Hillsborough victim's mother demands 'level playing field' for families

A mother who lost her son in the Hillsborough disaster has called for a "level playing field" for bereaved families in legal fights against public authorities.
A mother who lost her son in the Hillsborough disaster has called for a "level playing field" for bereaved families in legal fights against public authorities.
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A mother who lost her son in the Hillsborough disaster has called for a "level playing field" for bereaved families in legal fights against public authorities.

In an emotional address to MPs, Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James died in the tragedy, said it was a "disgrace" that South Yorkshire Police had public funding for legal representation during inquests while victim's families did not.

She attacked cuts to legal aid and also called for the second stage of the Leveson inquiry - into the relationship between the police and the press - to go ahead.

The Hillsborough Family Support Group chairwoman said: "Everybody is entitled to legal aid. That, to me, has got to change.

"The police cannot be funded the way South Yorkshire were funded.

"To go back into court for two years ... and for them to be funded again to come out with the same lies again is a disgrace.

"At least give the victims a level playing field."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was in the committee room at Portcullis House to hear Mrs Aspinall describe her experience of the fight for justice by the families of the 96 victims.

She broke down in tears as she said she had had to accept an insurance payout of little more than £1,000 after her son's death because she had been told she had to raise £3,000 to pay for a barrister for the original inquest in 1990.

She added: "All of you sitting here are no better than anyone else.

"Everybody deserves fairness in this country.

"It's up to the Government, Opposition, everyone to work as a unit to get to the truth.

"It was a massive cover-up - if they can do that on the scale of 96, what have they done to individuals?"

Mrs Aspinall also accused the Football Association, saying she felt the body had "got away with it".

"There's so many people at fault with Hillsborough - it does not just begin with the police, it's bigger than that, it's more than that," she said.

Her comments came as Labour called for a "rebalance" of the criminal justice system.

A proposed package of reforms includes providing parity of funding for legal representation to bereaved families and seeking a Government commitment to the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry.

Referring to the Sun's front page following the 1989 tragedy, Mrs Aspinall said it had caused families "incalculable harm".

She added: "I do think the press played a role in families of the 96 getting an injustice.

"The second phase of Leveson should be implemented without any doubt - it's got to be because the press played a big part."

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham said: "We all let them down. No politician emerges with any credit because we all let them down."

Earlier, Mr Burnham said: "The 27-year struggle of the Hillsborough families exposes just how the odds are often stacked against ordinary families in their quest for truth about the loss of loved ones, with too much power in the hands of the authorities.

"Hillsborough must mark a moment of real change - when Parliament resolves to rebalance the police and criminal justice system and put more power in the hands of ordinary people to get justice."

Last month a jury concluded that the 96 Liverpool fans were unlawfully killed and that blunders by the police "caused or contributed to" the disaster.

The families had access to Government-funded legal representation at the fresh inquests and Home Secretary Theresa May has signalled that scheme could continue.

Speaking after the verdicts last month, she said: "We want to ensure that the legal representation scheme for the bereaved families continues. This was put in place, with funding from the Government, following the original inquests verdicts being quashed.

"Discussions are currently taking place with the families' legal representatives to see how best the scheme can be continued."