Labour in call for powers to force police to give evidence over Hillsborough disaster

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A DEBATE on the Hillsborough disaster is to be held in the Commons today - where Labour is set to call for powers to force police officers to give evidence to an inquiry into the alleged police cover-up.

Amid fears that the Independent Police Complaints Commission lacks sufficient powers to uncover the truth about the police response to the disaster in 1989, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper is to urge the Government to bring forward emergency legislation.

In the biggest ever inquiry into police actions, the IPCC is to look into what police officers did on the day of the tragedy and during the alleged cover-up afterwards.

All officers on duty when 96 fans died at Hillsborough football stadium are to be looked at, including those who have since retired from South Yorkshire Police.

The inquiry follows the publication of a report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which looked at all the files on Hillsborough held by organisations for the last 23 years.

It revealed that 164 police statements were altered in the wake of the tragedy, 116 of them to remove or change negative comments about the policing of the match and the ensuing disaster.

Questions have also been raised over whether manslaughter charges should be brought over the deaths, which happened at an FA Cup semi-final at the Sheffield stadium between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

But the IPCC cannot force serving police officers to attend interviews if they are not themselves suspected of criminal behaviour or misconduct.

Retired officers cannot be compelled at all.

There are also concerns that the IPCC lacks sufficient powers to obtain information from third parties.

In a Commons debate on Hillsborough later, Labour will offer to work with the Government on legislation or any other way of remedying shortcomings in the IPCC’s powers.

Ms Cooper said: “I am concerned that much more still needs to be done to strengthen the inquiry arrangements.

“For example the inquiry into the cover-up will need to get to the bottom of why so many police statements were altered.

“Yet although the Independent Police Complaints Commission can pursue officers it believes have committed crimes, it doesn’t have the powers to compel serving or former officers to be interviewed as witnesses. Nor can it compel civilians to give evidence.

“Everything possible should be done now to remove these obstacles to justice for the Hillsborough families. We can’t let further inquiries drag on for years because they didn’t have the powers or resources to get results.

“The IPCC has itself called for more powers. We believe emergency legislation is needed to give the IPCC the extra powers it needs and has asked for, or the Government will need to find some other way to set up a proper independent investigation into what happened in South Yorkshire police.

“We will work with the Government to make sure this can happen.”

A Home Office spokesman said Home Secretary Theresa May would invite Labour to discuss their proposals.

He said: “We welcome this suggestion. The Home Secretary has already said she would like to increase the powers of the IPCC, so she will invite the Opposition to discuss this further.

“The public can have confidence that the necessary people and powers will be made available to investigate all aspects of the Hillsborough Panel’s findings.”