Howard to consider new Hillsborough inquiry

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The Home Secretary, Michael Howard, said last night that he would consider demands for the public inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster to be reopened, following a "harrowing" television documentary about the tragedy.

But he told the Commons that claims that crucial video tape evidence had been withheld by the police was disputed by the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire. "I must emphasise I would not take a decision to reopen the inquiry lightly. I must be convinced that it would be in the public interest to do so," he said.

"A charge has been made - and it is one I will consider carefully - there has been a cover-up, an attempt to pervert the course of justice. I will also consider whether there has been any new evidence, and if so whether that evidence is of such significance that had it been put before Lord Taylor or the coroner that the outcome of the Taylor inquiry or the verdict of the jury would have been different.

"It's been said there was a video camera trained on the central enclosure which the Taylor inquiry was told was not working, when this was not the case. But I have been informed by the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire that the videotape and a transcript of that tape were made available to the Taylor inquiry. That is clearly a matter I will need to look at.

"I fully sympathise with the families who feel that in some way they have not learned the whole truth . . . I will reach a decision on any further action to be taken just as soon as I have been able to consider these issues." He added that he had found a television documentary on the tragedy "harrowing" and did not rule-out demands in the Commons for a fresh public inquiry.

"Any decisions that I am called upon to make have to be based on all the relevant facts and not simply on the basis of one television programme, however powerful and however moving," Mr Howard said.

The Home Secretary was responding to demands in the Commons by the Liverpool Labour MP, Peter Kilfoyle, for a public inquiry into the tragedy after the claims in the documentary that video evidence with withheld. "The dead and the survivors cry out for justice to be done," said Mr Kilfoyle.

Mr Howard said Lord Taylor had placed a heavy part of the blame on South Yorkshire police, and had heard the complaints - raised by the documentary - that the police had made unsubstantiated claims of widespread drunkenness among the Liverpool fans. The inquest jury found the cause of death was "accidental death"; no one was charged with any crime after the police complaints inquiry, but disciplinary proceedings were brought against two senior officers - one retired on grounds of ill health.

After the debate, Mr Howard met several of the relatives of those killed at Hillsborough.