South Yorkshire police chief calls Hillsborough disaster cover-up ‘darkest day for British police’

Pictured is South Yorks Police Chief Constable David Crompton talking to The Star today about the release of the 'Hillsborough Papers'
Pictured is South Yorks Police Chief Constable David Crompton talking to The Star today about the release of the 'Hillsborough Papers'
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SOUTH Yorkshire’s police chief today condemned the Hillsborough disaster cover-up as ‘the darkest day in the history of British policing’.

And - in a stark warning to all those who were involved in keeping the truth concealed for 23 years - he warned there is now ‘no place to hide’.

Speaking exclusively to The Star, Chief Constable David Crompton vowed there will be a full investigation into the new findings unearthed by the independent panel report.

And he said criminal charges - including manslaughter, perjury and perverting the course of justice - could follow.

Ninety-six football fans were crushed to death at Sheffield Wednesday’s football ground in April 1989 - before a web of lies was created to hide the horrors that day.

SOUTH Yorkshire Police Chief Constable David Crompton today issued a stark warning to those involved in concealing the truth behind the Hillsborough disaster.

Speaking exclusively to The Star, Chf Con Crompton said: “If you were there and did nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about whatsoever.

“But, if you did something wrong, the inquiry will find you out.”

Asked if the disaster was the ‘darkest day for British policing’, he said: “Ninety six people died due to a loss of police control and leadership. Then lies were told as to how that all happened. Then, due to the chaos, loved ones really were in some cases robbed of their opportunity to say goodbye in circumstances and with the dignity everyone would want.

“If you put all that together it is pretty difficult to think of anything that is worse.”

He said his warning that charges of manslaughter could follow the publication the independent panel’s report related to the actions of South Yorkshire Police and senior officers on the day of the disaster.

The police chief said his force is reviewing the new findings with a view to ‘breaches of criminal law’ or ‘misconduct’ in terms of the force and its officers.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission will be notified, and a full probe launched.

He said it was ‘clear’ there were ‘senior people involved in the game who were involved in an attempt to cover up what went on afterwards’.

But he said other bodies - including Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield Council and the county’s Ambulance Service - also have ‘questions to answer’.

“All the organisations identified by the panel where things went wrong have questions to answer - ourselves, the ambulance service, the football club and the council,” he said.

“Everybody has questions to answer. Some have more to answer than others.”

Chf Con Crompton said that, of the 195 police officers still serving now who were working on the day of the disaster, around 30 may have to give evidence to future official investigations.

He admitted the force’s reputation had been ‘dented’, and said his officers would have to ‘double their efforts’ to win back the trust of the public.

“We have to be open when dealing with any inquiry or investigations that might follow, but we also have to be professional and continue to get on with the day job.

“Restoring faith in us will not happen overnight and everyone will have to re-double their efforts to convince people that South Yorkshire Police is different in 2012 from the way it was in 1989.

“We do not take the support of the public for granted - we know we have to work for it.

“When things go wrong that support takes a backward step, so it is up to our organisation and its people to show our character and bounce back.

“We still have a really important day job to do - the criminals won’t give us a week off just because we are having a hard time.”

Documents revealed by the Hillsborough Independent Panel showed the extent to which South Yorkshire Police sought to deflect blame for the disaster from the force to fans, through lies told to the media and through the vetting of ‘unfavourable’ officer statements, altered to conceal the truth.

Chf Con Crompton said every single document and file South Yorkshire Police held on the disaster was handed over to the independent panel set up to review and publish all the material.

“The cupboard’s now bare. There’s nothing left. We have released absolutely everything we have got,” he said.

“The force has turned itself inside out to make everything available.”

He stressed the altered statements had never been ‘hidden away’, but said they had been public documents ever since an official inquiry in 1998 carried out by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, which ruled there had been nothing wrong with vetting police statements.

The law lord even concluded that altering officer evidence was not ‘misleading’.

Chf Con Crompton said: “Nobody had any reason to challenge that finding then - it was from one of the most senior law lords in the country. Why would you question it? But statements were amended that made the police force look better than it was, and that was wrong.”

Among those calling for legal action is South Yorkshire’s former Chief Constable Richard Wells, who took up the post in 1990 - the year after the worst footballing disaster in British history.

Asked if there should be prosecutions, he replied: “It is absolutely essential.”

Mr Wells added: “I don’t know how practical it is going to be now, but the inquest, if that is re-opened, may help to shed further light on the details.”

He said he was ‘disappointed and angry’ to learn officer statements had been deliberately altered.

“I swallowed, maybe to my own regret now, the prevailing account that emotional, non-evidential material had been removed,” the former police chief said.

“It does seem much more intense than that. A group got together to make it better than it was.”

A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said the decision on whether legal action should be taken will not be a quick one.

He said: “It is for the relevant authorities to make decisions based on the evidence.

“There was a report published and they also published thousands of pages of evidence. It is obviously going to take some time to consider that.

“But it is a matter for the police and prosecutors as to whether there is a criminal investigation, just as it is a matter for the IPCC to make a decision on whether to look at issues of police conduct.”

The Attorney General is reviewing the report and the ‘accidental death’ verdicts recorded after inquests into the deaths of the victims.

Deborah Glass, deputy chairman of the IPCC, said: “The detailed and rigorous report of the Hillsborough panel into the tragic deaths of 96 people raises extremely serious and troubling issues for the police.

“Clearly there is a huge amount of information contained within the report and supporting documentation that needs to be analysed and digested.

“We are reviewing the panel’s report and we are aware South Yorkshire Police are also carrying out a detailed assessment of the report with a view to making a referral to the IPCC.

“We also await the decision by the Attorney General in respect of the inquests, and will liaise with the relevant parties to identify what should be investigated, and by whom.”

Charles Perryman, chairman of South Yorkshire Police Authority, which oversees the way South Yorkshire Police is run, added: “We will work with the Chief Constable to ensure the ethos of transparency and professionalism, that is so evident among serving officers today, is built upon further.”