Criminal prosecutions including charges of manslaughter could be brought against serving and retired police officers involved in the Hillsborough tragedy after the independent police watchdog today launched its biggest-ever investigation to follow up on new evidence contained in last month’s devastating report.
Launching the investigation, Deborah Glass, deputy chair of the Independent Police Complains Commission (IPCC), said the large number of current and former police officers who would now be investigated included Sir Norman Bettison, currently West Yorkshire’s Chief Constable.
The investigation will look into events before, during and after 15 April 1989 when 96 people died and 760 were injured in overcrowding at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield.
Sir Norman was accused in the Hillsborough Independent Panel report of having a lead role in deflecting blame from the police after the tragedy. The report showed he helped prepare a video presenting the police’s version of events to MPs. He was accused by the Labour MP Maria Eagle of being part of a “black ops” unit.
The IPCC said it would also investigate a second complaint from the West Yorkshire Police Authority that Sir Norman had tried to influence it over its referral. Sir Norman recently announced he will take early retirement next year. A spokesman for the West Yorkshire force said that since the report was published, the chief constable had accepted there needed to be a formal and fair investigation.
Last month’s report estimated that of the 96 who had died, 41 had the “potential to survive” if an emergency plan had been correctly put in place. It also revealed that 164 police statements had been altered – 116 of them to remove or change negative comments about the police’s handling of the match and the disaster.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, announced today that he would be reviewing all material gathered in the 395-page Hillsborough Panel report to decide whether new charges can be brought.
Charges that could be brought against officers, if sufficient evidence emerges, include manslaughter, perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice. Two forces will be the focus of the IPCC inquiry: South Yorkshire, whose officers were in charge of policing the Sheffield stadium, and West Midlands, which later carried out the formal investigation.
Other actions involving police misconduct will also be investigated. Ms Glass said it would take several months to decide what the full extent of the inquiry would be. Of the officers who were on duty at Hillsborough in 1989, 200 are still serving police officers.
Margaret Aspinall, chair of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, who lost her son, James, at the Sheffield stadium, said : “I said the truth is out there. Now it is time for accountability. We have more waiting ahead – but we have already waited 23 years.”
Liverpool FC said the scale of the investigation being launched was “another significant step forward in the campaign for justice for Hillsborough families and survivors”.
The Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, said that after waiting 23 years for justice, the Hillsborough families were now watching the wheels of justice being set in motion.
Ms Glass said that since the publication of the report, the IPCC had identified a large number of potential criminal misconduct offences that fell into two categories: allegations of what happened on the day at the stadium, and what happened afterwards. The IPCC will investigate claims police officers were engaged in a cover-up that involved changing their statements and giving misleading information.
They will also examine evidence that raises questions about the “discreditable conduct” and “integrity of senior officers” who gave accounts of what had led to the deadly crush on Hillsborough’s terraces.
The IPCC has never carried out an investigation of this magnitude. However, Ms Glass said she had been given assurances by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, that it will be given “appropriate resources”.
The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve QC, will now decide whether to take steps that will quash the existing verdict of “accidental death” for the 96 who were killed, and to seek a new inquest. If ordered, the coroner could proceed without waiting for potential criminal proceedings to conclude.
Chief Constable Leslie Sharp, Cumbria Constabulary
On 1 April 1990, Sharp took overall responsibility for the criminal and disciplinary investigations launched by the Police Complaints Authority a year after the Hillsborough disaster. He investigated Chief Constable Peter Wright, then head of the South Yorkshire force. Sharp concluded his inquiries three days before Mr Wright’s retirement. Letters reveal Sharp writing to Wright, praising him and saying he did want to investigate him. The IPCC report says this “raises concern about bias” and asks if there was a “rush” to clear Wright before he retired.
Sir Norman Bettison, West Yorkshire Chief Constable
Last year, Sir Norman was referred to the IPCC over claims he was continuing to give misleading information on events surrounding Hillsborough. Then three days ago, a second referral by the West Yorkshire Police Authority claims he had also tried to influence their decision-making in relation to the Hillsborough allegations. The IPCC has decided to investigate Sir Norman’s overall role in Hillsborough and whether he “deliberately sought” to deflect blame.
Chief Superintendent Don Denton and Chief Superintendent Terry Wain
After the tragedy, South Yorkshire Police set up two internal teams to look at what had happened. Don Denton led one of the groups, the other was headed by Terry Wain. The version of events offered by the “Wain” report was crucial in the focus that fell on the fans’ behaviour. The IPCC is to investigate who gave instructions to officers not to complete duty statements and entries in their notebooks. It wants to discover the two officers’ alleged “involvement in this process”.
...in the clear
Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield
Mr Duckenfield was the commander in charge of Hillsborough on the day of tragedy. Lord Justice Taylor’s investigation singled out Mr Duckenfield for failure to take “effective control”. At the Taylor inquiry, Mr Duckenfield apologised for blaming Liverpool fans. The initial Director of Public Prosecutions examination of the Hillsborough evidence decided against bringing manslaughter or culpable malfeasance charges against any individual, including Mr Duckenfield, who retired in 1991. A private prosecution brought against him by the Hillsborough Family Support Group failed to reach a verdict.
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