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Hillsborough report: Police promise to admit mistakes and not 'defend the indefensible'

The reforms are in reply to the former Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, who made formal recommendations designed to ensure the suffering of Hillsborough families was not repeated.

Hillsborough, flowers, Liverpool (AP)

Police chiefs have promised to acknowledge mistakes and not "defend the indefensible" as they set out long-awaited reforms in the wake of a report into the Hillsborough disaster.

Among the changes they plan to introduce are a Charter For Families Bereaved Through Public Tragedy, which states police leaders must acknowledge any mistakes and ensure "care, compassion, openness, transparency and accountability".

All forces in England and Wales have signed up to the pledge.

The police response on the day of the 1989 stadium disaster - as well as after it - has long been an open wound for families of the 97 dead and those who survived.

"Police failures were the main cause of the tragedy and have continued to blight the lives of family members ever since," said Chief Constable Andy Marsh, head of the College of Policing.

"Descriptions of how the bereaved were treated by police officers in the immediate aftermath of the disaster make harrowing reading..." adds the introduction to Tuesday's report.

"When compassion and leadership were most needed, the bereaved were often treated insensitively and the response lacked coordination and oversight."

The reforms are in reply to the former Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, who made formal recommendations for ensuring the suffering of Hillsborough families is not repeated.

They were published five years ago, but the national police response could not be made public until legal proceedings and other matters were over.

Tuesday's report says Hillsborough must be "the touchstone for more ethical police leadership" - and as such, candour will become a key theme of the police's updated code of ethics.

A supporting code of practice - which senior police must follow - will also set out "a responsibility to ensure openness and candour within their force".

Other reforms announced include new national guidance for the family liaison officers - the point of contact with relatives when somebody is involved in a tragedy such as Hillsborough.

Findings from the 2017 Hillsborough report, as well as tragedies like Grenfell Tower, have been fed into the latest best practice guidelines.

A new code of practice on police information and records management is also being implemented after records relating to Hillsborough were lost or destroyed.

Tuesday's report sees senior police repeat their apologies for the disaster.

Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs' Council, said he was "deeply sorry for the tragic loss of life, and for the pain and suffering that the families of the 97 victims experienced on that day and in the many years that have followed".

He said police chiefs were now committed to responding to major incidents with "openness and with compassion for the families" above any other interest.

"Collectively, the changes made since the Hillsborough disaster and in response to Rt Reverend James Jones' report aim to ensure the terrible police failures made on the day and in the aftermath can never happen again."

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