Hillsborough: Call for powers to probe ‘cover up’

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LABOUR will call tomorrow for powers to compel police officers to give evidence to an inquiry into the alleged Hillsborough cover-up.

Amid fears that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) lacks sufficient powers to uncover the truth about the police response to the tragedy, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper will urge the Government to bring forward emergency legislation.

In the biggest ever inquiry into police action, the IPCC is to investigate serving and former officers over what happened on the day of the tragedy in 1989 and during the alleged cover-up afterwards.

They include the current Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, Sir Norman Bettison, who has been accused of supplying misleading information after the disaster and trying to influence the local police authority when he was referred to the IPCC.

It follows a report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel which claimed 164 police statements were altered in the wake of the tragedy, 116 of them to remove or change negative comments about the policing of the match and the ensuing disaster.

Questions have also been raised over whether manslaughter charges should be brought over the deaths, which happened at an FA Cup semi-final at the Sheffield stadium between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

However, the IPCC cannot force serving police officers to attend interviews if they are not themselves suspected of criminal behaviour or misconduct. Retired officers cannot be compelled at all - potentially a serious problem for the inquiry given the time that has passed since the events in question.

There are also concerns that the IPCC lacks sufficient powers to obtain information from third parties.

In a Commons debate on Hillsborough tomorrow, Labour will offer to work with the Government on legislation or any other way of remedying shortcomings in the IPCC’s powers.

Ms Cooper said: “I am concerned that much more still needs to be done to strengthen the inquiry arrangements.

“For example the inquiry into the cover-up will need to get to the bottom of why so many police statements were altered.

“Yet although the Independent Police Complaints Commission can pursue officers it believes have committed crimes, it doesn’t have the powers to compel serving or former officers to be interviewed as witnesses. Nor can it compel civilians to give evidence.

“Everything possible should be done now to remove these obstacles to justice for the Hillsborough families. We can’t let further inquiries drag on for years because they didn’t have the powers or resources to get results.

“The IPCC has itself called for more powers. We believe emergency legislation is needed to give the IPCC the extra powers it needs and has asked for, or the Government will need to find some other way to set up a proper independent investigation into what happened in South Yorkshire police.

“We will work with the Government to make sure this can happen.”

Home Office spokesman said Home Secretary Theresa May would invite Labour to discuss their proposals.

“We welcome this suggestion. The Home Secretary has already said she would like to increase the powers of the IPCC, so she will invite the Opposition to discuss this further,” the spokesman said.

“The public can have confidence that the necessary people and powers will be made available to investigate all aspects of the Hillsborough Panel’s findings.”