It is the desire to control and manipulate which the South Yorkshire Police force just can’t seem to get out of its system.
We are fairly well acquainted, now, with the way its senior officers sought to promulgate a more positive version of events after the chronic institutional failings that contributed so substantially to the loss of 96 lives at Hillsborough almost 24 years ago. Those scribbled, handwritten amendments to the statements of junior police officers who testified to the lack of leadership and preparation on that sunny April day when Liverpool played Sheffield Wednesday in the semi-final of the FA Cup. “Review and alteration” was what the top brass called it.
The Hillsborough Independent Panel’s (HIP) devastating report last September blew a hole through decades of institutional cover-ups and judicial failings, and revealed that the families of the 96 had been right all along. It was tempting then to conclude that that was the 1980s, and this is the 21st century.
But now we know that South Yorkshire’s inclination to confect its own version of events is a modern phenomenon, too. Only last month, the force was compelled under Freedom of Information legislation to publish an email that its current chief constable, David Crompton, had dispatched to two of his senior colleagues early on a Saturday morning, four months before the HIP reported. It posited the idea of the force establishing a website called “Hillsborough… did you know?” The email suggested that the Hillsborough families had – in some way which Crompton’s email to his “gents” didn’t explain – told lies, which the website could put right. There was also an implication from Crompton – again, unexplained – that the very significant testimony of WPC Debra Martin might potentially be undermined on the site. WPC Martin was the junior officer who cradled Kevin Williams at Hillsborough, as life ebbed away from him. The Crompton story passed almost without notice. Another small item in a very big heap of deceit.
All of which makes it no great surprise to learn that Sir Norman Bettison, the former chief constable, would now have his own gross misconduct case to answer – if only he were still in post to answer it. Bettison attempted to “make himself look good” by referring himself to the Independent Police Complaints Authority, rather than waiting for his police authority to do so, the IPCC has found.
The evidence that the IPCC will now consider includes Bettison’s role as the leader of a crucial all-day meeting that sought to paint the force in a better light with MPs in October 1989, shortly after the force had been heavily censured by Lord Justice Taylor’s interim report into the Hillsborough disaster. Sound familiar?