Hillsborough Inquests: 'Regrets' over pickpocketing claims

Hillsborough disaster Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Gordon Sykes said he had "recounted" what he had been told by others

A former police inspector has told the Hillsborough inquests he "regrets" sharing unfounded claims about Liverpool fans pickpocketing the dead.

Gordon Sykes said he had reported what he heard in 1989 and had "honestly believed" the allegations were true.

However, agreeing the claims were false, he said he regretted "not confirming" the stories at the time.

The claims formed part of The Sun's controversial front page story, which was entitled The Truth.

Ninety-six fans died as a result of a crush on Hillsborough's Leppings Lane terraces at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989.

'Searing allegation'

The Sun's article, printed four days after the disaster, claimed fans had stolen from the victims of the tragedy.

It was based on a story filed by Sheffield news agency White's.

Mr Sykes denied he had spoken to any journalist but said he shared two allegations with Police Federation colleagues.

The court heard he had claimed that in a group of 10 bodies, there were no possessions.

Representing the families of some of the victims, Michael Mansfield QC said that had been "a blatant lie" and a "particularly searing allegation... because the allegation is that Liverpool fans robbed each other".

He said records showed that of the "10 or 11 bodies" Mr Sykes had looked after, "not a single body was bereft of possessions".

The claim was made to "besmirch" Liverpool fans, he said.

Mr Sykes said it was not and he had "reported exactly what I saw and heard".

'Unfair' article

Mr Mansfield then asked if the former inspector "might be prepared to say you made a mistake about this?"

Mr Sykes said that he had, "but when I said it, I honestly believed that was the case".

The barrister also asked him about a claim that one of those who died "had numerous wallets on him".

Mr Sykes agreed that story was a mistake but was "what I was told, which I recounted".

"Are you regretting now that you confirmed [a story], on the basis of somebody you can't name, which ends up in The Sun, as a long term allegation about Liverpool supporters. Do you regret that?" Mr Mansfield asked.

"Yes, I regret that, for not confirming that information," Mr Sykes said.

He added he had "not released any information to the press".

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The court has previously heard Mr Sykes spoke to Paul Middup, the secretary of the South Yorkshire Police Federation, and the then Conservative MP for Sheffield Hallam, Irvine Patnick, about his experiences.

Both Mr Middup and Mr Patnick were quoted in the article.

Answering questions later, Mr Sykes agreed The Sun's story was "unfair to say the least" as it "focused exclusively on the behaviour of fans and said not a single word about the multiple causes of the disaster, including police failures".

He said that was "a distortion" and the article would have "totally distressed" the families of the victims.

'What policemen believed'

Moving on, Mr Sykes was asked about a Police Federation meeting on 3 October 1989, more than a month after Lord Justice Taylor had released an interim report into the disaster.

Mr Mansfield said the meeting had a "very distinct purpose" and was called "because the Police Federation, amongst others, did not accept the Taylor report conclusions".

Mr Sykes said police "didn't accept the report" or the conclusion that, as Mr Mansfield put it, "it was the police losing control that was the cause".

The barrister said police also did not agree with Lord Justice Taylor's view that "alcoholic fans" did not contribute to the tragedy.

The court then saw minutes that showed federation members wanted to ask Conservative MP Michael Shersby to "put our point of view forward in Parliament".

Mr Sykes said the officers "were saying what a lot of policemen believed".

The court was told by Mark George QC, representing some of the victims' families, that in the weeks after the disaster, "pejorative" statements from police officers, a Sheffield Wednesday steward and an ambulance service worker were leaked to the press.

He said the "entire leadership of the South Yorkshire Police... had fixed on a course of fabricating an account to denigrate the Liverpool fans".

Mr Sykes said he did not know who leaked the statements and that it was "strong... that you're accusing them of a conspiracy to do that".

He was also shown minutes of a Police Federation meeting held on 19 April 1989, four days after the disaster, which recorded Chief Constable Peter Wright saying that "if anybody should be blamed, it should be drunken, ticketless fans".

Mr Sykes agreed there was a mood among the police that they were being "blamed for the entirety of the tragedy" and officers felt that should be "addressed".

He also agreed with Paul Greaney QC, who represents the Police Federation, who said that mood was "was being driven by the Chief Constable himself".

The inquests in Warrington continue.

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