Processing agreements were developed with all major contributing organisations. All were asked to work within a redaction framework which established the expectations of the Panel regarding the protection of information from disclosure into the public domain. The principles established in the redaction framework held for the duration of the project. Redaction was minimal and only applied when considered necessary by the Panel.The Panel has redacted names to ensure the appropriate and necessary protection of identities of:
- members of the public who provided written observations on events associated with the tragedy
- civil servants who were not members of the Senior Civil Service at the time a particular document was produced
- police officers who were constables or other ranks up to and including sergeant at the time a particular document was produced
- junior public employees who were not in a position to determine their agency's response to events prior to, during or in the aftermath of the disaster.
The Panel accepts that inconsistencies might occur, for example where identities may have been redacted in one document and disclosed in another. This is a consequence of processing such a large volume of documents and other material.
Individual members of the Panel reviewed all redactions made by contributing organisations to ensure that they conformed to the principle of full public disclosure within the law and protocols established in the Panel's own redaction framework.
The Panel's terms of reference and protocol committed central and local government and other public agencies to the full disclosure of their documents and information relating to the Hillsborough disaster. Limited exceptions, however, were recognised:
- information covered by legal professional privilege
- information that public bodies are legally prohibited from disclosing (including information provided in confidence by third parties)
- information indicating the views of ministers, where release would prejudice the convention of Cabinet collective responsibility.
Decisions to withhold information from the Panel have been considered on a case-by-case basis by the holding agency.
No information held by government has been withheld. This includes full, unredacted disclosure of Cabinet minutes.
In all but two cases, information that could be disclosed to the public has been disclosed on a closed and confidential basis to the Panel and a description of the information is provided by the Panel for public disclosure. Where, exceptionally, disclosure to the Panel has not been possible, the holding agency has been asked to provide a description of the information for the Panel to be made available to the public.
All redactions have been reviewed and agreed by an individual Panel member. Additional sampling of those decisions was carried out by other Panel members. Minimal material was redacted by donating organisations on the grounds of legal professional privilege or confidentiality. It has not been necessary to refer any decisions on redaction by public sector organisations to the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives (as outlined in Section 11 of the Protocol on Disclosure of Information).
To progress the volume of material provided by the contributing organisations it was essential to digitise all documents deemed to be relevant. Donating organisations (restricted to their material only), Panel members, the Panel's researchers and members of the secretariat were given access to a secure online database of digitised material in order to facilitate the Panel's work.
The Panel's obligations regarding publishing a report were established in its terms of reference as follows:
- a description of the terms of reference and work of the Panel
- an overview of the information reviewed by the Panel and publicly disclosed
- an overview of the information provided to the Panel on a closed basis, based on the summary description provided to the Panel
- an overview of the withheld information, based on the summary description provided to the Panel
- how the information disclosed adds to public understanding of the tragedy and its aftermath.
The research and analysis underpinning the Panel's report has been led by Panel member Professor Phil Scraton and a team of researchers. All documents and other material disclosed to the Panel have been available to the research team. Individual Panel members have provided expert support to the researchers in their specialist areas. Appendix 3 provides an account of the research process and the methodology adopted.