Five things we learned from Cameron's Hillsborough statement

Could some of the victims have been saved?

David Cameron's statement on the Hillsborough tragedy has rightly been praised by all sides for its dignified and heartfelt character. As when the Bloody Sunday report was published, the Prime Minister spoke for the nation, declaring that he was "profoundly sorry" that this injustice had been "uncorrected for so long".

You can read the 395 page report in full here, but here are five of the key points from Cameron's statement.

1. Crowd safety was "compromised at every level"

A series of new documents reveal the extent to which the disaster was foreseeable. As Cameron said,"The turnstiles were inadequate. The ground capacity had been significantly over-calculated. The crush barriers failed to meet safety standards. There had been a crush at exactly the same match the year before. And today’s report shows clearly that lessons had not been learnt."

2. 164 police statements were doctored

In an attempt to divert the blame onto the fans, 164 police statements were "significantly amended", while 116 explicitly removed negative comments about the policing operation, including its leadership.

3. Police carried out computer checks on the dead

Perhaps most shockingly, police officers carried out national computer checks on those who had died in an attempt, as the report puts it, "to impugn the reputations of the deceased." In addition, the Coroner took blood alcohol levels from all of the deceased including children, a decision for which there was no reasonable justification. The attempt of the original inquest to draw a link between blood alcohol and late arrival was "fundamentally flawed".

4. The original inquest was wrong

The original coroner's inquest was wrong to suggest that beyond 3.15pm there were no actions that could have changed the fate of the 96 victims. Cameron announced that the independent panel found that "28 did not have obstruction of blood circulation and 31 had evidence of heart and lungs continuing to function after the crush." Individuals in those groups could have had potentially reversible asphyxia beyond 3.15pm.

5. A new inquest?

Cameron announced that the Attorney General would examine the new evidence immediately and "reach a decision as fast as possible", although it was ultimately for the High Court to decide. The Commons will have the opportunity to debate the report in full when it returns after the party conference season in October.

Members of the public view the Hillsborough memorial at Liverpool's Anfield Stadium. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The Home Office made Theresa May. But it could still destroy her

Even politicians who leave the Home Office a success may find themselves dogged by it. 

Good morning. When Theresa May left the Home Office for the last time, she told civil servants that there would always be a little bit of the Home Office inside her.

She meant in terms of its enduring effect on her, but today is a reminder of its enduring ability to do damage on her reputation in the present day.

The case of Jamal al-Harith, released from Guantanamo Bay under David Blunkett but handed a £1m compensation payout under Theresa May, who last week died in a suicide bomb attack on Iraqi forces in Mosul, where he was fighting on behalf of Isis. 

For all Blunkett left in the wake of a scandal, his handling of the department was seen to be effective and his reputation was enhanced, rather than diminished, by his tenure. May's reputation as a "safe pair of hands" in the country, as "one of us" on immigration as far as the Conservative right is concerned and her credibility as not just another headbanger on stop and search all come from her long tenure at the Home Office. 

The event was the cue for the Mail to engage in its preferred sport of Blair-bashing. It’s all his fault for the payout – which in addition to buying al-Harith a house may also have fattened the pockets of IS – and the release. Not so fast, replied Blair in a punchy statement: didn’t you campaign for him to be released, and wasn’t the payout approved by your old pal Theresa May? (I paraphrase slightly.)

That resulted in a difficult Q&A for Downing Street’s spokesman yesterday, which HuffPo’s Paul Waugh has posted in full here. As it was May’s old department which has the job of keeping tabs on domestic terror threats the row rebounds onto her. 

Blair is right to say that every government has to “balance proper concern for civil liberties with desire to protect our security”. And it would be an act of spectacular revisionism to declare that Blair’s government was overly concerned with civil liberty rather than internal security.

Whether al-Harith should never have been freed or, as his family believe, was picked up by mistake before being radicalised in prison is an open question. Certainly the journey from wrongly-incarcerated fellow traveller to hardened terrorist is one that we’ve seen before in Northern Ireland and may have occurred here.

Regardless, the presumption of innocence is an important one but it means that occasionally, that means that someone goes on to commit crimes again. (The case of Ian Stewart, convicted of murdering the author Helen Bailey yesterday, and who may have murdered his first wife Diane Stewart as well, is another example of this.)

Nonetheless, May won’t have got that right every time. Her tenure at the Home Office, so crucial to her reputation as a “safe pair of hands”, may yet be weaponised by a clever rival, whether from inside or outside the Conservative Party. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.