Hillsborough Disaster: A first look inside the investigation headquarters

Renaissance House
Image caption The IPCC Hillsborough investigation is an 'enormous undertaking'
File room at Renaissance House
Image caption Up to 140 staff could be working at Renaissance House
Hillsborough investigation evidence
Image caption Some of the evidence stored was never seen by the Hillsborough Independent Panel

From the outside, this unremarkable three-storey office building on a Warrington industrial estate looks like it could be a call centre or the headquarters of an IT firm.

Yet inside, an unprecedented investigation in British legal history is taking place.

A team from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is busy investigating the role of the police following the Hillsborough stadium disaster which resulted in the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans.

Alongside them, a parallel operation called Resolve, led by former Durham Chief Constable Jon Stoddart will take a fresh look at how the disaster unfolded and whether there were failings in the planning stages.

Deborah Glass, Deputy Chair of the IPCC described it as "the largest criminal investigation of the police" ever undertaken.

More than 90 people, rising to 140, are processing hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence for the lifetime of the investigation.

The work carried out in this building will form the core of the evidence presented to the new Hillsborough inquest next March.

IPCC staff have begun piecing together what happened in the aftermath of the tragedy on the 15 April 1989.

"When I announced last October that we were going to investigate the largest criminal investigation of the police in the history of England and Wales, it was going to be an enormous undertaking," said Deborah Glass, Deputy Chair of the IPCC

"We had to start from scratch. We had to go out and recruit people, we had to put the IT in place.

What you've seen are the building blocks that we put in place in the first few months to ensure that the investigation is going to be robust and thorough and will withstand the utmost scrutiny."

'Massive archive'

She added: "We have an incredibly dedicated hard working group of people in this building. We have investigators, we have people in our Major Incident Room, we have archive specialists and we have lawyers.

"We have people who have all been brought together to work on Hillsborough and to deliver the best possible investigation."

So far, the only other people who have been granted access to see the new facilities are bereaved Hillsborough families and MPs.

Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotheram (Labour), a Hillsborough survivor, said he was very impressed with the professionalism of the set up when he visited Renaissance House.

"At long last it looks like people are taking this tragedy seriously," he added.

Image caption Deborah Glass said the investigation has had to start from scratch

Inside the building are three climate-controlled store rooms containing thousands of original documents in cardboard boxes.

In one room alone, there are 700 boxes - the majority being records from South Yorkshire's police, fire and ambulance services.

Archivists are responsible for accessing the documents when a request is made by investigating officers or the Hillsborough inquest team working on behalf of Coroner Lord Justice Goldring.

The building also has a major incident room where staff are currently working to verify every single document they have.

Teams are also inputting relevant details into the HOLMES (Home Office Large Major Enquiry System) computer database normally used for serial killers, major fraud or other investigations.

The aim is to ensure that investigators have the most complete picture about any individual connected to the Hillsborough Disaster.

The scale of the operation is testing the limits of technology: the hardware which holds all this information is the largest HOLMES server ever created in the UK.

'Unseen evidence'

The IPCC has also managed to recover additional material which has not been considered by other previous Hillsborough inquiries.

Recently-discovered policy files belonging to the West Midlands Police, which was originally drafted in to investigate the disaster in 1989 are being held in an exhibit room along with other items which are placed in sealed evidence bags.

The most important evidence in this area is likely to be the policy records of former Assistant Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, Mervyn Jones' which were not available to the Hillsborough Independent Panel.

On the ground floor of the property, workmen are busy fitting out new offices for when Mr Stoddart arrives with his inquiry team in September.

"The priority at the moment is getting things done so the inquest can take place next year," said Ian Christon of the IPCC.

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