Hillsborough probe identified suspects, says police watchdog

Hillsborough disaster Ninety-six fans died as a result of the crush at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final

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"Key police suspects" are expected to be interviewed ahead of new inquests into the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy, says the police watchdog.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said it was beginning to focus on the individuals of "significant interest".

Ninety-six Liverpool fans died as a result of a crush during an FA Cup semi-final game, on 15 April 1989.

Fresh inquests into the deaths are set to begin on 31 March.

Ms Rachel Cerfontyne, deputy chair of the IPCC, said the inquiry was on track to provide information for the inquests, which are to be held at Birchwood Park.

"This has been a huge task, but we are on course to meet the deadlines set by Lord Justice Goldring," she said.

'Altered accounts'

Almost all officers, whose accounts are suspected of being amended, have been interviewed, she explained.

Ms Cerfontyne said that was "a significant step as we expect to be identifying and interviewing people as suspects".

Out of the officers whose Hillsborough accounts are suspected of being altered, 160 officers had already been interviewed and 32 would be spoken to before the inquests.

Of the remainder, 22 are dead, 12 have been deemed unfit for interview and 13 officers have declined to be interviewed, while two failed to respond to the IPCC's request to be interviewed.

Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe is subject of two separate investigations by the IPCC over Hillsborough.

The first, under Operation Resolve, which is looking in to whether anyone is criminally liable for the disaster, will examine his role at the Sheffield Boys' Club when, it is claimed, the family of one of the victims, Adam Spearritt, was told he had survived.

The second is a complaint that comments made by Sir Bernard about whether he made a statement at the Taylor Inquiry about his role at Hillsborough have been misleading.

The IPCC said this probe will be separate from the main Hillsborough investigation.

More than 1,600 people have responded to the IPCC's witness appeal, 275 who have never previously given their account of the tragedy.

Biggest investigation

The IPCC said it was now widening its witness appeal and was urgently seeking people who can help with the inquests.

It was originally launched to find out about people's experiences of dealing with West Midlands Police who gathered evidence for the original investigation into the disaster and subsequent inquiries and inquests.

The police watchdog revealed there were "differences" between fans' statements and questionnaires they returned to the West Midlands Police inquiry.

The IPCC's investigation is the biggest undertaken into police conduct in England and Wales.

It follows the report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, published in September 2012, which concluded the lives of 41 fans could have been saved and cleared Liverpool supporters of any wrongdoing.

It found South Yorkshire Police had altered statements and tried to blame fans.

The original accidental death verdicts were then quashed in December 2012 at the High Court.

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