Senior lawyers at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) were handed detailed analysis of the police cover-up of the Hillsborough disaster 14 years ago but decided to take no action against any officers involved, the senior lawyer who led a private prosecution on behalf of the families says today.
In a withering attack on the criminal-justice system in The Independent, Alun Jones, QC says the Director of Public Prosecutions needs to explain why his office did "absolutely nothing" in 1998 after considering a line-by-line analysis of tampered reports by South Yorkshire police.
Mr Jones, who led an unsuccessful manslaughter prosecution of the two most senior officers on duty at the ground where 96 Liverpool fans died in 1989, said that police were heavily protected in law during investigations into their conduct and only "herculean" efforts by victims brought the truth to light.
Mr Jones's criticisms came as one of the country's most senior chief constables apologised after suggesting yesterday that the behaviour of the fans on the day of the tragedy had made it harder for police to control the situation.
Sir Norman Bettison, the current head of West Yorkshire Police, headed a team of senior officers charged with putting the case for South Yorkshire police in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. He has fended off calls for his resignation saying he had nothing to do with the cover-up.
However, his intervention on Thursday only increased the anger of the families. In a statement yesterday, he said: "The evidence was overwhelming. The police failed to control the situation, which ultimately led to the tragic deaths of 96 entirely innocent people. I can be no plainer than that and I am sorry if my earlier statement, intended to convey the same message, has caused any further upset."
Mr Jones says that the Hillsborough Family Support Group launched the private prosecution in light of inaction by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to prosecute anyone over the tragedy. The then Home Secretary Jack Straw lodged all the original and amended statements to the House of Commons library in 1998.
"We furnished the DPP, and Attorney General, with an analysis demonstrating the gravity of the conspiracy," Mr Jones writes. He adds: "It is the DPP, particularly, who needs to explain why his office did absolutely nothing." Mr Jones said the analysis was prepared to head off any attempt by the authorities to halt the manslaughter prosecution of David Duckenfield and his deputy Bernard Murray. The private prosecution failed in 2000.
A Crown Prosecution spokesperson said: "The Crown Prosecution Service was approached in 1998 by both parties to the private prosecution and asked to take it over.
"At the time we concluded we would not intervene and the private prosecution went ahead. We provided documentation to the Hillsborough Independent Panel about the reasons behind this decision in 1998 and the Panel has made no criticism of the CPS or the DPP over this." The current head of South Yorkshire police, David Crompton, has said that anyone who is found to have falsified police documents would face criminal investigation.
All the original and amended statements were lodged in the House of Commons library in 1998
Path to justice: A Timeline
15 April 1989: Ninety-six fans die in a crush at the kick-off of the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough in Sheffield.
January 1990: Publication of the Taylor Report blames deaths on police losing control and recommends all-seater stadiums and the removal of anti-hooligan fences. Lord Taylor rejects claims fans were drunk.
September 1990: Director of Public Prosecutions concludes there is insufficient evidence to justify proceedings against police or others.
November 1990: Inquests resume. Coroner returns verdicts of accidental death in all cases but no evidence heard is from after 3.15pm on the day of the tragedy.
November 1990: Chief Superintendant David Duckenfield, who was match-day commander, retires from South Yorkshire Police on health grounds. Disciplinary action against him is subsequently dropped.
November 1993: Judicial review into the inquests backs coroner's handling of the case.
December 1996: Jimmy McGovern's Hillsborough TV film highlights new evidence.
1997: Lord Justice Stuart Smith holds "scrutiny" but concludes there is no new evidence to warrant fresh inquests. His findings are accepted by Home Secretary Jack Straw.
July 2000: Private prosecutions against two senior South Yorkshire police officers for manslaughter. Jury is unable to reach a verdict on Chief Superintendant Duckenfield and acquits his deputy superintendant, Bernard Murray.
March 2009: European Court of Human Rights rejects bereaved parent Anne Williams' challenge over the official version of her 15-year-old son's death, claiming he was still alive after 3.15pm. Her challenge is ruled timed out.
2010: Hillsborough Independent Panel begin examining papers.
September 2012: Publication of 450,000 pages of documents.