solicitor who brought the private prosecutions on behalf of the Hillsborough Family Support Group in 1998. When Phil first took ill on 29 December 2008, I was out celebrating Everton’s memorable win over Sunderland that day. It’s quite ironic that Phil was struck down with a brain haemorrhage shortly after the Sunderland game. You may recall that after the corresponding fixture last season, my friend and fellow blue AJ Clarke was brutally murdered in the city centre. Nobody has yet been charged with his murder.
I was totally distraught when I heard about Phil. Down the years, many members of the bereaved families have had their lives cut short. Maureen Church, Jane Kelly, Joan Sinclair, Frank McAllister, Sheila and Bill Pemberton, Les Steele, Terry Sephton, Patsy McConnell, Stan Roberts… the list goes on and on. “Hillsborough’s hidden victims” I call them. Worn down by the injustice surrounding the disaster. Too weary to battle with the establishment any longer and eager to join their loved ones in heaven. Bereft of the justice that they so thoroughly deserved. When I heard about Phil Hammond, I thought: “Please god, not Phil as well.”
I’ve worked alongside Phil since 1990. We shared the ups and downs — laughed together and cried together. I was privileged to witness the sheer courage of a man who was totally dedicated to the justice campaign, not just on behalf of the 96, but also on behalf of Liverpool supporters who have had to battle since 1989 to defend themselves from the lies that were told by the scum newspaper and THAT lie by David Duckenfield. We worked together on a full-time basis from 1997 when we set about arranging the Hillsborough Justice Concert at Anfield, to the conclusion of the private prosecutions in July 2000.
When the victims’ “body files” were released during the Lord Justice Stuart Smith “scrutiny” in 1997, it was our job to consider the same and then discuss the contents with bereaved families, whilst at the same time, trying to evaluate whether any evidence in the body files satisfied Stuart Smith’s self pronounced criteria of “fresh evidence”. This was the first time families had been allowed access to witness statements and photos reflecting not only the details of their loved ones in the final throes of life, but also, pictures of the deceased in body bags, lying on the cold floor of the gymnasium at the ground of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. The contents of each body file were horrific and no bereaved parent should have to confront such distressing documentation. The statements relating to the death of 10-year-old Jon Paul Gilhooly were particularly harrowing.
Phil Hammond had to confront these nightmares because the powers that be had copped out. In August 1989, the Taylor Inquiry had decreed that the immediate cause of the disaster was the failure of South Yorkshire Police (SYP), when gate C was opened, to cut off access to the central pens, which were already over-full. Lord Justice Taylor criticised senior officers for “failure of control”.
The West Midlands Police had been appointed to gather evidence for the Taylor Inquiry, the inquests, and subsequent criminal investigation. Shortly after the publication of Taylor’s report, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), assisted by the West Midlands Police, launched an investigation as to whether any individual should be prosecuted in respect of the disaster. Some 16 months after the disaster, the DPP ruled that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against any individual.
This decision coincided with the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) commencing a disciplinary investigation into the conduct of various SYP officers. In July 1991,the PCA directed South Yorkshire Police Authority to prefer disciplinary charges against Murray and Duckenfield. Murray faced one charge of neglect of duty, Duckenfield four charges of neglect of duty and one of discreditable conduct (“the lie”). In November 1991, Duckenfield was allowed to retire on health grounds. Disciplinary charges, therefore, were not proceeded with. This was followed by a direction from the PCA in January 1992, that the charge against Murray be discontinued on the grounds that it would be inappropriate and unjust to pursue the charge against him, when the charges against Duckenfield had lapsed.
The deliberate effect of these investigations was that no information was released to bereaved families on the grounds that the investigations should not be prejudiced. In the meantime, the shallow inquest had been concluded. The inquest would always be a sham, following the coroner’s infamous decision not to hear evidence as to events after the 3:15 pm cut-off time on the basis that all 96 had suffered their fatal, irreversible injuries at that time.
At the time of the inquest, the cut-off decision was ineffectively challenged because the families had been deprived of access to any meaningful information relating to their loved ones. Put simply, they were not in possession of vital evidence to show that some of the victims were alive after this time, and in fact could have been saved with prompt medical intervention.
Was the withholding of such vital documentation really to protect the integrity of the investigations by the DPP and the PCA? I doubt it. The DPP’s failure to bring prosecutions in spite of the overwhelming findings of Lord Justice Taylor and the PCA’s cowardly decision to discontinue disciplinary charges against both Duckenfield and Murray, lead many (including myself), to believe that this was just a ploy to deprive the bereaved of vital evidence which would have led to a different inquest verdict and equipped them with the information necessary to press for criminal charges. Families had been conned into believing that if they trusted in the powers that be, that justice would be delivered. In their view, the inquest had been a cover up and the truth had been stifled in order to protect SYP. At the time of the disaster they were Thatcher’s darlings. They had quashed the miner’s strike in the most forceful of fashions.
In spite of the lack of access to documents and statements, a number of families did discover, through their own research and persistent enquiries, further information as to the deaths of their relatives, and of the treatment, or lack of treatment, administered to them after 3:15 pm. In April 1992, six Hillsborough families applied for a judicial review of the inquest verdicts. The hearing took place in the same week as the trial of the Jamie Bulger murderers in November 1993. The standing of Liverpool people had never been lower. The Times newspaper had published a scathing article about “whinging scousers, wallowing in their own self-grief”. The judges presiding over the judicial review proceedings were totally unsympathetic. They appeared obviously disinterested with one of them regularly nodding off to sleep. The legal process is meant to be transparent. This was transparent injustice. It came as no surprise then when on 5 November 1993, these same judges ruled against the families. In their judgment, they referred to a semi-final between Liverpool and Sheffield Wednesday!
During the judicial review proceedings, The Coroner had produced an affidavit, which, for the first time exhibited “Continuity Charts”, which had been referred to at the mini-inquests into the deaths of the 96, but had never been disclosed to the families. These charts set out the movements of the deceased on the day of the disaster and also contained names of witnesses whose statements had never been disclosed to the families.
In addition, the families’ barrister, Alun Jones QC, was given an index of statements said to be held by the South Yorkshire Police, not the investigating West Midlands police. This index was disclosed only because there was some doubt as to whether a second statement of a witness relevant to the case of Michael Kelly had been provided to Michael’s family. This index consists of 116 pages, and it lists 3,907 statements. At that stage, the families who had applied for judicial review, probably held only a total of 50 or so statements.
Although the outcome of the application for Judicial Review was adverse to the six families, the evidence of the Coroner, the copy of the index, and the statements discovered or relied on by each of the six families, had the effect of persuading me and the families that there was a large body of evidence, undisclosed, of direct relevance to the tragedy, which remained in the possession of SYP, even though they had been blamed for negligence by Justice Lord Taylor. All of this evidence had also been made available to the Coroner, Dr Stefan Popper.
I do not believe that anyone considered a prosecution in the aftermath of the judicial review hearing. The reality is that the HFSG appeared to have reached the end of the legal road. The families were demoralised, and had no faith that the truth would emerge from further legal process. There was no money available, nor any prospect of raising it. The Group had access only to a fraction of the evidence, a factor which would inevitably have weighed against it in any attempt to bring a private prosecution.
Some of the families started to put their hopes of discovering the true facts of the disaster in the hands of the media, rather than the courts. An example was the Roger Cook programme on Central Television, “The Cook Report”, which concerned principally the case of Kevin Williams, and which included material discovered during and after the Judicial Review proceedings.
In October 1994, some of the families attended a preview of a series of fictional television programmes by the television writer Jimmy McGovern called “Cracker”. The programmes featured the effects of the disaster on a particular man.The families who saw it asked Jimmy McGovern to investigate and present the true story of the disaster.I met with Katy Jones, the producer of Granada’s television’s World in Action in January 1995 and gave her a lot of information.
Granada TV decided to commission a programme in about June 1995.A series of meetings took place between Jimmy McGovern and some of the families, and the HFSG formally approved co-operation with the making of the programme, which became the drama-documentary “Hillsborough” in December 1996.
The programme was well received by the public. Public awareness of the families’ plight increased significantly.The matters raised in the drama-doc were discussed by Parliament, and the then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, took a close and sympathetic interest, and met many of the families. The matters that were of concern to the group are apparent from the report of Lord Justice Stuart-Smith. The HFSG made submissions in 1997 to the Home Secretary and DPP asking for a criminal investigation into their well-founded belief that evidence had been suppressed.
On 10 May 1997, the Hillsborough Justice Concert was held at Anfield. I was privileged to work alongside Phil Hammond in organising the concert. Barely a month before, we’d travelled to London to the offices of Richard Branson to beg him to sponsor the concert. Before we arrived back in Liverpool that night, Branson had left a message saying that he would underwrite the costs of the concert. Phil and I both knew that tickets would fly out, but for various reasons, the concert had to be financially underwritten. I have an enduring memory of Phil’s tears when the erection of the stage was finally completed. The backdrop was the Shankly gates and at each side, the HFSG logo had been reproduced.The concert was an amazing success and raised substantial funds for the Group.
Thereafter followed the families’ meeting with Jack Straw. A new Labour government had just been elected . They promised to wipe away the misery of the Tory years. I was present at the meeting. Jack Straw announced to the families that he had ordered a “Scrutiny” of evidence pertaining to the disaster. He said that he’d appointed a senior Judge to conduct the “Scrutiny”. I immediately asked him what the Judge’s terms of reference were. He replied that it was up to the Judge to determine his own terms of reference. I also asked him whether Hillsborough families would be allowed to cross examine witnesses. Again I was told that this would be a decision for Lord Justice Stuart Smith.What Home Secretary appoints a judge to hold a previously unheard of “scrutiny” and then allows the judge to determine what he’s going to scrutinise and set down his own terms of reference? It was a new Labour cop-out. They thought that they could get away with appearing to give families something but in reality it simply amounted to political posturing.
Stuart Smith is the most obnoxious person I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet. He was sneering and lofty. I accompanied many families to their personal meetings with him. He was haughty, dismissive and insensitive in the extreme.Unsurprisingly, in February 1998, he ruled that there were no grounds to order a fresh inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster. Jack Straw and Stuart Smith have been rightly criticised. However, in their efforts to appear open and transparent, and to counter the arguments of “its just another cover up” they actually provided the families’ campaign for justice with fresh impetus. Remember, Stuart Smith’s own terms of reference were to inquire as to whether families had any fresh evidence which would have led Lord Justice Taylor, the DPP, the coroner and the PCA to reach different decisions than they had previously reached. What farcical terms of reference. Whilst the families possessed the transcripts of the verbal evidence given to Lord Justice Taylor and the coroner, they were completely in the dark as to what information had been considered by the DPP or the PCA. On the whole, families were pleased with the findings of the Taylor inquiry and were confident that such robust findings would result in the culpable parties being held to account. As described above this did not happen. The single thing that we have to thank Stuart Smith for was the fact that he confirmed the findings of Taylor, that SYP were to blame for the disaster. In other words, we knew that as he’d been privy to the material that the DPP had considered between 1989 – 1990, there was nothing in there that had undermined Taylor’s findings.
Under pressure from many MPs, notably, Maria Eagle, Jack Straw ordered that all police officers’ statements should be made available to Hillsborough families. They were made available in April 1998. They included the original and amended statements of police officers. Professor Phil Scraton had presented Stuart Smith with irrefutable evidence that police officers had been pressurised into changing their witness statements in order to deflect blame for the disaster away from SYP and onto Liverpool supporters. In his report, Stuart Smith had been forced to concede that SYP had undertaken an exercise to ensure that police officers’ statements were edited with a view to taking out all criticism of SYP and inserting references to the bad behaviour of Liverpool supporters.Families’ long held suspicions of a huge cover-up were confirmed by the contents of the statements.The volume and extent of alterations was much more serious than that conceded by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith.
Phil Hammond and I worked solidly for weeks comparing the original statements to the edited versions. We compiled a 64 page document which set out every amendment to each statement. I described above how, alongside legal assistant Kathy Durham, we had previously analysed all the victims’ body files. Analysing the police statements were something else.Can you imagine a bereaved man sitting there and reading the vilest lies about the deceased and their fellow Liverpool supporters? Phil Hammond was a broken man at this stage of the campaign but he still soldiered on, more determined than ever to bring those responsible for the disaster to account.
At this stage, the HFSG had substantial witness statements, and also had the funds from the Justice Concert to conduct a prosecution.Furthermore, as stated above, the Stuart-Smith report had unambiguously reaffirmed the findings of the Taylor Inquiry that SYP were responsible for the disaster, and had confirmed that in 1990, the West Midlands police had not provided the DPP with any material that undermined those findings. Therefore, in June 1998, on behalf of HFSG, I commenced private prosecutions against former Chief Superintendent Duckenfield and Superintendent Murray alleging two specimen charges of unlawful killing and wilful misfeasance in public office.A further charge of perverting the course of justice was alleged against Duckenfield in relation to his lie about Liverpool supporters forcing open Gate C.
Shortly afterwards, both Defendants applied to the DPP to take over the prosecutions and discontinue them. In response, we made comprehensive submissions to DPP as to why prosecutions should be allowed to proceed. On 18th December 1998, after considering detailed submissions for five and half months the Director of Public Prosecutions announced that he would not discontinue the prosecutions and that they could proceed
By that time, the lads from Cavern City Tours had provided us with a rent-free office in North John Street. Those offices have now been converted into the “Hard Days Night Hotel”. How apt, as the work that was undertaken from those offices was phenomenal. Bereaved mum Margy Aspinall, and legal assistant Kathy Durham worked alongside me and Phil. Margy also worked like a Trojan. Previously, she’d had no experience of office work. By the time that the prosecutions had finished, she was an accomplished administrator. She’d photo copied literally millions of pieces of paper, made thousands of gallons of tea and a smaller quantity of early morning brandy coffee. Kathy is one of the most personable and kind-hearted people I have ever met. She also has a fine legal brain and did a terrific job in talking to potential witnesses and putting them at ease. Together we made a formidable team even when confronted by defendants who had the luxury of being guaranteed an initial sum of £500,000 by South Yorkshire Police Authority to cover the costs of their defence.
It was an uphill struggle when faced with 5 separate judicial review actions in the High Court - 4 on behalf of the defendants to have the prosecutions halted, and 1 on behalf of the Chief Constable of SYP to restore funding to the defendants. In the Autumn on 1998, we had discovered thatthe Defendants were being funded by South Yorkshire Police Authority and that funding would continue to the conclusion of legal proceedings.As far as SYPA were concerned, the defendants had acted in good faith on the day of the disaster.
On 8 January 1989, accompanied by Margy and another bereaved mum, Doreen Jones, we turned up unannounced at a meeting of SYPA in Barnsley and presented all 17 members of the Authority with a huge file of papers containing submissions as to why the funding of defendants was unlawful and inequitable.How could they possibly conclude that Duckenfield and Murray had acted in good faith when SYPA themselves had charged them with disciplinary charges for neglect of duty in 1991? This led to a decision of SYPA to stop the funding.The Chief Constable of SYP expressedconcern saying that he would challenge the decision as it was a matter of importance to police forces nationally. Hence his application for judicial review.
The sum result of the judicial reviews was that the High Court ruled that the private prosecutions could continue but that the charge against Duckenfield relating to his disgraceful lie should be dropped and that the defendant’s funding by SYPA could be restored. There is an obvious link to these decisions which deserves an article in their own right, but that’s for another day.
And so the private prosecutions proceeded. On 20th July 1999, we succeeded in committal proceedings in Leeds Magistrates’ Court and the Defendants were committed to stand trial at Leeds Crown Court on 6th June 2000.The trial was scheduled to last for 6 - 8 weeks.
On 6 June 2000, legal history was made when a jury was sworn in at Leeds Crown Court andthe families’ case was presented to them. Halfway through these criminal proceedings, the defendants’ legal team made a submission that there was no case to answer. Judge Hooper ruled that there was and so the prosecution continued. Murray gave evidence but Duckenfield did not. On 20 July 2000,Murray was acquitted but the jury stayed out on Duckenfield. This was in spite of the biased summing up of Judge Hooper who had instructed the jury to consider the message that they would send out to the emergency services if the defendants were convicted. This was absolute rubbish. What had happened at Hillsborough was not an emergency. Phil and I had sat through more than 70 hours of footage taken by various cameras from the BBC, SWFC and SYP. The crush and chaos had started outside the ground at 2. 20pm and had culminated in the opening of Gate C at 2.52pm when the central pens were already overfull. We’d had to make a compilation video of this footage to present to the Jury. The BBC at Leeds gave splendid assistance in this regard.
On the 24 July 2000, the jury announced that they could not reach a verdict on Duckenfield. On 25 July 2000, the HFSG met and decided to make an application for a re-trial of Duckenfield. The following day, the application was made but Hooper refused to order the re-trial on the grounds that Duckenfield would not get a fair trial.
I realise that I have skated over the details of the private prosecutions. They are another story in themselves, and I have promised the families that when time permits, I will publish a full analysis on the internet. There is an added complexity. I remain under the threat of a criminal investigation by SYP if anything that was disclosed to me from the SYP Hillsborough archive during the private prosecutions, appears in the public domain. That does not bother me. However, I hope that readers recognise that it has been quite stressful to recall such painful details. I was just the solicitor – imagine what the Hillsborough families have had to endure.
This article was intended to be an Evertonian’s tribute to Phil Hammond and the 96. I would like to conclude it with a request to Evertonians to reflect upon the Hillsborough tragedy and a plea to respect the memories of the 96 at the semi-final on 19 April 2009. Let’s show some respectful solidarity as we showed in 1989, and as the reds showed upon the deaths of Rhys Jones and Rory Colquhoun. As Ian Macdonald repeatedly says, only for the toss of a coin, it could have been 96 Evertonians who lost their lives on that fateful day. We had been involved in serious crushing at Hillsborough the season before. However, in 1989, we had drawn the lucky straw and had been drawn to play our semi-final at Villa Park.
The Hillsborough families are a credit to us all. They ended up doing the job that the DPP should have done immediately after the disaster. Phil Hammond has dedicated 20 years of his life working relentlessly for the truth about the tragedy to emerge. Phil Hammond, my special pal - Get Well Soon. You deserve justice to be done in your lifetime.RIP the 96.
Addendum: Since I started writing this piece, another member of the bereaved families has died. Mick Lewis, who lost his son Carl at the disaster, died on 5 April 2009. When Carl’s body file was released in 1997, it contained statements of 2 ambulance men who had valiantly battled to save Carl’s life. These statements had not previously been disclosed to Carl’s family. We contacted them both. Qualified para-medic, Peter Howes had been summonsed from Derbyshire. He arrived at the ground at about 4pm. He told us of how he was met by scenes of absolute chaos. He was unable to get any clear information from the police as to what had happened. He confirmed that he had not received a major incident call, which might have helped him to prepare for the horrific scenes, which he was about to encounter. Upon reaching the ground, he walked towards a pile of bodies that had been placed on the ground outside of the stadium. He began to check for signs of life in each of them. He found a pulse in one of the bodies. That was Carl Lewis. Carl had been left lying face down with a shirt over his head. Peter Howes intubated Carl and instructed a police officer to begin heart compression. He then took him to hospital and on the journey there, a doctor inserted a drip and used a defibrillator on Carl. Sadly, Carl later died at the Royal Hallamshire hospital, Sheffield.
Stuart-Smith, whilst accepting what Peter Howes said in a freshly prepared statement to the HFSG, saw no need to interview Peter on the basis that his original statement was known to the coroner at the time of the mini-inquests. There was no jury sitting at the min-inquests, which preceded the main inquest by some 6 months. He just didn’t get it. Extracts from Peter’s statement had been read out at the mini-inquests in the form of a summary. The jury at the main inquest were not made aware of it because of the 3.15 cut-off time. Peter’s actual statement was not disclosed to the family until more than 8 years after the disaster so at the time of the inquests, they were not in a position to challenge the cut-off point. I defy anybody to tell me that Carl Lewis was beyond saving at 3.15. Because of the 3.15 cut off time, the role of the emergency services and the fact that the emergency disaster plan was not activated on 15 April 1989, have never been investigated.
RIP Mick Lewis.
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