The criminal investigation into the Hillsborough disaster is being boosted by reinforcements from police forces across the country because of the need to interview hundreds of police officers by December.
In response to a request for help by Jon Stoddart, the former chief constable of Durham Police who is leading a 170-strong team based at Warrington, dozens of police officers will be seconded to the Operation Resolve criminal investigation.
The inquiry is already the UK’s biggest manslaughter investigation. None of the seconded officers will be from South or West Yorkshire, West Midlands, or Merseyside police forces, due to the past involvement of those forces with previous investigations into Hillsborough.
“We are working to the coroner’s priorities, providing him with information ahead of the new inquests next year, but this is also a criminal investigation that will either prove or disprove that 96 fans were unlawfully killed,” Mr Stoddart said.
“There are 300 current or retired police officers that need to be interviewed by December so we have requested mutual aid from other forces to assist us with this demanding but very crucial task,” he added.
While two retired police officers have refused to be interviewed, they are in the minority, according to Mr Stoddart. “An awful lot of the police officers… have made it very clear that they wish to co-operate with this inquiry. They want to give their account, they want to give their side of the story.” He added: “A large number of the police officers on the day will be treated as witnesses. There will be clearly suspects within that but we work towards that as we go further in from the outside.”
A number of individuals are also to be questioned from a range of organisations outside the police. These include Sheffield City Council, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, Eastwood & Partners – the club’s engineers – the Football Association, the South Yorkshire Fire and Civil Defence Authority, and South Yorkshire Ambulance Service. “We will be speaking to hundreds of people who either attended the match or are somehow connected to the match and the Hillsborough football stadium. Some of these people have previously provided statements and some will be providing accounts for the first time,” Mr Stoddart said.
Families of the fans who died at Hillsborough 24 years ago have endured a succession of inquiries and investigations which have failed to bring anyone to account for the disaster. Mr Stoddart tried to reassure them, saying the question he is most often asked is, “‘Have you got the authority, have you got the nerve and the integrity, to see this through?’ and the answer to all of those is yes.”