The police were able to use lies, smears and the legal system to protect themselves

The tampering with the evidence was reported in detail in 1999 by two Sunday newspapers. Why no public outrage?


The admirably clear findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel have given rise to the impression, not justified by its report, that the facts of the police cover-up have only just been made known. They have been in the public domain, in full, for 14 years. The failure of the authorities to do anything about this has not been discussed. The South Yorkshire Police suppression of the truth had three main aspects. The first was that, instead of organising the rescue of dying spectators, Chief Superintendent Duckenfield lied to people at he ground as to the causes of the disaster, saying fans had broken down an exit gate.

The second was the invented story of large-scale drunkenness. These lies, though widely believed by many, were exposed by the 1990 Taylor Inquiry, which concluded a police "blunder of the first magnitude" had caused the deaths. Why, then, were there no prosecutions for manslaughter and perverting the course of justice? The DPP advised against prosecution in 1990 having received about a 10th of the evidence collected, including many contaminated statements, but omitting dozens of statements showing gross negligence by the police. This evidence was selected and submitted to him by the West Midlands Police force, which, astonishingly, was appointed by, and reported to, the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire.

In 1998, Lord Justice-Stuart-Smith, reporting his Home Office "Scrutiny" of the case, referred to some of these alterations, but seriously underestimated their significance. Then the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, made public all the statements, original and changed. At that point the Hillsborough Family Support Group commenced a private prosecution for manslaughter.

Funded lavishly by the South Yorkshire Police Authority, to an extent impossible under legal aid, the two prosecuted officers sought to demolish the prosecution by arguing that charges should only be brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions, who had declined to do so eight years earlier.

To rebut this, we furnished the DPP, and Attorney General, with a line-by-line analysis, demonstrating the gravity of the conspiracy, but also proving that critical evidence of non-police witnesses had been withheld from the DPP and coroner in 1990. We showed how the tampering exercise was organised. It was clear that crimes of perverting the course of justice had been committed, but not by whom, and it was beyond the power of the families to investigate. The DPP did not step in to stop the private prosecution, and the police, attempting to outspend the families, applied for judicial review. Again, the families' documents' analysis went before a two-judge High Court which refused to stop the case, but approved the police authority funding of the defence. The trial proceeded, though the families were not allowed to adduce evidence of a previous crush at the ground, and other important evidence was unknown to us.

The judges would no doubt reply that it is no business of theirs to interfere with the decision to prosecute, but courts often report apparently criminal conduct to the DPP. It is the DPP, particularly, who needs to explain why his office did absolutely nothing. Assuredly, if he now investigates and prosecutes, he will face a battery of lawyers, arguing passionately that their clients' human rights have been denied them when all the facts, except individual culpability for them, were known in 1998. There is another puzzle. The tampering with the evidence was reported in detail in 1999 by two Sunday newspapers. Why no public outrage? Partly, because the police smear campaign of April 1989 had succeeded. But there seems to be a rhythm in these matters. The police are heavily protected by the law in investigations into their conduct. It takes herculean, demoralising efforts by the victims before wrongs on this scale are acknowledged.#

Alun Jones, defence lawyer

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