Hillsborough police accounts amended, inquest hears

Wednesday 02 April 2014 15.36
96 football fans died in the Hillsborough disaster on 15 April 1989
96 football fans died in the Hillsborough disaster on 15 April 1989

Police officers' accounts of the Hillsborough disaster were amended to remove comments criticising police leadership or abusive remarks about fans, an inquest has heard.

Jurors sitting on the inquest into the deaths of 96 football fans at the FA Cup semi-final on 15 April 1989 will have to consider whether the changes were part of a policy to blame fans and deflect criticism from the police, coroner Lord Justice Goldring said.

Senior ranks and lawyers at South Yorkshire Police reviewed all self-taken statements by officers present at the disaster and amended some of them before forwarding them on to West Midlands Police, who were investigating the tragic events, the inquest jury was told.

The coroner said: "Over the years between 1989 and today it has become known that a large number of statements were amended in the review. The amendments vary in type and significance.

"Some simply involve corrections of language and factual error. Others involve removing expletives.

"A number involved the removal of comments criticising the police leadership on the day of the disaster.

"Others were of deletions of passages denouncing poor and defective radio communications.

"A small number were amended to remove comments which were critical or even abusive of the fans at the match."

Lord Justice Goldring said the jurors would have to consider whether the amendments affect their view of the "reliability" of early written statements given by the officers.

He added they would have to ask why the were amended, if it was an "innocent" alteration or "part of a policy of blaming fans in order to deflect criticism from the police".

None of the 96 victims should be blamed for their deaths, the inquest heard.

Lord Justice Goldring said: "What was the conduct of the fans or some of them, excluding those who died, and did that play any part in the disaster?

"I phrase it in that way because I don't believe anyone will suggest that the conduct of those who died in any way contributed to their deaths."

He outlined the series of inquiries that have already taken place into the disaster, including the previous inquests where the coroner took the "highly controversial" decision that those who died were beyond help after 3.15pm.

More recently, the Hillsborough Independent Panel was set up and issued a final report in 2012.

"Any views they expressed are irrelevant as far as you are concerned, what the panel said can't be evidence for you to consider," Lord Justice Goldring. "You will hear more information than did the panel. The panel heard no evidence, you, of course, will."

On 19 November, 2012 the original inquest verdicts were quashed.

The jury, sitting in a court in a specially-fitted office block in Warrington, Cheshire, was told that two investigations are being carried out into the aftermath of the disaster, one led by police, called Operation Resolve, and one headed by watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

The coroner said: "The fact that the IPCC is involved should not be taken as an indication that any police officer necessarily did anything wrong.

"The IPCC is the body which carries out investigations into the police. It is for you to reach your determinations in respect of the actions of the police and others on the evidence you hear."

Jurors were sent away until tomorrow, when a series of "pen portraits" of the fans who died will begin to be read to the court.