Part 3: The Permanent Archive for the Hillsborough Disaster

Public authorities 

3.24 Public authorities, including the police forces and Ambulance Service involved, have disclosed a significant amount of documents and material to the Panel. As public authorities, they have statutory obligations to keep and maintain records for operational (and perhaps historical) reasons and may make arrangements to preserve important records.

3.25 They can 'warehouse' records with a suitable commercial organisation while retaining ownership and accountability for responding to FOI requests or, at an appropriate time, donate the material formally to an archive (such as Sheffield Archives, an appointed PoD) for preservation. FOI responsibility then passes to the archive. The Sheffield Archive maintains high standards in storage and curatorial care, and has in its collection various coroners' records, and court, probate and council records.

3.26 In summary, varying obligations are established in legislation affecting the eventual disposition of differently sourced records to any Distributed Permanent Archive. In the case of private records, they may never be deposited. Regarding Hillsborough, they will be accessible via the Panel's website. Thus the website becomes a critical part of the Permanent Archive as it holds material digitally which might not be accessible in its original form elsewhere.

Records of police forces in England and Wales

3.27 It has been a concern to the Panel that, with the exception of the Metropolitan Police, police forces in England and Wales are not subject to the Public Records Acts. Neither are police force documents part of the record of local government. In many cases the documentary evidence they hold is poor.[6] 

3.28 Although there have been initiatives to improve their record keeping and archiving, a survey in 2003[7] found that only approximately one-third of police forces had archiving policies. Most indicated that contact with a local record office or archive was rare. Consequently, provision made by individual forces for publicly accessible archives has been, and remains, voluntary. This has led to wide variations in the preservation and availability of historic records in local record offices or national and local museums.

Recommendation 2

The Panel recommends that police force records are brought under legislative control and that police forces are added to Part II of the First Schedule to the Public Records Act 1958, thereby making them subject to the supervision of the Keeper of Public Records. 

Main locations for the Distributed Permanent Archive

3.29 The Panel was asked to consider options for providing a Permanent Archive for the Hillsborough documents. It proposes a Distributed Archive approach for the hard-copy material with the digital form being archived at The National Archives. 

3.30 The digital archive will provide the primary means of access to the Hillsborough Archive. Via the Panel's website, it will be the sole coherent source of all material disclosed to the Panel and should be considered as part of the Permanent Archive, not just as a website.

3.31 In the Panel's view there are three main possibilities for the Distributed Permanent Archive of original, hard-copy documents and material: The National Archives, Sheffield Archive and Liverpool Record Office. Each is involved in archiving Hillsborough material already. The Panel therefore proposes that they should become the main centres of the Distributed Permanent Archive.
3.32 Other public records are distributed throughout the UK according to the nature of the records and the suitability and locality of the repositories under the PoD arrangements. This well-established process has operated since the Public Records Act 1958 came into force and the Panel considers it should obtain in holding additional Hillsborough material.

Recommendation 3

The Panel recommends that central government documents relating to Hillsborough which were disclosed to the Panel be transferred to The National Archives at Kew in due course, with redactions agreed by the Panel retained.

3.33 Regarding non-central government public records, only the Keeper of Public Records has the power to transfer public records from The National Archives to an appointed PoD, and from one PoD to another should they be more appropriately held elsewhere (Public Records Act 1958, Section 4(3)). 

3.34 A PoD cannot be compelled to accept transfers but it must agree to receive them if the records are outside its existing collecting remit and PoD schedule. 

3.35 Removal of locally created public records (e.g. coroners' records) relating to Hillsborough from Sheffield to another location would be contrary to The National Archives' published disposition strategy and would give rise to several presentational issues locally. This would not serve to assist the making of a Permanent Archive and could disrupt the archiving process.

[6] Chris A Williams and Clive Emsley, 'British Police forces' Archiving Policies in 2003'. In: Chris Williams (ed.) Giving the Past a Future - Preserving the heritage of the UK's Criminal Justice System (London: Francis Boutle, 2003). See also Archives at the Millennium p16,
[7] .