Hillsborough response

The coroner’s jury on the Hillsborough tragedy has condemned the police and some others for their handling of the football crowd at Hillsborough 27 years ago, and especially for the prolonged and expensive cover-up.  Now there are demands for truth and justice, which is generally interpreted as meaning prosecution and punishment.  In some cases, where the accusation is that a crime has been committed, this will be inevitable, for example perverting the course of justice by falsifying records.  This would require prosecution and conviction, with the delay and adversarial procedure involved, but a restorative process afterwards would still be a possibility.

In other cases, however, would families of Hillsborough victims be better served by some kind of Truth and Reconciliation Commission than by prosecutions?   It appears that what families want more than anything is acknowledgement of responsibility, answers to questions, and action to make a repetition less likely.  Is prosecution the best way to achieve this?  Let us consider the possible outcomes and the processes by which they could be reached.  If the accused pleaded Guilty, there would be no opportunity for dialogue and asking questions; if Not Guilty, the process would be even more protracted.  In either case, a punitive sentence on the accused would give no real benefit to the families.  Deferment of sentence would be a possibility, but that would require prosecution and conviction first.  The prospect of a TRC might well make the accused more willing to accept responsibility.  But perhaps it is too soon to suggest it?

It would have to be handled carefully, of course, with no suggestion that the relatives ‘ought’ to take part;  it would be primarily for them, rather than for the police officers, because it might be a way for them to get answers that they would not get through a criminal prosecution.  And the police and others involved would have to accept responsibility – the prospect of a TRC might encourage them to do so.  As always, it would have to be made clear that a TRC is not a ‘let-off’ but can be tougher than a conventional punishment.  It is likely that the families who wanted it would get more from it than from punishment;  imprisoning some police officers would not benefit the families or the officers.  Maybe some form of community service, a la Profumo, could be appropriate?
It is also fair to police officers who wish to accept responsibility and apologise to give them the opportunity to do so, in a setting where they can show their sincerity rather than appear to be merely trying to minimise punishment.   Deferment of sentences to allow for RJ would be a possibility, but that would be preceded by adversarial court proceedings, and would probably also take a long time.  What would happen if some accepted the idea and others didn’t?
But perhaps this should be considered at a later date, when feelings are not so raw?