‘No cover-ups, no concealments’ – demand bereaved families fighting for justice

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KYE GBANGBOLA, with his wife NICOLE, in front of a picture of their son, Zane, addressing the ‘Hillsborough Law Now’ event

BEREAVED families, were joined by speakers from academia, sports, journalism and the arts at an event last Friday for a ‘Hillsborough Law Now’ event broadcast live on Facebook.

This comes after the powerful ITV drama ‘Anne’, which tells the story of Anne Williams’ fight for justice for her son Kevin.

Speakers demanded measures aimed at preventing others from going through the fight for justice faced by the families of the tragedy’s victims.

Some of the most powerful testimonies came from people who lost relatives not just at Hillsborough, but also at Grenfell Tower, the Manchester Arena bombing, TruthAboutZane and other major tragedies and scandals.

One strand of the new law would be a statutory duty of candour on all public servants during public inquiries and criminal investigations. ‘That means no cover-ups, no concealments, no closing of ranks,’ said attendees.

It also means proper participation of bereaved families at inquests, through publicly-funded legal representation and an end to limitless legal spending by public bodies. There is a case for parity of legal funding to create a level playing field in courtrooms.

Margaret Aspinall’s son James was 18 when he was killed at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, one of 97 people who died from the injuries they sustained that day.

‘I think this Hillsborough Law is so important,’ she said. ‘It won’t be any good now to the families, obviously – our journey is more or less done. But it’s going to be important for other people. The system is so unjust and unfair. I feel like we’re back in the dark ages.’

Mrs Aspinall says the police cover-up after Hillsborough shows the system is corrupt, and that’s why a new law is needed.

The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham is leading calls for a statutory duty of candour on all police officers, which would mean they are legally required to tell the truth during all forms of public inquiry.

‘We’ve been living in a country where bereaved families often come up against public bodies that close ranks that create false narratives,’ he said. ‘It’s just not a level playing field, and so you see this pattern repeat itself and repeat itself.’

His calls for reform are based on a report in 2017 reflecting on the Hillsborough families’ experiences. The recommendations include creating a charter for relatives bereaved through public tragedy, providing publicly-funded legal representation for families at inquests, and appointing a public advocate to act for them.

A small number spoke in person at the event, held at the People’s History Museum in Manchester, co-hosted by the mayor of Liverpool, Steve Rotheram, and the mayor of Greater Manchester, Burnham.

Burnham asked why the galleries were so packed with artefacts telling stories of ordinary people struggling to fight for rights, fairness and justice.

‘It’s because when things go wrong in this country, the fight that people face is too long and too hard. When things go wrong, the authorities close ranks.

‘They blame victims. They sometimes create false narratives that can be very hard to shift.’

He said access to justice was still linked to your class, your accent and whether you have access to social connection.

Kye Gbabgbola, father of seven year-old Zane said:

‘Spin, deception, and lies, if we are honest, this is the heart of the matter!

‘Nicole and I come before you as grieving parents denied all rights to truth and justice, even the right to grieve in peace. Floodwater passed through secret landfill, into our Victorian flood basement; and our home was infused with nerve agent. Zane, our son, was killed.

‘Five expert geotechnical reports on the secret landfill, four years before Zane was killed, stated there are migrating landfill gases. The risk is HIGH and unacceptable. Investigation is required then remediate. The community were not told of the risks to life

‘With this forewarning the authorities protected their own properties next door to Zane’s home, using gas proof membranes so they could not be harmed or killed.

‘Time is limited and I want to touch two aspects of Hillsborough law, candour, and parity of funding.

‘As with Hillsborough, the duty of candour was non-existent in Zane’s case, despite many documents, data, and facts confirming hydrogen cyanide, HCN. The multiple authorities involved denied HCN was detected.

‘In addition, there was no proper full and fearless investigation. Zane was denied an Article Two inquest, denied a jury; witnesses and evidence were compromised at every level. Blame was shifted to CO (carbon monoxide) at day one! – a gas not even present.

‘We found ourselves on trial at an inquest based on untruths.

‘We were denied legal aid several times, whilst a phalanx of multibillion pound turnover authorities, all had public money and legal aid for their legal teams, for years, enabling the appointment of some of the best lawyers and QCs in the UK.

‘Even the coroner had legal aid. We had to wheelchair and walk the streets, broken, to beg for money, for representation, at our son’s inquest, nearly £80,000.

‘Equality of arms? No! Metaphorically speaking we had one unarmed David against multiple heavily armed Goliaths.

‘Despite the truth being visible, the inquest acted to systematically strip Zane of his human rights, using a false lens of plausible deniability. If they can do this to The 97, and their families, just imagine what they can do to one family walking alone.

‘If there is nothing for any of these authorities to hide, give Zane an independent public inquiry (IPI) with full disclosure.

‘We are grateful for, and thank our 110,000 public petitioners, general secretaries of unions, including the FBU, who refused to be complicit, Unison, Unite, PCS, CWU, NEU, TUC and some of our cross-party leaders.

‘Many have written to the PM asking him to give Zane an IPI, how Hillsborough got the truth.

‘The publicly elected councillors at Zane’s local authority recently unanimously voted, and wrote to the PM demanding an IPI for Zane. At their extraordinary meeting they cited serious judicial failings, and cover up!

‘Hillsborough makes clear the truth is imperative in order that others can be protected and justice be served.  The patronising disposition, and disgrace of unaccountable power, is neither confined to Hillsborough, or the past.

‘For Zane you must ask yourselves what kind of a country do we live in where there is no investigation into hydrogen cyanide, a weapon of mass destruction, in a neighbourhood?’

‘I was two yards from Zane, unconscious, my diagnosis: paraplegia due to hydrogen cyanide poisoning. Bottom line: Did Zane get a fair hearing? Answer: No!

‘Our hope is to honour Zane with truth, and protect others. According to the BMJ, 80 per cent of people, in this country, live within two kilometres of landfill!

‘This fight is everybody’s fight!’

In an emotional ending, Zane’s mother Nicole said, ‘Zane is not just a lie on a death certificate. No child was ever loved more and we will die fighting if we have to.

‘Please help us, do not let history repeat itself. I do not want to die before we undo the lies that dishonour him. And he can finally rest in peace.

‘Zane did not die accidentally; he was unlawfully killed. The evidence is there.  Zane died, the authorities lied.

‘Thank you for allowing us to be Zane’s voice today.

‘RIP Zane.’