The person who became a key driver in the campaign for justice for the victims and survivors of the Hillsborough Disaster and its aftermath has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Philosophy by Edge Hill University.

Professor Phil Scraton, who set up the nationally-renowned Centre for Studies in Crime and Social Justice at Edge Hill in 1984 with Dr Kathryn Chadwick, launched the first undergraduate degree in Critical Criminology alongside Edge Hill’s first postgraduate programmes.

He became one of the University’s first professors and was a founder member of the charity INQUEST, supporting families of bereaved by deaths in custody.

Over 20 years, the Centre for Studies in Crime and Social Justice produced critical research and informed professionals across the region’s public services, but it is for Phil’s work into the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium Disaster and its aftermath and his role in the campaign for justice that he is most well-known.

For nearly three decades he has worked alongside bereaved families and survivors. His initial research, commissioned by Liverpool City Council and based at Edge Hill was to critique the Taylor Inquiry and media coverage following the disaster.

The Hillsborough Project revealed that survivors and bereaved were subjected to insensitivity by the police in the tragedy’s immediate aftermath. His later research exposed the systemic review and alteration of police statements by South Yorkshire Police officers and their solicitors.

In 1998, Jimmy McGovern’s drama documentary Hillsborough drew heavily on Phil’s work, and that of his colleagues, Sheila Coleman, Ann Jemphrey and Paula Skidmore.

In 2009, following Hillsborough’s 20th anniversary, the Government committed to full disclosure of some two million documents and appointed the Hillsborough Independent Panel. Phil headed its research and was primary author of its 2012 report which led to the original inquest verdicts being quashed and new inquests established.

A full criminal investigation was initiated alongside another by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (now the Independent Office for Police Conduct), and both are still ongoing.

In 2015, Phil was seconded to the Families’ legal teams, and after two years in session, the inquest jury returned verdicts of unlawful killing, heavily criticising all authorities involved and fully exonerating the fans.

Talking to graduands today from the Law and Criminology and Social Sciences, he said:

“I was the first in my family to go to university. I was told before I went it was basically a waste of time, my father said I should go out and get a proper job, my mum stood by me. I went to University and at the very end, at this very moment when I said to one of the senior lecturers my ambition was to be a researcher. He laughed and said, ‘no Phil, research isn’t for you’ in the same way I’d been told before that, that University wasn’t for me.

“Whatever you choose to do, never ever be told you’re not worthy, never ever by told you’re not good enough or your chosen path isn’t for the likes of you. If I can stand here, after all this time and I can stand over what has been, I hope, a career that has made a difference to others, so can you.

“Today is your celebration, I’m very grateful for being brought into the heart of it. Never ever allow the systems to knock you back. It’s a tremendous achievement what you’ve done over the last three years, you have to remember that the future is yours.”