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Hillsborough police ‘told to pin blame on Liverpool fans’

Officers directed to gather evidence of fans’ drinking before disaster, former inspector tells inquest

Ian Herbert
Wednesday 04 March 2015 19:28 GMT
The Hillsborough disaster took the lives of 96 Liverpool fans
The Hillsborough disaster took the lives of 96 Liverpool fans (Getty Images)

Hillsborough police were briefed by senior officers to blame the disaster on “drunken, ticketless Liverpool fans” - and told to gather evidence to that effect, the inquests into the 96 who died have heard.

Former South Yorkshire Police inspector Clive Davis told the jury that officers attending the briefing, given by Chief Superintendent Terry Wain 48 hours after the disaster, were ordered to scour the M62 motorway for beer cans discarded by travelling Liverpool fans, gather evidence of their alcohol consumption from pubs, off-licences and local residents – and even photograph walls where fans had urinated.

Mr Davis, who later became a superintendent, said he vividly recalled Mr Wain’s words being: “We are going to put the blame on this disaster where it belongs, on the drunken, ticketless Liverpool fans. We are going to now go away and gather the evidence to show this.”

The jury heard that the then Chief Inspector Norman Bettison, for whom Mr Davis was working as a force graduate trainee, was eager that the two of them boost their career opportunities by getting involved with Mr Wain’s committee. “He said to me that he felt [Mr Wain’s briefing] was an opportunity for us to get ourselves noticed,” Mr Davis said. “[He felt] it would be good for us to go to this meeting. [He thought] this was going to be the biggest thing to happen in South Yorkshire police and that it would be to our benefit - if you like - career-wise, to be a part of what was going to happen in the wake of it.”

Mr Davis formed the view that Mr Wain’s briefing was “very high-level” and designed to set out “that South Yorkshire police were going to pursue this strategy.”

He said: “I formed the view that Mr Wain had been given a job to do, and he would only have been given that job by the direction of the chief constable [who at the time was Peter Wright].

“To me it seemed very early to have come to such a decisive and emotive conclusion. To the best of my knowledge, we hadn’t actually debriefed operational officers at that point in time.”

The strategy felt like “a call to arms,” he added. “It just stays in your mind when you’ve heard something like that.” The former officer said he was “more perplexed” by the speed with which this explanation for the disaster was reached - and later became “outraged”.

Lawyers representing police officers at the Warrington inquest challenged Mr Davis’ account. Christopher Daw QC, representing Mr Wain, claimed Mr Davis’ testimony was fabricated and that he was attention seeking when he came forward with the evidence – 23 years after the disaster, following the publication of the 2012 Hillsborough Independent Panel report. Mr Daw cited Mr Davis’ appearance with Sir John Harvey-Jones in a 1992 edition of the Troubleshooter BBC series.

But Mr Davis said he could not raise his concerns at the time because of the negative reaction to whistle-blowers in the force. Those who raised problems “became the problem,” Mr Davis said.

Jonathan Hough, counsel to the inquests, referred Mr Davis to a documented meeting of CID offices which took place on the afternoon of April 17, 1989, in which no reference was made to the meeting Mr Davis said took place that morning. Mr Davis said that was not normal – but that these were “not normal times.”

The inquests continue.

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