REVIEW OF THE YEAR: Police covered up tragedy at Hillsborough

Chief Constable Peter Wright'South Yorkshire Police
Chief Constable Peter Wright'South Yorkshire Police
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For 23 years the truth was hidden. But in September this year a fresh inquiry into the Hillsborough Disaster, when 96 Liverpool supporters lost their lives at an FA Cup semi-final in April 1989, revealed South Yorkshire Police had staged a cover-up on an industrial scale. Stacey Hallam looks back at the report and its implications

13.09.2012

PETER WRIGHT, OBE, CBE: Chief Constable - and the man who hid the truth.

That is the epitaph history will now place on the memory of the commander in charge of the South Yorkshire Police during the Hillsborough Disaster.

Until mid-September, he was deemed merely guilty of misplaced loyalty to colleagues. That, and failing to oversee a contingency plan for the ill-fated semi-final.

Those flaws, it turns out, were not all Peter Wright had on his conscience. He went to his grave knowing he’d presided over an organisation that concealed and manipulated the truth.

By removing details of ‘negative comments’ from statements, a gloss was painted over police attitudes. It’s taken 23 years to scrape that gloss off and find out what lurked below. How much was personally ordered by Wright, who died aged 82, we will never know.

But undoubtedly it was in his name that a conspiracy was launched to change the records which framed the way we’ve thought about the tragedy for nearly a quarter of a century.

Present-day chief constable David Crompton insists that it could never happen again. Crompton said yesterday: “I don’t think the standards employed then in any way correspond to the standards of openness and transparency that any of us would expect these days.”

But when disaster struck at Hillsborough, the world was a very different place.

Wright was three months shy of his 60th birthday and set in his ways. He determined to plot a course clear of the gathering storm of criticism. For himself and his officers.

It is likely he thought he could lean on friends in high places to help him, too. After all, you don’t become President of the Association of Chief Police Officers without gaining a profile.

From observations made at the time, Wright gave the impression that he considered his position as chief constable was almost beyond scrutiny.

On his first press conference after the disaster, an enraged Wright thought questions from prying journalists represented nothing less than sheer nerve.

That briefing, in his HQ, was dramatically cut short when one of his officers suddenly screamed: “No more questions” - as the world’s press demanded an insight into the death of so many people.

Wright stormed out the conference room, saying: “My officers will be vindicated.”

Maybe, even then, a plan was forming in his mind. A plan that ultimately ended in 164 statements being “significantly amended.”

01.09.2012

A DONCASTER teaching assistant was jailed after admitting an affair with a vulnerable 13-year-old boy.

Rachel Peters, aged 41, a mother herself, had planned to run away with the youngster, Doncaster Crown Court heard. After initially turning down a ‘friend’ request from the schoolboy on the social networking site ‘Facebook’, Peters began to talk with him on MSN Messenger - and went on to abuse him.

And this wasn’t her first offence, as she has previously been reprimanded for her actions outside of school with a different male in 2009. This, however, didn’t stop her from picking up the boy and taking him to a secluded spot, where she sexually abused him.

Peters’ crimes came to light when a member of staff overheard the boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, discussing their encounters with a friend.

She denied all the offences but when police conducted detailed investigations of her computer, they found fragments of conversations and explicit chats with a 17-year-old male.

Peters pleaded guilty to engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child, and two counts of engaging in sexual activity with a child.

Kath Goddard, prosecuting, told the court: “The boy had heard her talking to other pupils about having MSN and Facebook and after she refused his ‘friend’ request they swapped emails and began to speak on MSN Messenger. The conversations were sexually explicit.

“The boy said that, after that, he was offered a lift by Peters who used it as a chance to sexually abuse the boy in her family car.”

18.09.2012

The blight of many a motorist, the cursed parking meter, was under scrutiny this September as many of the machines in Sheffield did not accept the new 5p or 10p coins. This means many drivers were being overcharged for their stay.

Sheffield Council officials claimed they were taking no immediate action over parking meters and said it is drivers’ responsibility to have the correct change.

Motorists have accused the authority of ‘fleecing’ drivers over city centre meters which have increased charges, with many ending in five or 10p, but do not take new-style coins.

This led people to pay more than the required amount in order to receive a pay and display ticket - but receive no change, with the council keeping the excess cash.

The council is spending £70,000 to update 200 parking meters over the next 18 months so they can accept the new coins. However, only 22 meters will be updated by March and the remainder will take a further 12 months.

Council chiefs did not -and will not- change parking charges in the meantime to make it easier for motorists to pay the exact amount.

The council also did not reveal how much extra cash it made from overpayments at parking meters.

John Bann, head of highways at the council, said: “City centre parking charges ending in five or 10p have occurred because of us making slight increases over the years. The last increase was in April 2011 and it happened before the new coins were introduced.

“Machines do not give change because of security issues - I am not aware of any on-street pay and display machines that do.”

He added: “We are updating the machines as quickly as possible, but if we were to change the parking fees we would be accused of putting them up as an excuse to make money.”

The older five pence coins are made of an alloy of copper and nickel, but were changed due to the rising cost of copper. They are now made of nickel-plated steel and although both coins weigh the same, the new coins are marginally thicker.

02.10.2012

A psychotic rage overcame a former soldier from Sheffield as he butchered his mother with a knife in a killing described as brutal and bizarre. Scott Hobson, aged 32, was detained indefinitely in a secure mental hospital for the manslaughter of 59-year-old Margaret Hobson at their family home in Walkley.

Sheffield Crown Court heard how Margaret was found dead by a horrified neighbour after suffering a catalogue of sickening injuries including a cross carved into her chest and 80 other separate injuries.

The out-of-work cannabis addict also dismembered parts of his mum’s body.

Hobson was later seen in the street by passers-by with blood-covered clothes, mumbling and staring vacantly.

The court heard Hobson, who has a three-year-old daughter, was a long-standing user of cannabis and a heavy drinker, which may have contributed to his schizophrenia.

Judge Roger Keen QC ordered that Hobson should be treated indefinitely at Wathwood Hospital, Wath-upon-Dearne - and should only be released with the Home Secretary’s permission.

“You killed and butchered your mother in the most dreadful and grotesque way.” Judge Keen told Hobson, who appeared in the dock wearing a grey suit and flanked by hospital staff.

Peter Moulson QC, prosecuting, said Hobson lived with Margaret and his dad, Michael, at Lister Road. His parents had been married for 36 years.

Two weeks before her death on May 18, Margaret had completed a course of chemotherapy for cancer, and was awaiting a scan to assess the treatment’s results.

Mr Moulson said: “In the early morning on the day of the killing, Hobson had been behaving strangely and his father anticipated a measure of aggression from him.

“Hobson was talking about people coming back to life.”

Michael left the house for work at 4.20am, Margaret then called NHS Direct.

“It may well have been at the conclusion of that telephone call that Mrs Hobson was then subjected to the attack which killed her,” Mr Moulson said.

Margaret was found dead just after 7am, lying across the entrance to the back door. Hobson had wielded a knife with a 12cm blade. When Hobson was arrested by police at the scene he said: “You know I didn’t mean it.”

In a report, psychiatrist Dr John Kent said: “This was a brutal and bizarre killing, with features which cannot easily be explained other than they are likely to have formed part of some tortured psychotic thinking.”

20.10.2012

Leeds fans have been branded “vile animals” by Sheffield Wednesday manager Dave Jones after the Owls keeper was attacked.

Chris Kirkland was assaulted by a fan on the pitch during the Hillsborough Yorkshire derby.

Jones called for them to be banned, as well as voicing his objection to chanting done by a large number of away supporters and claiming seats were damaged in the West Stand, where they were accommodated.

Leeds United issued a statement apologising for the assault on keeper Kirkland and said they would co-operate with the police and football authorities in identifying the attacker.

Jones also criticised Leeds boss Neil Warnock for encouraging his players to applaud the away fans after the game.

The Owls manager, referring to the Leeds fans, said: “You can’t let them get away with that - they’re vile animals. They need to clean their house and get it in order. They should be banned from every away game from now until they sort it, because that was an absolute disgrace.”

Kirkland was struck in the face by a fan who came on to the pitch from the away end moments after Leeds had equalised in the 76th minute.

Jones said Kirkland, who completed the game, was sore, dazed and probably concussed.

A Leeds United statement said: “Leeds United would like to publicly apologise for the actions of the fan who went on to the pitch and attacked Chris Kirkland.

“The club will fully co-operate with the police and the football authorities to identify the individual concerned.

“After the week football has endured, there is no place for this behaviour, and the majority of Leeds fans will be ashamed of his actions.”