Statements from 60 police officers about the Hillsborough disaster were altered - with a senior officer admitting ‘errors of judgement’ were made with some changes, a court heard.
The jury at the new inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool supporters was told today that more than 600 statements were internally vetted by the police, with 60 being amended.
Jonathan Hough QC, for the coroner, said lawyers looking at documentary records have also calculated that South Yorkshire Police’s solicitors Hammond Suddards reviewed the accounts of 416 officers and made comments on 158 of those.
Details were provided as former chief superintendent Donald Denton gave evidence for a second day.
Mr Denton, who had been in charge of vetting statements, admitted under questioning there had been ‘errors of judgement’ in removing facts from statements on a ‘handful’ of occasions.
He accepted under questioning that some of the information removed from the statements had been fact as well as opinion.
He said his team had followed advice from police solicitor Peter Metcalf and any changes would have been explained to affected officers.
Passages from officers that were deleted were shown to the jury.
Mr Denton said he was not concerned that removing criticisms of senior officers from statements would give an ‘incomplete account of the disaster’ to the Taylor inquiry.
He said: “So far as I was aware the recommendations for the removal of criticisms like that were recommendations for the removal of opinion and comment which did not have a place in a normal, factual statement.”
Mr Denton said he was never aware of officers being put under any pressure to accept amendments.
He said: “It was not something which I would have condoned at all.”
One officer’s statement said he believed there should have a ‘semi-sterile area’ outside the Leppings Lane end to help police the arrival of supporters and that officers from Rotherham had this duty in 1987.
Mr Hough said both the officer’s view and the fact there had been such a policy in 1987 were crossed out.
Mr Denton agreed this was a ‘problem’.
He said: “Now that you point that out, on reflection, yes that it is a problem, but it is essentially opinion to start with.”
Another officer’s statement had the following passages deleted: “We were still not formally informed of the situation in the ground and it seemed ludicrous later that Operation Support had officers travelling from all over the force to assist in the ground when there were at least 50 officers stood outside the Leppings Lane entrance almost in limbo, not knowing what was happening and not being required to assist.
“The scale and nature of the incident was certainly not communicated to officers outside the ground who were left in the dark, which could easily have resulted in real problems with public disorder outside the ground.”
Mr Denton said the statement was ‘comment rather than fact in my mind’, but accepted there was a factual element to the deleted passages.
Questioned about the amendments process, he said: “We were trying to obtain statements which were strictly factual and did not contain material which would not normally have been admissible in any proceedings.
“I would be the first to admit that there are, as I have seen and we’ve talked about some this morning, that there were occasions of alteration being made to statements which were, on reflection, wrong.
“We didn’t have the benefit of all this hindsight.
“I would concede there may well have been errors of judgement by my team where things were taken out which should not have been - I would really propose that there were only a handful.”
He added: “I can only plead at that time might have affected the quality of our judgement on one or two occasions.”
The hearings continue.