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World News

'Parable of widow and unjust judge strengthened my resolve' says Bishop who led Hillsborough review

by Donna Birrell

The former Bishop of Liverpool who conducted a review into the Hillsborough tragedy says a parable in Luke 18 about a widow and an unjust judge gave him the strength to continue.  

Ninety-seven Liverpool fans died as a result of the crush at the FA Cup semi-final match at Sheffield Wednesday's ground on 15 April 1989.

The Right Rev James Jones lead the review into the experience of the bereaved families and detailed 25 ‘essential’ learning points in his 2017 report. He recommended the creation of a charter for families bereaved through public tragedy, a statutory duty of candour on all police officers and "proper participation" of bereaved families at inquests.

Bishop James has been speaking to Premier about how the Bible guided him through the process :  

“I'll never forget the day in Liverpool cathedral when we met with the families and presented our report, which showed that people like Ann Williams, who had campaigned all her life for her 15-year-old son Kevin who died, to tell her it vindicated her campaign for truth and justice. 

“What kept me going personally, every day for three months before we presented our report, I read in my daily prayers, the parable in Luke 18, of the widow and the unjust judge, and the widow keeps coming to the unjust judge with a simple plea, ‘Grant me justice.’

“It felt to me as if that parable summed up the Hillsborough families’ experiences over the years, over the decades. They kept coming to the judicial system, asking for truth and justice, and were continually knocked back. It was my own faith really, that strengthened me and my resolve, that they should indeed be granted justice.”

Calls are now being made for changes to the justice system based on Bishop James’ recommendations, with families and politicians calling for a new law to prevent miscarriages of justice. It’s hoped the proposed Hillsborough Law will prevent others from going through what the families involved experienced.

Bishop James says justice is at the heart of the Christian message:

“The kingdom of God is the kingdom of justice and mercy. As I got involved in Hillsborough and saw the issues of justice, as I was reading the Bible, the references to justice kept leaping off the page. 

“For example, Jesus challenging the church leaders of his own day, for neglecting the justice and the love of God. You cannot be at one with the God of justice and mercy through the cross of Christ, without at the same time being caught up in the dynamic of acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with God. Although people will come to justice down different avenues, for me, I came down it through the avenue of Hillsborough, but it resonated with everything that I was reading in the Bible, in the Gospels.

“If we do walk humbly with God, then we should be concerned whenever we find unfairness in our society.”

New inquests, which concluded in 2016, found the victims were unlawfully killed.

Match commander David Duckenfield was cleared of gross negligence manslaughter in 2019 and a trial of two retired police officers and a former force solicitor, who were accused of perverting the course of justice, collapsed last year after a judge ruled there was no case to answer.

The government said it would engage with bereaved families and "carefully consider the points of learning".

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