CROSSED out and scribbled over – these images show how officers’ statements were later crucially altered in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster to protect South Yorkshire Police.
The documents, hidden away for 23 years, show a total of 164 police statements were ‘substantially amended’ by other officers in the aftermath of the disaster in which 96 fans died.
They were doctored ahead of official inquiries into the incident, to ‘shape the investigation that followed’, according to the panel set up to oversee disclosure of files and documents about the Hillsborough disaster held by 85 organisations.
For many of the officers whose statements were tampered with, the revelations on Wednesday in the Hillsborough Independent Panel report were the first they’d ever known their words were changed.
The panel’s report lays the blame for the alterations at the door of Chief Constable Peter Wright – at the helm of South Yorkshire Police on April 15, 1989.
It said ‘on the authority of the Chief Constable’, officers’ statements ‘underwent an unprecedented process of review and alteration’.
After analysing the original statements supplied by officers and comparing them to those put forward by the force as official evidence, the panel found 116 which were ‘unfavourable’ to South Yorkshire Police had been changed.
The report said: “Beyond the issues of language, more significant alterations were made changing the meaning or balance of statements.
“Some 116 of the 164 substantially amended statements removed or altered comments unfavourable to South Yorkshire Police – these included 41 statements in which alterations downplayed or removed criticisms made by officers of their leadership and of the police response to the disaster. These commonly included any indication or impression that senior officers had lost control of events, or were ill-equipped to respond to the unfolding tragedy.
“The amendments also frequently included deletions of references relevant to the failure to effectively monitor the pens and close the tunnel once Gate C was opened.”
The panel found 48 statements were amended to delete references to the difficulties officers experienced in communicating with one another and with match commanders, as the horror on the terraces unfolded.
Comments were removed abut the unavailability or inadequacy of police radios and poor communication between senior officers and the lower ranks deployed at the stadium.
But in addition to deflecting blame away from South Yorkshire Police, derogatory comments about Liverpool fans were also removed, including one in which supporters were branded ‘animals’ by one police officer in a statement taken in the wake of the disaster.
Of the 164 statements found by the panel to have been altered, 33 were changed to remove criticism of football supporters who travelled to Hillsborough for the game that fateful day.
One officer, known only as PC Hemsworth, described the fans in the ground that day as ‘animals’, ‘louts’ and ‘mindless morons’ – but derogatory references were removed. His comment that ‘one could not communicate with these animals as they continued to push’ was altered so the word ‘animals’ was replaced with ‘people’.
A sentence in which he originally said ‘it was hopeless – the louts would not cooperate’ was altered to read ‘it was hopeless – the hooligan element among the supporters would not cooperate’.
Another officer, Sgt Michael Long, called the Liverpool fans a ‘drunken rabble’ but his terminology was also removed.
Statements were also altered to deflect blame from the county’s ambulance service, the independent panel members found.
Their report into the cover-up found statements were handed to solicitors for the emergency service before they were handed in as part of official investigations.
South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service, now Yorkshire Ambulance Service, provided documents to the panel showing statements were reviewed and sections deleted.
Of 101 statements handed in to the authorities by ambulance bosses, 54 replaced earlier versions of events. The panel concluded that, in 17 cases, ‘the statements contain amendments to material which might have been perceived as negative towards SYMAS’.
The panel concluded: “The documents show the review and alteration of statements extended to South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service and its solicitors.
“While there is variation in the amendments, in a number of cases they deflected criticisms and emphasised the efficiency of the SYMAS response.”
South Yorkshire Police Chief Constable David Crompton, who took over the running of South Yorkshire Police in April, said ‘disgraceful lies’ had been told.
He issued an apology for South Yorkshire Police failing victims and their families and admitted the force ‘lost control’.
HOW STATEMENTS WERE EDITED TO SHIFT TGHE BURDEN OF BLAME
* PC MAXWELL Groome was one of the officers who had his statement altered, including the removal of the sentence ‘the control room seemed to have been hit by some sort of paralysis’.
His statement also questioned the decision to appoint Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield as match day commander ahead of more experienced officers, including Chief Supt Brian Mole and he branded the organisation of the event as ‘poor’.
He also called for the deployment of officers around the ground to be looked at, claiming ‘too many sat around in the gymnasium while others were rushed off their feet’.
PC Groome also claimed ‘certain supervisory officers were conspicuous by their absence’ and described the policing arrangements as ‘utter chaos’ – but all his negative comments were removed.
* PC ALAN Wadsworth’s original statement was altered, so criticism of senior officers was removed. He wrote that there was ‘no leadership at the Leppings Lane end following the disaster, either in person or on the radio’ but his comment was removed.
* PC KEITH Bradley’s criticism of the lack of police control at the stadium was deleted.
He originally wrote: “As it became obvious what had happened, those of us attempting to keep some sort of order outside the ground and keep the way clear for emergency vehicles, were subjected to a non-stop torrent of vehement verbal abuse and threats from a good proportion of the crowd by now leaving the ground.
“This was a frightening situation as we were by now vastly outnumbered by a potentially hostile mass of distressed people. “No officer, senior or otherwise, came to inform us of what had happened. We were deflecting the insults, threats and abuse, basically still being unaware of what exactly had happened.
“Radio traffic was non-existent all through this time, as was any direction from supervisory officers.”
But his altered version stated that ‘radio messages being passed were more difficult to understand all through this time.’ * PC PHILIP Dexter spoke of a breakdown in the command structure inside the stadium – but his comments that there had been a ‘lack of communication inside the ground’ and that he ‘did not know what was going on’, were deleted from his statement.
* PC GLYN Dunn also had a section of his statement deleted in which he had said: “It appeared to me one single senior officer appeared to be attempting to take control of the situation – that could at times only be called chaotic.
“I am also surprised that, from the position of the ground control room, no-one in there could see what was happening inside the Leppings Lane stand and that officers on the perimeter of the pitch were unable to assess the situation correctly and act swiftly from it.”
* PC STEPHEN Mercer wrote: “I at no time heard any directions being given in terms of leadership. The only messages I heard were those requesting assistance of one sort or another and where appropriate, their acknowledgements”. His first sentence was deleted.
* PC JOHN Townend was also critical of the lack of information passed to officers at Hillsborough and spoke of a ‘feeling of frustration of not being aware of what was happening’.
He branded the police radios ‘useless’ and revealed officers received their information from football fans listening to local radio stations on their coaches rather than from senior officers.
His statement was changed to read: “It was difficult to ascertain exactly what was happening within the ground. There was a lot of noise and confusion in the ground and police radio messages were indecipherable.”
* PC JOHN Hood was critical of police chiefs in his statement and his comment that ‘sergeants and inspectors appeared to be aimlessly milling about and direct radio control appeared to be lost. There did not appear to be any leadership’ was removed.
* PC KENNETH Frost’s comment on the role of senior management on the day was also removed.
He originally wrote: “I have to state that even at this stage and this location and with a number of higher ranks in the area, nobody seemed to be organising the injured.”