Controlling the Aftermath of Hillsborough
In the aftermath of Hillsborough there followed a degree of organisation which attempted to control every aspect of the Disaster. In this sense the Hillsborough Disaster serves as an example of how society operates in that every aspect of an individuals life is controlled - even in death. Several agencies played a crucial role in policing the bereaved and survivors of the Disaster.
1. Hillsborough Steering Committee Of Solicitors
The swiftness with which the steering group of solicitors was set up is potentially indicative of one of two things. Either there was a genuine desire on the part of the legal system to assist the bereaved and survivors or it was felt that there was the need to organise at a legal level and control potential litigation. Given the long term consequences of the legal representation then it is obvious that the latter was the case.
The Steering Committee was conceived on the Sunday morning following the Disaster when a Home Office Representative came to Liverpool and met with members of the Law Society. What subsequently followed amounts to the most perverse example of 'ambulance chasing'. In some cases bereaved families were visited almost immediately after the Disaster by a leading city solicitor who offered them his condolences and signed them up. The insidious nature of this behaviour cannot be underestimated. For many families, it was only when they received a letter several weeks from the solicitor did they then recall the initial visit and what had happened. As one Mother said: "Someone just put something in front of me and said 'sign'. I didn't know what I was doing and I didn't care. All I wanted was my son back". Of course those involved in the setting up of the Steering Committee would argue that by centralising everything they were trying to minimise distress. A lot of families would disagree.
The Hillsborough Steering Group was formed out of the 50 families who were representing 92 bereaved families. The key issue here is one of control. The steering Committee was effectively able to control most of the litigation in respect of Hillsborough and negotiate on behalf of the dead as if they were one. The experience of families in respect of this has led to most saying that with hindsight and experience they would not go down that road again. Yet this has to be set in the context of the time. Pannone - Napier had pioneered group representation and presented it as a logical way to proceed when dealing with multiple actions. However, the outcome of all the litigation in respect of Hillsborough clearly shows that group representation worked against the families. If the inquests are taken as just one example, it can be seen that one person cannot adequately represent the specific details of all those supposedly being represented. The individual family and most importantly, the individual deceased was lost within the broader picture. It therefore became easier to fudge issues and evidence which clearly could have led to different verdicts. It is a widely held view that the Hillsborough Steering Committee was put in place to control Hillsborough litigation and moreover that they actively worked against their clients namely the bereaved and survivors of Hillsborough. Eleven years on in the region of 200 survivors currently have professional negligence cases against their original solicitors who were part of the Steering Committee.
It should be acknowledged that although many families voiced concern about their representation from early on most felt powerless to alter that situation. However, Maureen and Dave Church (mother of Gary) and Joan McBrien (mother of John ) stand apart in this respect. Both of these families rejected the steering committee as an adequate vehicle for representing their needs. The Church family rejected representation by the Steering Committee after a time because of their experience to date . Similarly Joan McBrien, unhappy with the representation at the mini inquests chose to represent her own family at the resumed inquests. The courageousness of these two families in standing alone at this time should never be underestimated and they should be applauded for the stance that they took. They paved the way for others to confront the inadequacies of group representation in the longer run.