Hillsborough: Lord Geoffrey Dear 'not aware' of cover-up extent
- 4 October 2012
- From the section UK
The ex-chief constable in charge of the initial Hillsborough investigation has admitted he did not know the extent to which police statements were changed.
It comes after a report into the 1989 tragedy in which 96 Liverpool fans died said 116 statements were changed to push blame from police onto fans.
Lord Geoffrey Dear said South Yorkshire Police had been allowed to gather their own witness statements and amend them.
But he insisted it was not his force's responsibility to check the changes.
Lord Dear was the chief constable in charge of West Midlands Police when it was tasked with the investigation into the Hillsborough disaster in its immediate aftermath.
Ninety-six fans died after a crush at Sheffield Wednesday's ground in April 1989 at an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
South Yorkshire police were responsible at the stadium on the day of the tragedy, but it has now emerged that they were allowed to gather their own witness statements and amended more than 100 of them before submission to the West Midlands force.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4's The Report programme, Lord Dear admits he allowed South Yorkshire Police to gather the evidence and remove unnecessary detail: "We were aware there was a certain amount of editing - we wanted matters of fact not opinion.
"That is perfectly proper and within the bounds of what is acceptable.
"What was happening, and we did not appreciate, is that the degree of editing went too far," he goes on.
"We were not aware that statements were being censored by South Yorkshire Police."
The witness evidence collated by the West Midlands force formed the basis of the subsequent official investigations into what happened.
The amended statements were used in the official inquiry, the coronor's inquests and by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The Hillsborough Independent Panel concluded in September that 116 statements were amended to push blame away from the police and onto the Liverpool fans.
Alun Jones QC, who represented the families of some victims, says the West Midlands investigation should never have allowed South Yorkshire Police to present their own statements.
"The way the matter was investigated between 1989 and 1990 has infected the whole of every subsequent investigation," he says.
"West Midlands Police took statements from all the civilians in the conventional way, but they left the South Yorkshire Police to write their own statements.
"So it was the victims who had their statements taken from them and the force who allowed this disaster to happen were allowed, by West Midlands Police, to not only write their own statements but to change them."
Lord Dear maintains it was not his force's responsibility to check the changes being made by South Yorkshire Police and insists the subsequent Taylor Inquiry was robust.
He claims it was subsequent investigations which were flawed.
"I don't think anyone appreciated, certainly I didn't and certainly Peter Taylor did not appreciate the extent to which South Yorkshire Police hierarchy were trying to alter the balance between who got it right and who got it wrong," he says.
Lord Dear adds: "The West Midlands inquiry was held up by Taylor to be exceedingly good, and I believe it was.
"Given what we knew at the time, given the pressure of time, it was very well handled, and there is not a breath of criticism in the latest review about the way that inquiry was handled."
In a statement South Yorkshire Police said it was not appropriate for them to comment.
"The force is reviewing a wide variety of matters raised in the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel with a view to making a referral to the Independent Police Complaints Commission," it said.