Police officers and Hillsborough survivors whose testimonies were altered by police to create the impression that Liverpool fans caused the 1989 football stadium tragedy have called for criminal action against the perpetrators.
South Yorkshire Police was castigated by an inquest jury which delivered 16 specific findings against the force, including a conclusion that those who died were victims of unlawful killing.
That verdict increases the likelihood of match commander David Duckenfield being prosecuted, legal sources close to the families said.
But though the unlawful killing decision was the most keenly awaited by families, focus is now turning from the inquests’ search for a cause of death to widespread alleged criminality, with many witnesses whose statements were found to have been altered insisting that Duckenfield’s attempt to blame fans for fatally opening an exit gate was part of a far broader and more pernicious police cover-up.
Survivor Nick Braley, an Ipswich Town supporter who accepted an offer of a ticket for the Liverpool versus Nottingham Forest semi-final, said he had said in his statement to the West Midlands force, which investigated its South Yorkshire counterparts, that two fans had jumped over the turnstiles to access the ground, helped by officers.
This had been amended to 50 when his statement was subsequently revealed and published in the 2012 Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP), which re-examined all the evidence and paved way to the inquest.
This was one of number of amendments made. Another survivor of the Leppings Lane end told The Independent that his testimony had also been changed by the West Midlands force.
Martin McLoughlin, a junior officer on the day of the disaster, retired on ill health after Hillsborough, also found his statements altered by his superiors to make events look more positive for them and worse for Liverpool fans.
“Justice has been done, but I won’t rest until I see the investigation into my statement being altered,” he told The Independent.
“Call me an old fashioned bobby, but that is criminal."
An ongoing Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) inquiry into possible police misconduct is expected to report within a year and is pursuing 10,000 possible lines of inquiry. A second inquiry, Operation Resolve, is examining the circumstances surrounding the planning of the match and the day of the disaster. The Crown Prosecution Service has said it is in close contact with both inquiry teams.
The investigator who had done most to bring the Hillsborough campaign to its conclusion, HIP principal author Professor Phil Scraton, also called for the Football Association – which escaped serious scrutiny at the inquests – to account for its own actions.
The governing body rejected Liverpool’s pleas not to hold the 1989 game at Hillsborough – despite warnings from then chief executive, Peter Robinson, that there had been problems at the stadium when the same two sides met the previous year.
Prof Scraton said: “There’s no question that the one significant omission in terms of those who are responsible is the Football Association. They had the lightest of touches.
"The time is right for the FA to come clean not only in terms of what happened on the day but [before that.] It was for them to check the safety of the stadium. We’ve heard that it was roundly criticised.
"I do feel that the FA should make a very clear statement as to why they did not act appropriately at the time.”
The FA has not responded to the inquest findings.
But despite the demands for further actions, fans did feel vindicated – above all by the jury’s conclusion that Liverpool supporters had played no part whatsoever in the causes of the disaster.
A survivor of the tragedy, who watched his 41-year-old uncle die in the crush while he fought to avoid being drawn down on the overcrowded terrace, told The Independent that he had been made to feel culpable for his relative’s death for 27 years.
“I can finally live with what happened now,” said Dave Golding, who was close to tears. “To have been at the inquests day in and day out, it is obvious that the 96 were unlawfully killed but we could not be certain of the outcome. The events of the years since it has happened has told us always to expect the worst. It isn’t anger we feel. It’s a sense of rights wrongs. It’s relief more than anger after all these years.”
In court, there were cheers of delight at that response and shouts of “thank you” and “hallelujah” when the jury forewoman replied “yes, by a majority” to the unlawful killing question.
The cheers were almost as loud for the conclusion that supporters had played no part whatsoever in the disaster. Families sobbed at that moment.
The pressure felt by the jury forewoman was also obvious, with her voice trembling as the general findings on the causes of the disaster were related. When the jury for the families to collect themselves, ahead of individual verdicts on the 96, the courtoom stood to applause the nine, who had numbered 11 when initially constituted in 2014.
The jury also unanimously found, in response to the 12 further questions, that the disaster had been caused by catastrophic institutional failings. South Yorkshire Police errors caused a dangerous situation at the turnstiles, failures by commanding officers caused a crush on the terraces and that there were mistakes in the police control box over the order to open the Leppings Lane end exit gates.
Sheffield Wednesday FC was also found to be culpable. Defects at its stadium contributed to the disaster and there was an error in the safety certification of the Hillsborough stadium. South Yorkshire Police and South Yorkshire Ambulance Service delayed declaring a major incident. The emergency response was therefore delayed.
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