CIPR applauds police press officer for speaking out against Hillsborough 'spin'

The CIPR has applauded former South Yorkshire Police press officer Hayley Court for telling the BBC how she was told to "spin" news during the recently concluded Hillsborough inquest.

Tragedy: police on the scene at Hillsborough in 1989 (Credit: Roderick Smith/Alamy Stock Photo)
Tragedy: police on the scene at Hillsborough in 1989 (Credit: Roderick Smith/Alamy Stock Photo)

Last month, an inquest ruled that 96 football fans who died in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster were unlawfully killed, with senior police officer chief superintendent David Duckenfield "responsible for manslaughter by gross negligence" through his actions on the day.

The role of the police on the day and in the aftermath of the tragedy has been the subject of fierce debate in the years since, with the inquest verdict further evidence exonerating Liverpool supporters of wrongdoing, and raising further questions about the police's actions.

Court, who was employed as a comms professional by South Yorkshire Police in 2014, told the BBC last week she was told to "spin" news during the inquest, and police documents seen by the BBC say she had failed to "redress the imbalance" in the media reporting of the inquests.

"I felt like I was then part of the problem, which couldn't have been further from what I was trying to achieve by accepting the role in the first place. And I felt that I was letting people down by continuing to be part of it," she told the BBC.

The CIPR has said in a statement that Court's allegations "expose the pressure that PR advisers can be placed under in carrying out their duties". The CIPR statement points to its Code of Conduct, which it says can be used by PRs and clients as a "guide to professional ethics", and can be used by members and non-members alike. Court is not a CIPR member.

"It’s entirely unacceptable for any organisation to expect their employees to deceive or misrepresent on their behalf. A public relations professional who feels they are being put under pressure to act in a way that could break our code of conduct is right to speak out about it and push back against unreasonable and unethical expectations," said CIPR president Rob Brown, managing partner of Manchester agency Rule 5.

South Yorkshire Police told the BBC that Court's allegations of "unethical practice" were "not substantiated".

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