Hillsborough police probe ‘intimidation’

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Respects paid at the Hillsborough memorial outside Anfield on the 24th anniversary of the disaster. Pic by Alice Kirkland

Respects paid at the Hillsborough memorial outside Anfield on the 24th anniversary of the disaster last year. Pic by Alice Kirkland.

Hillsborough campaigners have hit out at the independent police inquiry set up in the aftermath of the disaster.

A report on Monday night’s BBC Newsnight programme revealed criticisms by witnesses questioned by West Midlands Police, who conducted the initial investigation in 1989.

Survivors from the disaster claimed they were intimidated by the West Midlands force and were warned they could face prosecution for wasting police time when they told of control problems at the ground.

Sheila Coleman, spokesperson for the Hillsborough Justice Campaign (HJC), said that it came as no surprise to those who have fought for justice for almost 25 years.

She said: “For those of us involved, it is not news. It’s what we’ve known from the beginning from speaking to the survivors. The only change is that it’s now in the public domain.”

The Hillsborough Independent Panel reported 18 months ago that 164 accounts from South Yorkshire Police, who were in charge of crowd control at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground, had been altered in an apparent attempt to shift the blame for the disaster from the police onto fans.

Since then that number has increased as part of the ongoing probe by police watchdog, the IPCC.

Ms Coleman explained that members of the HJC believe that the latest revelations of police intimidation are evidence of an overall cover up by both the South Yorkshire Police and West Midlands Police forces.

She said: “It is obvious that it was a clearly defined strategic plan to stage a cover up and to continue the cover up started by South Yorkshire Police.

The new Hillsborough memorial in Old Haymarket. Pic by Alice Kirkland.

The new Hillsborough memorial in Old Haymarket. Pic by Alice Kirkland.

“They attempted to demonise the survivors of the disaster. These people were rescuers and were actually quite heroic in helping others even though a lot of them were injured themselves.”

The HJC spokesperson claimed campaigners knew that some of the officers brought in to the independent inquiry team were part of the infamous West Midlands Police force that wrongfully convicted the ‘Birmingham Six’ – six men who were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1975 for the Birmingham pub bombings.

The convictions were eventually quashed in 1991 after it was deemed they were unsafe and unsatisfactory. The six men were awarded compensation ranging from £840,000 to £1.2 million.

The force has declined to comment pending ongoing inquires and the forthcoming inquests into the disaster, due to start on March 31st.

Speaking on the force’s refusal to speak, Ms Coleman said: “That doesn’t surprise us again. They always hide behind something. This time they are hiding behind an ‘ongoing investigation’.

“But enough people have evidence and they will continue to pursue this until those responsible are held accountable for their actions.”

About Jack Birch, JMU Journalism