The biggest ever independent investigation into police wrongdoing is to be carried out following a damning report into the Hillsborough disaster.
In 1999, the Hillsborough victims’ families launched private prosecutions for manslaughter and misconduct in public office against two former police officers who had been in overall command at the match. At the trial in 2000, Superintendent Bernard Murray was represented by Simon Myerson QC and was acquitted. The jury could not reach a verdict on chief superintendent David Duckenfield. An application for a retrial was refused.
BBC News reported the following article 12 October 2012:
The IPCC police watchdog and director of public prosecutions have announced they will both launch inquiries into possible crimes committed by police. The IPCC said both serving and former officers would be investigated over the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans in 1989. The Hillsborough Family Support Group said it was “too good to be true”. The Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer will review evidence relating to how the 96 fans died, which could lead to charges of manslaughter through gross negligence. Meanwhile, the IPCC said it would look at whether there was a criminal cover-up by South Yorkshire Police of failings by the force. A “large number” of current and former officers now face investigation over claims made in a report on the Hillsborough disaster, the IPCC said.
The Hillsborough Independent Panel last month revealed 164 police statements were altered – 116 of them to remove or change negative comments about the policing of the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the Sheffield stadium. It said police and emergency services had made “strenuous attempts” to deflect the blame for the disaster on to fans. The panel also found that 41 of the 96 who died had the “potential to survive” and calls have been made for fresh inquests.
‘Potential criminal offences’
Deborah Glass, deputy chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), said “without a shadow of a doubt” it would be the biggest ever investigation carried out into police behaviour in the UK. Both South Yorkshire Police, who dealt with the tragedy, and West Midlands Police, who investigated howSouth Yorkshirehandled the disaster, will come under scrutiny. The scale of what the IPCC has announced is completely unprecedented. There’s never been an independent police investigation in the UK into multiple forces, in which the key allegations include perverting the course of justice – one of the most serious crimes that could be committed by a sworn officer. What’s not clear at the moment is how many officers, serving and former, will come under investigation and how long it will take. The second key issue will be whether, after all these years, investigators will be able to build cases that will reach the criminal standard of proof required for prosecutions. This is just the first step on the long legal road to justice in the wake of the Hillsborough Panel Report.
The next important decision will come from the attorney general. He will decide whether to ask the high court to reopen the inquests. Sir Norman Bettison, currently Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, has been referred to the IPCC over allegations that he provided misleading information after the tragedy.
It has also been revealed that he is also under investigation for allegations that he “attempted to influence the decision-making process of the West Yorkshire Police Authority in connection with the referral that they had made”, Ms Glass said.
She added: “The potential criminal and misconduct offences disclosed by the panel’s report fall into two broad categories.
“They are the allegations that go to the heart of what happened at Hillsborough in April 1989 and individuals and institutions may be culpable for the deaths, and there are allegations about what happened after the disaster, that evidence was fabricated and misinformation was spread in an attempt to shift blame.”
West Yorkshire Police said Sir Norman was “keen to co-operate with the IPCC inquiry”.
Responding to the news of the inquiries, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said everything the families of Hillsborough victims had said was justified and added: “You need truth, then you need to use the truth against people who did some very bad and wrong things.”
Allegations that statements were altered and that misleading information was passed to the media and MPs will be investigated and could lead to police misconduct and criminal charges, Ms Glass said. Hillsborough police crime probe Claims that officers questioned bereaved next of kin about their loved ones’ alcohol consumption, carried out alcohol testing and checked the police national computer to find information about the dead and injured could also lead to charges. Liverpool FC said the inquiries were “another significant step forward in the campaign for justice for Hillsborough families and survivors”. Anne Williams, mother of 15-year-old Kevin Williams who died at Hillsborough, said: “This is really good news. Good news that they are moving quickly to save us any more heartache. “I welcome it and I know it’s going to be a long process, but at least they are getting the ball moving.” Sue Roberts, the secretary of the Hillsborough Family Support Group (HFSG), said she was “amazed” and “very pleased” by the announcements.
‘More waiting ahead’
“I just hope it all goes through, it seems too good to be true at the moment,” she said. “I haven’t heard the full detail yet but it just seems as though everything is going in our favour so fingers crossed it continues in that vein for a change.” Margaret Aspinall, the group’s chairwoman, who lost her son James in the disaster, said she believed “all the families would be quite pleased” with the development. She said: “We have more waiting ahead of us but we have had 23 years of waiting. “I’m hoping it’s going to be sooner rather than later, as I’m a lot older now, I was a relatively young woman at the time, I’m now an old age pensioner.” She added: “I’m just praying, this time, the job will be done thoroughly.”
A West Yorkshire Police spokesperson said: “Sir Norman Bettison has consistently made the point since 15 September, three days after the report was published, that these were matters that needed to be investigated formally and fairly by the IPCC.
‘Outcome families deserve’
“At the time, he immediately welcomed the police authority’s decision to refer this matter. “He is on record as saying he is keen to co-operate with the IPCC inquiry, but now that has been launched, he has nothing further to add.”
Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, Chris Sims, said: “I welcome today’s decision by the IPCC to look into the role of West Midlands Police following the tragedy at Hillsborough in 1989. The IPCC will probe allegations that Sir Norman Bettison provided misleading information “As chief constable I read the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report and immediately referred West Midlands Police to the IPCC. “Today, the IPCC have accepted that referral and West Midlands Police will give their full support to the IPCC investigation.” The Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said: “The families have waited 23 years to obtain justice and this announcement sets the wheels in motion at long last. “I sincerely hope that no stone will be left unturned in delivering the outcome that the families deserve. “I also welcome the fact that they and the Independent Police Complaints Commission will be investigating both former and serving South Yorkshire Police officers, including Sir Norman Bettison. The chief constable of South Yorkshire Police, David Crompton, said his force would assist the IPCC inquiry. He said: “We acknowledge that it was always going to happen that the IPCC were going to take this and run a very large inquiry. “We, as South Yorkshire Police, stand ready to co-operate in any way whatsoever with the IPCC to assist them in their endeavours.”