Hillsborough: South Yorkshire Police consider IPCC referral

Hillsborough memorial The Hillsborough Independent Panel found statements had been altered by police

South Yorkshire Police is reopening investigations into the force's conduct over the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.

The force is considering referring itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

It follows a report that found officers changed statements and tried to blame Liverpool fans for the crush in 1989 which killed 96 people.

An investigation has also begun into West Yorkshire's chief constable, who was off-duty at Hillsborough.

The crush was the result of overcrowding at the start of the FA Cup semi-final on 15 April 1989.

On Wednesday, the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which spent two years trawling through more than 450,000 pages of documents relating to the disaster, reported on its findings.

Resignation calls

Police bosses, including South Yorkshire's current chief constable, said charges should be brought if laws were broken.

In a statement the force said: "South Yorkshire Police is currently 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."

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Should such a referral be made, it is common practice that the IPCC be informed of which specific officers should be investigated.

South Yorkshire Police confirmed 195 officers who were on duty at Hillsborough still work for the force.

West Yorkshire's police authority is to investigate the role played by current chief constable, Sir Norman Bettison, who was an off-duty inspector with South Yorkshire Police at the game and took part in an internal inquiry after the 1989 tragedy.

The Authority Chairman, Councillor Mark Burns-Williamson, said the matter has been referred to the Special Committee which oversees all conduct and complaints matters involving chief officer ranks.

Campaigners had called for Sir Norman, who has insisted the behaviour of some fans in the stadium made the job of the police "harder than it needed to be", to stand down.

Mr Burns-Williams said: "The Committee will review the report in detail along with any other relevant information, in consultation with South Yorkshire Police and will take whatever action is appropriate."

'Overwhelming misery'

The Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson has called for former Conservative MP Sir Irvine Patnick to be stripped of his knighthood after he was criticised in the report.

The next chapter in the Hillsborough fight for justice is about to begin with pressure growing for prosecutions and fresh inquests.

The most obvious possible crime relates to how police statements were changed. Legal experts say that could amount to a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

The key test for the director of public prosecutions will be whether the documents amassed by the Hillsborough panel provide a realistic chance of a conviction after all these years - and that means a jury would have to be convinced beyond reasonable doubt that there was a cover-up.

As for inquests, families now have a legal argument that the original verdicts are tainted by failings in the original hearings and the discovery of new facts.

The attorney general alone has the power to ask the High Court to order fresh hearings - and judges will do so if they find that it is in the interests of justice to do so.

Sir Irvine, former Sheffield Hallam MP, was identified as being one of the sources for The Sun's story headlined "The Truth", which contained false allegations against fans.

Mr Anderson said he has "brought the Honours system into disrepute" and helped to bring "overwhelming misery" to the people of Liverpool.

An e-petition has been set up to on the city council's website for the removal of Sir Irvine's knighthood, which has so far been signed by more than 1,600 people.

Sir Irvine said he was "deeply and sincerely sorry" for the part he played, adding: "It is now clear that the information I received from some police officers at the time was wholly inaccurate, misleading and plain wrong.

"However I totally accept responsibility for passing on such information without asking further questions.

"So many years after this tragic event I am deeply and sincerely sorry for the part I played in adding to the pain and suffering of the victims' families."

Mr Anderson has also asked Liverpool John Moores University to strip Sir Norman of an honorary fellowship conferred on him in 2004.

A spokeswoman for the university said: "This request will receive due consideration."

The report published on Wednesday by the Hillsborough Independent Panel found police amended 164 of the statements made about the tragedy.

Of those, 116 were substantially changed to "remove or alter comments unfavourable" to the force.

The report also found that 41 of the 96 who died had the "potential to survive" and calls have been made for fresh inquests.

'Swift investigation'

The IPCC said the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report raised "extremely serious and troubling issues for the police".

A spokesman said the commission is reviewing the new documentation and awaiting a referral from South Yorkshire Police.

They added: "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."

Richard Wells, who led South Yorkshire Police from 1990 to 1998, said charges were "absolutely essential", and the force's current chief constable David Crompton said if statements have been falsified against the law, prosecutions should be brought.

A Home Office spokesman added: "It's important that any allegations of criminal misconduct are investigated swiftly and thoroughly and anyone who is found to have broken the law is brought to justice."

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said a quick decision is expected from the Attorney General on whether the inquests will be reopened, and prosecutions will be considered.

He added: "Lessons need to be learned, actions need to follow quickly."

Other reactions from senior figures and families to the report have included:

  • Joan Hope, whose son John McBrien died in the tragedy, who said she was "disappointed because I was hoping for a statement saying the police were guilty"
  • Ex-Home Secretary Jack Straw, who said Margaret Thatcher's government created a "culture of impunity" in the police that led to the Hillsborough cover-up
  • Sir Norman Bettison, the current chief constable of West Yorkshire who was a senior officer in South Yorkshire Police's Hillsborough operation, who said he had "absolutely nothing to hide"
  • Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, who called for an Independent Police Complaints Commission criminal investigation into the conduct of officers
  • Nick Clegg, who also called for a criminal inquiry, adding: "I am reeling with horror at the revelations - despicable things happened. The wheels of justice must now turn but it seems to me there was criminal activity and police must pursue this"
  • West Midlands Police Assistant Chief Constable Gareth Cann, who said the force was to "consider and review the content of the Independent Panel's report" which said that it knew South Yorkshire officers altered statements
  • Football Association chairman Sir David Bernstein, who said the tragedy "should never have happened. Nobody should lose their lives when setting out to attend a football match and it is a matter of extreme regret and sadness that it has taken so long for these findings to be published and the truth to be told"
  • The Sun's editor Dominic Mohan, who said the newspaper was "deeply ashamed and profoundly sorry" for the headline The Truth on the front-page story which ran four days after the disaster
  • The Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who apologised for an article he wrote in 2004 in which he said Liverpool fans were partly to blame for the Hillsborough disaster

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