Hillsborough police altered statements, jury hears

Hillsborough inquests coroner Lord Justice Goldring
Hillsborough inquests coroner Lord Justice Goldring
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Senior South Yorkshire Police officers and lawyers amended the statements made by officers on duty on the day of the Hillsborough Disaster, a jury heard.

The inquest into the deaths of the 96 Liverpool FC fans who died was told the statements were amended for a variety of reasons.

Coroner Lord Justice Goldring said officers wrote their statements out on paper, rather than in their notebooks or as formal statements for the purpose of the 1989 West Midlands Police inquiry into the disaster.

The statements were then reviewed by senior officers and the force’s lawyers, before being signed and submitted to West Midlands Police.

“Over the years it has become known that a large number of statements were amended in this review process,” said the coroner.

“The amendments vary enormously in type and significance.”

He said corrections of language and factual errors were changed, expletives were removed and so were criticisms of police leadership.

Comments about poor and defective radio communications were also removed along with some comments which were critical of the fans.

“You will have to give some consideration to the amendments which were made to some of the statements.

“Why was the amendment made – was it made for perfectly understandable reasons or was it part of a policy in blaming fans in order to deflect criticism from the police.”

Lord Justice Goldring was completing his opening statement at Birchwood Park in Warrington this morning.

He summarised the previous investigations and inquiries into the disaster including the original inquests held in Sheffield.

He said the new inquests would not use the original 3.15pm ‘cut off’ time used by coroner Stefan Popper at the first inquests which he described as ‘highly controversial’ and ‘strongly disputed’ by many of the families.

The jurors were also told about the Hillsborough Independent Panel report published in 2012 but added any views in that report were ‘irrelevant’ because the panel had not heard any evidence.

Next he outlined details of the IPCC investigation into the disaster and the police investigation Operation Resolve, which are both running while the inquest is heard.

Lord Justice Goldring said he was aware the investigations could turn up new material but he did nOt want to delay the inquests any longer for the sake of the families.

He said the IPCC’s involvement should not be taken as an indication that ‘any police officer necessarily did anything wrong’.

“It will be for you to reach your own determinations in respect of the actions of the police and others on the evidence you hear,” he added.

Before sending the jury home for the day, Lord Justice Goldring outlined six areas the jury would have to consider:

* the layout of the stadium and whether it contributed to the disaster or the deaths

* whether steps were taken to control the ticket allocation and the crowd

* whether the system of allowing fans to find their own way to the terraces was satisfactorY

* could anything have been done to minimise the risk of a crush developing

* the emergency response of the police and ambulance services and whether anything more could have been done by them

* the conduct of the fans – and whether they played any part in the disaster.

He added: “I don’t believe anyone will suggest that the conduct of those who died in any way contributed to their deaths.”

Lord Justice Goldring told the jury their responsibility was to ‘inquire fully, fairly and fearlessly into a disaster which cause the deaths of 96 people’.

The hearing continues tomorrow.