The group representing families of those who died in the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster today welcomed the appointment of the Bishop of Liverpool as the chair of a panel which will oversee the release of thousands of documents relating to the tragedy.
British Home Secretary Alan Johnson confirmed The Hillsborough Independent Panel will be chaired by the bishop, The Right Reverend James Jones, and said work was now continuing to appoint the other members of the panel, which will meet in Liverpool in the New Year.
Hillsborough Family Support Group chair Margaret Aspinall said: “We welcome the appointment of a chairman and the publication of the terms of reference and see this as a definite step forward in this lengthy process.
“The Rt Reverend James Jones is a respected man of the cloth and we look forward to his impartial leadership of the panel in their difficult task.
“The remaining members of the panel are still ’work in progress’ and we will continue to work with government to ensure the panel is suitably balanced and experienced to ensure a fair and proper process.”
The tragedy at the beginning of the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough ground claimed 96 lives.
Earlier this year, thousands of people marked the 20th anniversary of the disaster, which changed the shape of British football.
The British government announced thousands of documents held by the police, the UK government and other agencies would be made public following claims some crucial information had never been released – something denied by South Yorkshire Police.
Last month, the force said three archivists were being recruited by Sheffield City Council to sift the documents which are thought to number in the hundreds of thousands.
The bishop said: “To be entrusted with this highly sensitive task by the Home Secretary is a humbling responsibility.
“I want to assure especially the Hillsborough families I will give myself wholeheartedly to the work of the Independent Panel.
“The fact that 30,000 people came to Anfield for the Hillsborough 20th anniversary service shows how deep the wound is still, and how great the longing is for healing.
“I am very aware that although many have waited years for this Independent Panel, the recalling of 15th April 1989 will nevertheless be a very painful and difficult time for all who were affected and for the cities of Liverpool, Sheffield and Nottingham.”
The Home Secretary met family representatives in July to assure them papers would begin to be released as soon as possible. He said the families have been consulted throughout the process of establishing the panel and in appointing the chair.
Mr Johnson said: “Establishing the Hillsborough Independent Panel is a big step forward towards releasing public papers to the Hillsborough families.
“I am delighted Bishop James has accepted the responsibility of chairing the panel.
“He is respected across Liverpool and beyond for his work for the city and its people.”