Hillsborough: Report reveals roles of men now under scrutiny

Hillsborough disaster.
Hillsborough disaster.
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SIX key figures have emerged in the report into the Hillsborough disaster as those who played a part in keeping the truth hidden from victims’ families for 23 years.

Asked if the report had laid bare ‘the biggest cover-up in British legal history’, top lawyer Michael Mansfield QC replied: “The short answer to that is, yes.”

The barrister, representing some of the Hillsborough families, also warned of the prospect of prosecutions over the deaths, saying some individuals could be prosecuted for gross negligence manslaughter.

And those who amended witness statements to shift blame for the disaster could be charged with perverting the course of justice.

The independent panel findings reveal the failings of the police and ambulance services, but exposed Sheffield Wednesday’s and Sheffield Council’s failures to heed crowd safety warnings in the years before the disaster.

Hillsborough stadium had not been issued with a safety certificate on the day of the disaster.

Mr Mansfield added: “If David Cameron means what he says and justice has to follow truth then they have a responsibility to assess not just the question of unlawful killing but the cover-up and the perversion of the course of justice.

“There was no safety certificate then. They breached the safety rules. That is the beginning of serious negligence and there is a causation relationship here which the director of public prosecutions will have to look at.

“There’s more than the police here. It’s not just the police.

“Sheffield Wednesday need to answer some questions, and the Sheffield authorities too, on that score.

“It is not just one person who is responsible for what happened. There is bound to be a number of people. We will look at all avenues.”

Six key players feature in the panel’s findings

n FORMER Chief Constable Peter Wright allowed the alteration of officers’ statements which were critical of his force.

The doctoring of statements was labelled an ‘unprecedented process of review and alteration’, on the ‘authority’ of the former police chief.

Papers unearthed by the panel found minutes from a meeting of South Yorkshire Police Federation officials, attended by the-then Chief Constable, five days after the disaster, in which he was noted as saying details of misbehaviour of fans were crucial because ‘if anybody should be blamed it should be the drunken, ticketless fans’.

He said a ‘rock solid story’ had to be presented in ‘defence’ of his force if it was to be exonerated.

Wright, who died last year at the age of 82, retired from his force in the wake of the Taylor report into the disaster, which exposed police failings.

He issued a statement when he announced his decision to leave in which he accepted ‘full responsibility for police action in connection with this event’.

n THE man in charge of the policing operation at Hillsborough on the day of the disaster, David Duckenfield, also features in the panel’s report for spreading misinformation about Liverpool fans who attended the game on April 15, 1989.

He lied to Football Association officials that fans had forced their way into the football stadium through an exit gate, when in reality he ordered the gate to be opened to relieve congestion outside - causing the crush on the terraces which led to 96 deaths.

He retired from South Yorkshire Police on a full pension in 1991, suffering depression and post traumatic stress disorder.

The panel’s report said: “As the severity of the disaster was becoming apparent, Match Commander Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield told a falsehood to senior officials that Liverpool fans had broken into the stadium and caused an inrush into the central pens thus causing the fatal crush.

“While later discredited, this unfounded allegation was broadcast internationally and was the first explanation of the cause of the disaster to enter the public domain.”

n LIES about the behaviour of Liverpool fans at Hillsborough - which ended up labelled ‘The Truth’ in a front page headline in The Sun - came after Police Federation representative Paul Middup, and the-then Conservative Hallam MP Irvine Patnick, gave interviews to Sheffield-based news agency White’s.

The panel found documents detailing meetings held over three days between agency staff, the MP, the Federation rep and ‘several police officers’.

Notes show Mr Middup had confirmed that ‘putting our side of the story over to the press and media’ had been his priority.

In one of the meetings he stated the Chief Constable had said ‘the truth could not come from him’ but had given the Police Federation a ‘free hand’ to relay the force message.

Articles stemming from those meetings vilified Liverpool fans, claiming they had urinated on police officers and stolen from the dead.

The panel found that, despite the attempt to divert attention from South Yorkshire Police, with a ‘version of events that focused on allegations of drunkenness, ticketlessness and violence among a large number of Liverpool fans’, there were no documents, TV or CCTV footage to back up any of the claims.

n SIR Norman Bettison, the current Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, and a South Yorkshire chief inspector on the day of the disaster, was part of a team tasked with attempting to publicise his force’s account of what happened.

He is resisting calls for his resignation today, insisting he has ‘nothing to hide’.

In a statement he maintained what his force said at the time - that the behaviour of some fans in the stadium made the police job ‘harder than it needed to be’.

He also defended his role in the aftermath of the disaster, saying: “I never altered a statement nor asked for one to be altered.”

Sir Norman said: “Fans’ behaviour, to the extent it was relevant at all, made the job of the police in the crush outside Leppings Lane turnstiles harder than it needed to be.

“But it didn’t cause the disaster any more than the sunny day that encouraged people to linger outside the stadium as kick-off approached.

“I held those views then, I hold them now. I have never offered any other interpretation in public or private.”

n CORONER Stefan Popper, who oversaw the inquests into the deaths of the victims and delivered verdicts of accidental death, was instrumental in the amount of information in the public domain for the last 23 years, after refusing to take any evidence for events after 3.15pm on the day of the crush.

The Attorney General is reviewing the findings of the panel, and could call for the inquest verdicts to be quashed and order new hearings.