Jurors will have to find the truth of the matter behind ‘conflicts’ of evidence between Liverpool fans and police officers ‘critical’ of their behaviour, the Hillsborough disaster inquest heard.
Coroner Sir John Goldring said claims by some South Yorkshire Police officers of drunken, ticketless and unruly Liverpool fans were a ‘highly controversial’ part of the evidence they must consider.
Sir John is summing up the evidence for the jury of seven women and three men, who have been hearing evidence about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of 96 football fans for nearly two years.
Jurors have been given 14 key questions to answer about the disaster which claimed the lives of Liverpool fans who were crushed to death on the Leppings Lane terrace at the FA Cup semi-final on April 15, 1989.
They cover match planning before the game, police and fan conduct on the day, the role of Match Commander Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, stadium safety and the emergency response as the disaster unfolded.
Sir John, at the start of the third week of summing-up, told the jury yesterday: “A number of police officers in the Leppings Lane area gave evidence which was critical of the behaviour of supporters there.
“By contrast, many supporters gave evidence to very different effect; that they and fellow fans behaved normally and sensibly and no different to what you would expect at any football match.”
Sir John said families of the 96 fans crushed to death suggest video footage shown to the jury of fans taken in and around the Hillsborough ground in the run-up to kick off was ‘inconsistent’ with police claims of mass drunkenness and ‘significant misbehaviour’.
Sir John continued: “This is a highly controversial part of the evidence on the day and you will have to make your own assessment and decisions as to what you accept and reject.
“You will have to resolve the conflict.
“Members of the jury, form your own views.”
The jury were reminded that most of the accounts given by police officers which criticised fans were challenged by the lawyers of the families of the fans who died.
But ‘by contrast’ the evidence of a number of fans was not challenged, the court heard.
Jurors were then reminded of evidence heard about the way police statements in the aftermath of the disaster were taken, reviewed and sometimes amended on the advice of lawyers for South Yorkshire Police.
Lawyers for the families have challenged the way the statements were produced.
Sir John told the jury: “In short, they put it to the key witnesses that co-ordinated efforts were being made to manipulate the evidence and present a false narrative of the disaster.
“Those at South Yorkshire Police involved in the process of gathering and amending statements denied that they had done anything improper.
“It is entirely a matter for you what view you take on the way statements were gathered and amended.
“You will take your own view about the motivations of those involved.”
The hearing continues.