Hillsborough: Now CPS is under fire

Senior prosecutor was at 1990 meeting that decided not to read all the eyewitness evidence

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The Independent Online

One of the most senior officials at the Crown Prosecution Service –which will decide whether South Yorkshire Police should be put in the dock over the Hillsborough disaster – was present when prosecutors decided in 1990 that they did not need to read all of the evidence before ruling out criminal charges.

Mike Kennedy, operations director at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), warned colleagues at the time that it could be "particularly embarrassing" if the public found out that the body had failed to read all the witness statements before reaching their momentous decision on who should be blamed for the tragedy, in which 96 Liverpool fans died.

The Independent on Sunday understands that the CPS did not consider all the witness statements so they could reach a "speedy conclusion", during a meeting in London nine months after the crush. Rather, they allowed the police to choose the evidence on which prosecutors based their decision.

Minutes of the meeting, released to the Hillsborough Independent Panel, reveal that: "Mr Kennedy indicated that he would be unhappy if that were to occur, particularly as there was a possibility of being discovered at a later stage [that not all the statements had been seen] … this might be particularly embarrassing if a decision not to prosecute was reached." A subsequent legal ruling recorded that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was sent "approximately 11 per cent" of the Hillsborough witness statements.

The revelations put the legal establishment in the spotlight over the official failure to get to the truth of what happened when 96 people died at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989. They also raised questions over whether Mr Kennedy should have any involvement in discussions over what happens next.

The present DPP, Keir Starmer, ordered a fresh inquiry this month after the panel revealed police had changed scores of statements in an attempt to push blame on to the fans. More than 200 serving and former officers are expected to be investigated.

But the CPS "Joint Opinion", issued in August 1990, ruled out charges against any organisations or individuals. The advice, from the late Lord Justice Williams and Peter Birts QC, has been used as a reference point ever since. The Hillsborough panel's report, released last month, stated that the Joint Opinion "was accepted by the CPS, apparently without further consideration".

Minutes from the meeting between Mr Birts, police officers and the CPS in January 1990, state: "There was considerable discussion to whether all the documentation, ie statements should be submitted to counsel [Mr Birts]." The document adds: "Mr Birts indicated he would be quite happy to read everything." The minutes also state that police should be told to "edit out superfluous material" from the statements.

A CPS spokeswoman last night insisted that a fresh team, not including Mr Kennedy, would review Hillsborough. She added: "There were no criticisms of the CPS in the panel report, and we are not specifically reviewing the previous decision-making. The DPP at the time took the advice of two highly distinguished counsel, Peter Birts QC and Gareth Williams QC … However, if when reviewing the material disclosed by the panel we reach different conclusions to those arrived at by the CPS previously, we will inevitably assess how and why any earlier decisions were taken."

Sheila Coleman, of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, said the revelations about the original CPS review were "absolutely disgraceful". She added: "To only go through 11 per cent of the witness statements – it's unbelievable." Neither Mr Birts nor Mr Kennedy was available for comment yesterday.