Police in the dock: Hillsborough disaster inquiry

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A ‘LARGE number’ of serving and retired police officers are to be investigated over roles they played in the Hillsborough disaster and the cover-up afterwards.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission and the Director of Public Prosecutions have announced inquiries into possible crimes committed on the day of the tragedy in Sheffield in April 1989.

IPCC deputy chairwoman Deborah Glass said ‘extremely serious and troubling issues for the police’ had been revealed by the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s review last month.

She added: “This will be the largest independent inquiry that has been launched into the actions of the police in the UK.”

A South Yorkshire Police spokeswoman said the force acknowledged the decision to investigate and would ‘cooperate fully’ - “as shown by the full cooperation with the panel during the three-year disclosure process”.

“Chief Constable David Crompton has already stated in a letter to family members that he will not oppose any application for a new inquest,” she added.

Ms Glass said the IPCC is still reviewing the 450,000 page report, but had agreed to set up a special ‘Hillsborough team’.

It will investigate the alteration of 164 police officer statements, 116 of which were changed to remove ‘unfavourable’ comments about South Yorkshire Police to deflect blame onto Liverpool fans.

The team has been tasked with finding out who ordered the doctoring of statements, who knew about it, who was involved, and whether pressure was put on officers.

The IPCC also wants to investigate allegations that misleading information was passed to the media, MPs, Parliament and inquiries, in an attempt to hide the truth.

It has also called for a probe into the actions of police officers after the disaster, including the questioning of next of kin about alcohol consumption, the checking of blood alcohol levels, and the undertaking of Police National Computer checks on the dead and injured.

Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer has also announced he will look at whether any individual or corporate body should be charged over the disaster in Sheffield, which left 96 people dead when Liverpool played Nottingham Forest in the semi-final of the FA Cup.

South Yorkshire Police, which policed the football match and dealt with the aftermath, will come under scrutiny as will West Midlands Police, which investigated how South Yorkshire handled the disaster.

Ms Glass said: “This will mean a large number of current and former officers will be under investigation.”

“The potential criminal and misconduct offences go to the heart of what happened at Hillsborough in 1989, and individuals and institutions may be culpable for the deaths.”

She added: “We do not yet know how many officers or retired officers fall to be investigated, how many are still serving or still alive.”

Sheffield MP David Blunkett said: “It is right no stone should be left unturned in ensuring the families of the victims of events 23 years ago can be assured the truth has been revealed - and those who have not been held to account should have to be.”

Ms Glass said the new development was ‘a testament to the tenacity of the Hillsborough families’ long campaign for truth and justice’.

“Their dedication to the memory of those they loved – and the support of the people of Merseyside – has been humbling,” she said. “But 23 years was far too long to wait. It has been a generation of distress and anger. And the picture is not yet complete.

“It is now for the Independent Police Complaints Commission and other organisations to complete the picture.”