Hillsborough TV drama criticised portrayal `unfair'

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A PATHOLOGIST was unfairly portrayed in the award-winning drama- documentary Hillsborough as being unsympathetic to the victims of the football stadium tragedy, the Broadcasting Standards Commission said yesterday.

The commission said the programme, made by Granada, had wrongly suggested that Dr David Slater had not given proper guidance to the coroner's inquest into the 1989 disaster, in which 96 people died.

Dr Slater a key witness, had testified that after people are severely crushed, unconsciousness tends to occur quickly and that victims are not aware of pain or discomfort. The commission said that while the programme's portrayal of Dr Slater was "verbally correct", it had been set against other scenes which implied he had been saying that, in practice, Hillsborough victims had not suffered.

The programme also dramatised Dr Slater talking on the telephone to a police constable, after which the officer changed his evidence to say that a victim had not, as he earlier thought, survived beyond 3.15pm on the day of the tragedy. The revised evidence was vital to the campaign waged by victims' families who objected to the finding that 3.15pm was the latest any of the deaths had occurred. They believe the coroner's decision denied them a full investigation.

The commission said viewers were likely to have formed the erroneous impression that Dr Slater had improperly influenced the constable and his vital evidence.

However, the commission also said that overall, "this was an important programme of high quality which had been extensively researched". Granada said yesterday it stood by the programme and that the finding did nothing to undermine it.

The programme had questioned whether deaths could have been avoided if the police had acted differently. The commission said yesterday it had not received any complaints from the police portrayed.