13 Sep 2012

Hillsborough: police to consider referral to IPCC

As victims’ families call for prosecutions, South Yorkshire police say they are reviewing the Hillsborough report with a view to making a referral to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

The report, published 23 years after the fatal disaster, criticised the police for altering witness statements and blamed other emergency services and the media for attempting to blame fans.

The Liverpool supporters died after a crush at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium on 15 April, 1989, where their team were to play Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final.

The families of those who died said the report vindicated them and pledged to carry on the fight by pursuing criminal prosecutions against those who they said should “hang their heads in shame”.

Legal representatives for the families said that South Yorkshire police, Sheffield city council and Sheffield Wednesday FC could all face charges for corporate manslaughter.

In a statement on its website the South Yorkshire police force said it is “currently reviewing a wide variety of matters raised in the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel with a view to making a referral to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. (IPCC)”

A spokeswoman explained that if a referral was made it would still be up to the IPCC to decide whether to investigate and then who should carry out any investigation.

The current Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police David Crompton, has already said that “if someone has falsified something and it breaches the criminal law then, fair enough … they should face prosecution, let’s be clear about it.”

“I never altered a statement nor asked for one to be altered.” Sir Norman Bettison, chief constable, West Yorkshire Police

The most senior serving police officer involved with the Hillsborough operation said he had “nothing to hide.” Sir Norman Bettison, who is now the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, was an off-duty police inspector present at the Hillsborough ground when the disaster unfolded. In a statement issued on Thursday, Mr Bettison reiterated that the behaviour of fans had made the job of the police “harder than it needed to be”:

“Fans behaviour, to the extent that it was relevant at all, made the job of the police, in the crush outside Leppings Lane turnstiles, harder than it needed to be. But it didn’t cause the disaster any more than the sunny day that encouraged people to linger outside the stadium as kick off approached.”

Mr Bettison denied any involvement in the subsequent police cover-up in which of 164 statements from South Yorkshire officers, 116 were substantially amended to remove or alter comments that were unfavourable to South Yorkshire police:

“I never altered a statement nor asked for one to be altered.”

The families, largely represented by the Hillsborough Families Support Group will meet in the coming days to discuss how they take matters further. Their first step will be to start the process of overturning the inquest verdicts of accidental death, which is already being considered by the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve.

“They were a disgrace, they were a mockery and the system should be ashamed of itself. The fight will go on,” said Margaret Aspinall, chairwoman of the Hillsborough Families Support Group.

Read more: Key findings of the report

The original inquest into the deaths said that the 96 Hillsborough dead had suffered traumatic asphyxia, and were dead within minutes of the crush. This had led to the claim that beyond 3:15pm no actions could have been taken to change the fate of those killed that day. However this assumption was contradicted by the new report.

Dr Bill Kirkup, a member of the Hillsborough Panel which has been examining documents around the disaster, said that 41 people had the potential to survive after the crucial time of 3:15pm.

The panel, which is led by the Bishop of Liverpool, Reverend James Jones, has published 450,000 pages of documentary eviodence, which can be accessed here.

Hillsborough: Calls for criminal charges

The Sun published a front page apology for its reporting on the tragedy in 1989, which slurred Liverpool supporters and included claims that Liverpool fans had urinated on police officers resuscitating the dying and stolen from the dead.

The Sun’s report caused widespread revulsion in the city and led to an almost-total boycott of the paper on Merseyside that exists to this day.

The newspaper’s editor at the time, Kelvin MacKenzie, offered his profuse apologies for the story’s headline, The Truth, which he wrote. In Thursday’s paper, he wrote:

“It has taken more than two decades, 400,000 documents and a two-year inquiry to discover to my horror that it would have been far more accurate had I written the headline The Lies rather than The Truth.”

Current editor Dominic Mohan said: “Twenty-three years ago The Sun newspaper made a terrible mistake. We published an inaccurate and offensive story about the events at Hillsborough. We said it was the truth – it wasn’t.

The editorial concludes: “The people of Liverpool may never forgive us for the injustice we did them. All we can do is offer them an unreserved and heartfelt apology that is profound, sincere and unambiguous.”

Mayor of London Boris Johnson also apologised for comments in a 2004 article accusing people in Liverpool of failing to acknowledge the part played by drunken football fans in the disaster: “I was very, very sorry in 2004 that the Spectator did carry an editorial that partially repeated those allegations. I apologised then and I apologise now.”

Speaking to the House of Commons following the report’s publication, David Cameron said the safety of the crowds had been “compromised at every level” and emphasised that today’s report showed that Liverpool fans “were not the cause of the disaster.”

Mr Cameron said that the Attorney General would now consider the new evidence as quickly as possible.

The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve QC, said today: “As I have promised, I will now begin my consideration of whether there is evidence sufficient to support an application to the High Court for any fresh inquests into the deaths of Hillsborough victims.

“In the interests of justice, and mindful of what has been endured by so many people since 1989, I will do this as quickly as I can. However the process will inevitably take some time.”