Hillsborough disaster: We have learned massive lessons, says police chief

Untold pain: Police chief David Crompton says he will co-operate with any new inquiries.
Untold pain: Police chief David Crompton says he will co-operate with any new inquiries.
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THE former chief constable of South Yorkshire Police was ‘ultimately responsible’ for the Hillsborough disaster and ‘aware’ of key statements about the tragedy being changed in the cover-up.

Ninety-six Liverpool supporters died in a crush at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium on April 15, 1989, where their team were to meet Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final.

An independent report into the tragedy has found a small team of officers - on the authority of former chief constable Peter Wright - undertook an ‘unprecedented process of review and alteration’ to statements given to an official inquiry.

It says: “On the authority of the Chief Constable this process was conducted by a small team of officers managed by Chief Superintendent Donald Denton in consultation with Peter Metcalf, a senior partner in the SYP solicitors, Hammond Suddards.”

Current chief constable David Crompton, pictured, who made an ‘unreserved apology’ on behalf of the force, said Mr Wright, who died last year, was ‘ultimately responsible’ for Hillsborough as chief constable.

He told The Star: “Peter Wright would I think have known that, due to the time pressures at the beginning of Lord Justice Taylor’s inquiry (into Hillsborough), having to produce a result by the beginning of the following football season, that there was a process going on by which statements had amendments made to them.

“It would be wrong just to focus it on Peter Wright because Lord Justice Taylor and his legal advisors were already aware that this process was going on.

“That was something looked into in a subsequent inquiry.

“If Peter Wright was wrong at that time, and I don’t step away from my principle of you shouldn’t alter statements, we wouldn’t do it now, it was wrong, but it was known about by other people who were outside the force.

He said the statement alterations were one of the biggest ‘enduring controversies’ in the 23 years.

The report found South Yorkshire Police made ‘strenuous attempts’ to deflect the blame for Hillsborough on to innocent fans. ‘Unfavourable’ comments about the policing of the match, and the unfolding catastrophe, were removed.

This process was ‘widely known’ to those involved in the inquiries and investigations.

The panel said the Police Federation, ‘supported informally by the SYP Chief Constable’, sought to create a version of events derived in police officers’ allegations of drunkenness, ticketless fans, and violence.

When asked if Peter Wright was complicit in changing statements, Chf Con Crompton added: “I think he would have been aware of the process.”

Hillsborough families have now called for criminal charges to be brought. Sheila Coleman, of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, said: “All the evidence today shows that South Yorkshire Police and people in South Yorkshire Police lied and operated a cover-up.”

Chf Con Crompton said it was not for him to decide but anything that breached the criminal threshold should be tackled.

He added: “I think that’s for other people to determine but if it does, they should face prosecution.”

‘Massive lessons’ had been learned from Hillsborough, he said, and it ‘wouldn’t happen today’. But he admitted there had been ‘catastrophic police failings’ at the time.

He added: “I think there was a different culture in every police force in 1989.

“There was a different culture, I’m not saying there was some institutionalised culture of wrongdoing.”

In an apology to families of the 96 victims, and Liverpool fans, South Yorkshire Police said it had ‘failed’ victims and families on that day and the police ‘lost control’.

Chf Con Crompton said in a statement: “On that day South Yorkshire Police failed the victims and families. The police lost control.

“In the immediate aftermath senior officers sought to change the record of events.

“Disgraceful lies were told which blamed the Liverpool fans for the disaster. Statements were altered which sought to minimise police blame.

“These actions have caused untold pain and distress for over 23 years.

“I am profoundly sorry for the way the force failed on April 15, 1989, and I am doubly sorry for the injustice that followed and I apologise to the families of the 96 and Liverpool fans.

“South Yorkshire Police is a very different place in 2012 from what it was 23 years ago and we will be fully open and transparent in helping to find answers to the questions posed by the panel today.”

Hillsborough disaster cover up findings at a glace - CLICK HERE

SEE THE STAR FOR A 10-PAGE HILLSBOROUGH DISASTER REPORT SPECIAL - THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2012.