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Liverpool City Region and Greater Manchester Mayors Urge MPs to Back Hillsborough Law

STEVE Rotheram and Andy Burnham make joint call to 650 MPs to back Hillsborough Law and calls on Government to include such a law in the Queen's Speech. In advance of the 33rd Anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, in which 97 men, women and children were unlawfully killed, Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, and Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, contacted all 650 British MPs, urging them to give their backing to a Hillsborough Law.

The latest action comes in the wake of a major cross party:- "Hillsborough Law Now" event that was held in January 2022, which saw bereaved families, former Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and Theresa May, and a host of high profile public figures come together to call for a major re-balancing of the justice system to prevent others going through what the Hillsborough families have gone through. Within the letter (published in full below) the Mayors ask MPs for 2 commitments:- 1st, to make a personal commitment to the principle of a comprehensive Hillsborough Law; and 2nd, to call on the Government to commit to introducing it in the forthcoming Queen's Speech.

The full text of the letter sent to MPs:- "Dear MP, Hillsborough Law... We write to you in advance of the 33rd Anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster, 1 of the darkest events in British history; to ask for your support to make the Hillsborough Law a reality. The story of Hillsborough goes well beyond football rivalries or party politics. It is a story of immense loss, decades-long cover-up and the comprehensive failure of the British legal system to deliver truth, justice and accountability for bereaved families. 97 innocent men, women, and children were unlawfully killed during an FA Cup match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989. And yet, after more than 3 decades of victim blaming and lies, nobody has been held accountable for the unlawful killing of so many. However, Hillsborough is NOT an exception to the norm. As a Member of Parliament, you will be aware of the sheer number of families bereaved by major failures of the British state past and present who are having to fight for truth and justice. This is the 75th Anniversary year of the 1st British nuclear test conducted overseas. In the years that followed, over 20,000 British servicemen were exposed to tests without consent or protective equipment, causing huge health harm to them and their families. And yet, shamefully, our country continues to leave them lost in the wilderness. Similarly, the thousands of families bereaved by the contaminated blood scandal, which began over 4 decades ago, are still fighting for basic answers. For families bereaved by more recent events, such as Grenfell and the Manchester Arena attack, the parallels between their experiences and those of the Hillsborough families are already clear. The reason why this pattern keeps on repeating is simple: the scales of justice are weighed against ordinary families and in favour of public Authorities who hold all the power. Levelling up must be about more than just large scale infrastructure projects. It should be about levelling up those scales of justice so that the truth is established at the first opportunity, allowing justice and accountability to follow. It is about sparing grieving families the secondary trauma that is so often caused by cruel treatment at the hands of the legal system. So the need for a Hillsborough Law is clear. A fundamental re-balancing of the legal, coronial and judicial systems, creating a level playing field for bereaved families with agencies of the state, will prevent future generations experiencing the injustices we have seen in our lifetimes. On this 33rd Anniversary, we are calling on you as a Member of Parliament to do 2 things:- 1st, to make a personal commitment to the principle of a comprehensive Hillsborough Law; 2ond, to call on the Government to commit to introducing it in the forthcoming Queen's Speech. It is now almost 5 years since Bishop James Jones delivered his report on the experience of the Hillsborough families at the hands of the system. The fact that the Government is still formally to respond to that report is itself disrespectful to the Hillsborough families. 'The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power' contains 25 recommendations that we believe should form the basis of a significant reform of the system via a new:- "Hillsborough Law."

The most significant are:-

 A Charter for Families Bereaved Through Public Tragedy that should be binding on all public bodies.

 A statutory duty of candour on all Police officers, and other identified public servants, applied during all forms of public inquiry and criminal investigation.

 Proper participation of bereaved families at inquests, through publicly funded legal representation and an end to limitless legal spending by public bodies. This could also extend to parity of legal funding to level the playing field in courtrooms.

 A Public Advocate to act for bereaved families in the aftermath of major incidents.

  In the years since that report was first published, new issues have arisen from the criminal trials related to Hillsborough that must also be addressed. We believe there is a case for incorporating other measures into the proposed Hillsborough Law:-

 A requirement that the evidence and findings of major inquests must be taken fully into account at any subsequent criminal trials.

 Clarification in law that major inquiries commissioned by the Government or other official bodies constitute courses of public justice.

 A requirement that any criminal trials following a major inquest take place in a court with relevant expertise and status rather than a crown court.

We believe that a Bill to introduce a comprehensive Hillsborough Law, based on the foundations set out above, should be brought forward by the Government without delay with cross-party support and full Parliamentary time. The Hillsborough families will most probably never see true justice done. But they can at least prevent others in future experiencing what they did through a powerful Hillsborough Law. We are confident that any conscientious MP will understand the case we are making. The fact that so much of an MP's time is spent fighting systems and processes that fail ordinary people is evidence of the need for reform. If the truth was told at the first time of asking, so many people would be spared years of unnecessary anguish and trauma. We hope we can count on your support for the inclusion the Hillsborough Law in the forthcoming Queen's Speech. It would mean so much to the Hillsborough families and thousands of others still fighting for justice. Best wishes, Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region ​Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester."

A former Royal Marine from Merseyside is leading the charge on helping the Greek Authorities improve the way they deal with gender based violence

MATHEW Lodge now serves as the UK's Ambassador to Greece and signed off on funding for visits by Greek officials to the UK for training on how to best respond to domestic violence and serious sexual assault cases. A group of Greek delegates arrived in the UK last week APR4-8 to attend domestic violence workshops with Police officers from the Met, Bedfordshire and Scotland. The visit comes almost a year after British national, Caroline Crouch, was killed in front of her 11 month old baby daughter. Husband Babis Anagnostopoulos is currently on trial accused of murder after claiming the family had been targeted by burglars.

Athens based Matthew, 53, from Crosby, said:- "Greece has increasingly embraced a culture of zero tolerance to gender based violence in recent years and these visits are a clear demonstration of this progress. The willingness of Authorities across Greece to work with the British Embassy on this topic makes us optimistic for the future. All of this work should help make British holiday makers, and ex-pats living in Greece, feel safer and better supported."

Greek officials also visited Glasgow last month to meet with experts from Police Scotland and the Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis Centre on responding to reports of serious sexual assault. The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) is funding the visits with the aim of improving the support offered to British nationals reporting gender based violence in Greece. FCDO figures showed that almost 1,000 British nationals reported being raped or sexually assaulted between 2016 and 2018.

In the 3 years from the start of 2016 to the end of 2018, most sexual assaults were reported in Spain; at least 218. In Greece, there were at least 74, Turkey, at least 68, Thailand, at least 41 and France, at least 40. Matthew said:- "We are determined to do anything we can to help survivors of rape and sexual assaults by showcasing the survivor focussed approach used in the UK. I think the Greek Authorities should be applauded for their willingness to work together with us as they strive to improve the way these exceptionally difficult cases are handled. A Greek delegation including a Deputy Prosecutor, four Police officers and two psychologists recently visited Scotland to get an insight into how gender based violence is handled. They met experts from the Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis Centre, as well as officials from Police Scotland, the National Sexual Crimes Unit and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. People can be proud that the Greek Authorities are using the UK's expertise, to shape the way they deal with these sorts of cases in future."

As Covid restrictions start to ease, Greece will again be 1 of the most popular holiday hotspots. 3 million Brits travelled annually to the country before the UK was forced into lockdown in March 2020, while an estimated 45,000 ex-pats call Greece home. UK consular staff supported 57 rape or sexual assault cases between 2018 and 2020, with British victims reporting concerns about how Greek Authorities responded in a number of cases. British victims have been calling for the right to give evidence by video link to avoid the trauma of re-visiting the country where they were attacked. The UK Government is encouraging their Greek counterparts to look in to setting up the country's 1st dedicated Sexual Assault Referral Centres. Matthew said:- "These visits demonstrate that there is a genuine willingness by the Greek Authorities to both recognise that there is an issue, and to work with us to try and identify ways of addressing shortcomings. By highlighting the support made available to victims in the UK, we're hoping to share our experience with our Greek colleagues and help them explore setting up similar structures, like our Sexual Assault Referral Centres. We take our duty to provide the best support for British nationals in distress overseas extremely seriously and both domestic abuse and sexual assault cases are particularly harrowing for our consular staff to deal with. It's a challenging situation for tourists when you have a language barrier to overcome, but we're hoping that this work will help ensure that British nationals can visit and live in Greece safely and securely and, if anything should happen to them, that they will receive the support they need."

Dad of 2, Matthew was a Royal Marine for almost 10 years before joining the Foreign Office in 1996. The Merseysider served as Ambassador to Finland and Kuwait and also Deputy Ambassador to France before being appointed to his current role in Athens last August. Matthew said:- "Being a Royal Marine was a slightly unconventional preparation for life as a diplomat, but a good one. I served in Northern Ireland towards the end of the Troubles and in East Africa. However, I think I was pretty lucky because I joined the military four years after the Falklands War and the first Gulf War did not involve the Marines very much. The worst danger I found myself in was when I ruptured my knee ligaments in a motorcycle accident in southern England, where I was probably riding too fast in thick fog. I actually studied languages at university while I convalesced. When I joined the Foreign Office in 1996, I think there was a logic that 'This guy is ex-military. He'll know all about the Balkans conflict,' so I was put in the Eastern Adriatic department. I spent 9 months or so in Baghdad in 2007 as Deputy Head of Mission and then headed up our Afghanistan group for the following two years, which involved regular trips to Kabul, Kandahar and Helmand. Our security arrangements mean I've never felt in direct danger. You might be in the Green Zone when rockets are fired in and your family worries after seeing it on the news back home and you try and reassure them that attack hit a target four kilometres away."

Matthew now heads up almost 100 staff at the UK Embassy in Athens, with consular officers based in Crete, Rhodes, Corfu and Zakynthos. But he said:- "In comparison to Iraq or Afghanistan, serving as Ambassador to Athens could be seen as a plum posting and I feel incredibly lucky. But as this important work on gender based violence shows, it is certainly not all about summer evenings in the taverna and spending your time on the beach."


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