Huge police probe over Hillsborough

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The Hillsborough disaster, April 15th 1989

The biggest ever investigation into police behaviour in the UK is to be carried out in the wake of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report last month.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) will examine the conduct of police officers to determine if there were any crimes committed in relation to the 1989 Sheffield stadium disaster which killed 96 Liverpool fans.

Around 200 serving police officers in addition to former officers face investigation with authorities to consider if individuals or corporate bodies could be charged with criminal offences ranging from manslaughter to perverting the course of justice.

It follows the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report last month which found that 164 police statements were altered, 116 of them to remove or amend “unfavourable” comments about the policing on the day.

Allegations that police statements were altered and that misleading information was passed to the media and MPs will be probed as will claims that alcohol testing and checks on the police national computer were carried out on those who died and those who were injured.

Officers past and present from South Yorkshire Police (SYP), who were involved in policing the disaster, and from West Midlands Police, who carried out an investigation into SYP’s handling of the tragedy will be investigated.

The deputy chair of the IPCC, Deborah Glass, said that “without a shadow of a doubt” this is the largest investigation ever carried out into police behaviour in the UK.

She said in a statement: “The potential criminal and misconduct offences disclosed by the panel’s report fall into two broad categories.

Hillsborough mosaic spells ‘Justice’ before the Liverpool v Manchester United game at Anfield © BBC Sport

“They are the allegations that go to the heart of what happened at Hillsborough in April 1989 and individuals and institutions may be culpable for the deaths, and there are allegations about what happened after the disaster, that evidence was fabricated and misinformation was spread in an attempt to shift blame.”

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, said that the Crown Prosecution Service’s investigation will attempt to determine whether there is “sufficient evidence to charge any individual or corporate body with any criminal offence”.

“All potential offences that may have been committed and all potential defendants will be considered,” he said in a statement.

The IPCC also said that the most senior serving police officer who was involved in Hillsborough, Sir Norman Bettison, is facing investigation for  “attempted to influence the decision-making process of the West Yorkshire Police Authority in connection with the referral that they had made” in addition to his involvement in the wake of the disaster.

Sir Norman is the current chief constable of West Yorkshire Police who announced his retirement earlier this month. In a statement, the force said that Sir Norman “is on record as saying he is keen to co-operate with the IPCC inquiry, but now that has been launched, he has nothing further to add”.

The chairwoman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, Margaret Aspinall, welcomed the announcements today from the IPCC and DPP, saying that families “would be quite pleased” with the development.

She told BBC News: “We have more waiting ahead of us but we have had 23 years of waiting. I’m hoping it’s going to be sooner rather than later, as I’m a lot older now, I was a relatively young woman at the time, I’m now an old age pensioner.”

Spokesperson for the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, Sheila Coleman, also welcomed today’s developments. On Twitter, she added: “It is vital that those investigating for IPCC and DPP have not previously been involved in any aspect of investigating Hillsborough.”


About Hugh O'Connell, Senior Editor