3 June 2014

TFPL Connect: Supporting the Hillsborough Independent Panel

TFPL Connect events are always quick to fill and so I am always quick to get by booking request in. I was especially keen to attend this one as it covered a ground-breaking real-world example.

The topic was the Information Management work behind the Hillsborough Independent Panel who issued their report on the disaster in September 2012. Our guide was Jan Parry who led their IM work.

To help us understand the context of the work that the panel was asked to Jan gave us a summary of the history of the Hillsborough incident and the responses to it.

Not surprisingly the Hillsborough story was quiet harrowing and there was a very solemn mood in the room. It almost seemed disrespectful to take note. What was clear was that some obvious mistakes were made before, during and after the incident. The famous decision to open the gates may have been one of the bigger errors but it was by no means the big only one in a depressingly long list.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel was established by the Labour Government in January 2010 to "oversee the release of documents related to the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster". It was not the panel's role to recommend or judge but to provide the information so that others could.

Collecting the information was a Herculean task involving many agencies including more than one Police Force, health services, coroners, football authorities, local councils and, of course, the families.

The panel knew that there was a lot of documentation from the previous enquiries and they managed to uncover a lot more, even rescuing some from a skip.

The next task was to catalogue each piece so that it could be put in the appropriate places in the story. This enabled the story to be presented by time, by place, by organisation, by victim etc.

All of these documents were scanned and the originals returned. They were then redacted where necessary and published, or disclosed in the terminology of the Panel. There are over 300,000 documents on the Panel's website.

The discovery, cataloguing and disclosure of the documents was a worthy endeavour and I would like to see this approach adopted in other investigations, e.g. Jimmy Savile, Howard Shipman or Bloody Sunday. This neutral approach to getting to the truth reminded me of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission established by South Africa which has been copied by other post-conflict countries.

The Panel had relied heavily on the goodwill of all of the agencies involved to provide the documents required and any future similar investigation would probably require a change in the law to force compliance.

The Panel also came up with recommendations on how agencies like the police and coroners should keep their records.

Despite the cause of the inquiry, hearing about the working of the Panel was an interesting and positive experience. The careful and dispassionate examination and ordering of the documents was a major achievement.

Jan Parry told the story clearly and fully making this an exceptional talk, and not just for Information Management professionals.

After the talk there was the usual networking eased with wine. I found plenty of people to talk to and plenty of things to talk about and was one of the last to leave.

TFPL Connect events are (usually) very good and this one was one of the very best. It was a most satisfactory evening on all counts.

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