25 Apr 2013

Hillsborough inquests: police may refuse to answer questions

Scotland Correspondent

The Police Federation’s evidence at a pre-inquest hearing drew gasps from the gallery as it called for a delay to proceedings and suggested some police officers may refuse to answer questions.

Tributes are laid at the Hillsborough Stadium ahead of the 20th anniversary (G)

This was just a pre-inquest hearing. But it was a tense, emotional day, the first of many for families of the 96 who died at Hillsborough, who were promised by the coroner Lord Justice Golding, the truth about what happened to their loved ones on April 15th 1989.

Twenty legal teams were present, four of them on behalf of the families. The FA, Sheffield City Council, and Liverpool FC, to name a few, sent lawyers too.

But it was submissions from the Police Federation that drew the sharpest responses from the public gallery.

There were two primary matters to be settled today: when and where to hold the inquests.

Read more: The key findings of th Hillsborough report

Police right to silence

As for the venue, Lord Justice Golding vowed to decide in due course.

But on the matter of the timing of the new inquests, Paul Greaney QC, representing the Police Federation, called for a delay amounting to two, three or possibly more years. The Police Federation were arguing for the criminal investigation into events at Hillsborough to be settled first.

There was a real risk, said Mr Greaney, that police officers may incriminate themselves by giving evidence to the inquests. As a consequence, he said, rank and file officers who were on duty on the day of the disaster may invoke their right to silence and would not answer certain questions. As he put it: “persons with evidence to give will not give it or may not give it.”

‘Outrageous’

The families shook their heads. “Outrageous,” one person shouted out.

“Is that realistic?” asked the coroner.

“We have decided that it is,” the Police Federation replied.

In the event, Lord Justice Goldring decided the inquest would not be delayed. It will, he announced, be held in early 2014.

However, when the time for the inquests finally comes, it is now clear that police officers who were on the ground at Hillsborough are likely to remain silent on key issues.

It is yet another frustration for families of the deceased, who after 24 years will settle for nothing less than the whole truth.