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Hillsborough: prosecutions likely over 'the biggest cover-up in history'
Published : 12 Sep 2012 17:45:19Rss feed
Hillsborough report key findings:
• Police carried out criminal record checks on deceased to 'impugn reputations'
• Senior officers privately discussed 'animalistic behaviour' of 'drunken marauding fans'
• New evidence suggests dozens survived past 3.15pm inquest cut-off point
• 116 of the 164 South Yorkshire Police statements were doctored
• South Yorkshire Ambulance Service evidence was misleading
• No evidence to support police account that fans were drunk and aggressive
• Margaret Thatcher expressed concern in Cabinet that the first inquiry into the disaster contained 'devastating criticism of the police'
• Weight placed on blood alcohol levels among the dead was 'inappropriate'
• The Sun's allegations originated from police and a local MP
Prosecutions for manslaughter and perverting the course of justice against public bodies and officials could be considered while the discredited inquests into the 96 deaths are almost certain to be re-opened. There are also calls for a fresh public inquiry to question those involved.
A panel given unprecedented access to 450,000 official documents about the fatal crush at an FA Cup match discovered that officers had tried to smear the dead by checking them for criminal records and medics had tried to prove they were drunk, while police and ambulance workers doctored hundreds of statements to deflect criticism.
Authorities in Sheffield knew well in advance that the football ground was unsafe, the report found, and flawed inquests ignored the fact that up to half of the victims could have been saved had the rescue attempts been better.
Families of the dead said they had been vindicated in their 23-year battle to uncover the truth but stressed they would continue their efforts to bring those responsible to justice.
David Cameron said the bereaved had suffered a "double injustice" as the state failed to protect their loved ones then they were accused of causing the tragedy.
In a statement to the House of Commons as the new 395-page report was published, the Prime Minister said: "On behalf of the government – and indeed our country – I am profoundly sorry for this double injustice that has been left uncorrected for so long."
It was followed by a flurry of apologies from Sheffield City Council, South Yorkshire Police and Kelvin Mackenzie, the editor of The Sun newspaper when it blamed drunken and aggressive Liverpool fans in an article prompted by police briefings.
A former Conservative MP, Sir Irvine Patnick, was accused of helping to spread smears about the behaviour of Liverpool fans and is now facing calls to be stripped of his knighthood, awarded five years after Hillsborough.
The current chief constable of West Yorkshire, Sir Norman Bettison, was also told to "consider his position" by campaigners after the report detailed how he had showed MPs a film giving the police's side of the story.
Previous inquiries had found there was a failure of crowd control outside the overcrowded Leppings Lane terrace on April 15th 1989, when police let thousands of fans into a tunnel and into two small pens, leaving them collapsing underfoot and crushed against barriers.
But the previous Labour government agreed to let a new panel examine classified documents because of the victims' families concerns over a cover-up and dirty tricks campaign.
The group, led by the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, confirmed their worst suspicions.
Evidence uncovered showed that the safety of the crowd was "compromised at every level", despite previous overcrowding at matches, and inexperienced commanders failed to carry out a proper major incident response.
But the most damning findings concerned the attempts, at a time when football hooliganism was a widespread problem in England, to shift the blame onto the fans.
Grieving relatives were asked "intrusive" questions about the drinking habits and behaviour of the deceased as they were being shown their bodies, and officers looked up their names on the Police National Computer to "impugn their reputations".
The Chief Constable and the local Police Federation officials met and agreed they had to construct a "defence" in the hope that "drunken ticketless individuals" would be blamed. Privately senior officers discussed the "animalistic behaviour" of "marauding fans".
In total 116 out of 164 police statements were amended to remove words such as "chaos" and "panic" while criticism of the lack of leadership and radio orders was also deleted. The ambulance service also altered negative comments.
Officers were ordered not to write anything "which would give rise to the assumption that complete control had been lost at the ground".
Even Margaret Thatcher's press chief told her at the time, in notes obtained by the panel, that the police's "defensive - and at times close to deceitful - behaviour" sounded "depressingly familiar".
Michael Mansfield, QC, who is now advising the families, agreed Hillsborough was the "biggest cover-up in British history" while Lord Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor, said there had been a "concerted conspiracy to withhold the truth".
The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, said the report had raised "significant issues" and would consider whether he should ask the High Court to set aside the accidental death verdicts recorded in the original inquests, paving the way for a jury to find they had been killed through negligence.
The Crown Prosecution Service is under pressure to investigate police for perverting the course of justice and misconduct in public office over the doctored statements and smear tactics, while council and football club officials could face charges of negligence manslaughter if it was proved they let the match go ahead knowing the stadium was unsafe.
After the damning report was released at Liverpool's Anglican cathedral, a two-minute silence was observed across the city at 3.06pm, the time when the match against Nottingham Forest was abandoned.
Bells at the town hall and other civic venues rang out 96 times while a vigil was held in memory of the victims, attended by Anfield stars and politicians as well as families and survivors.
Liverpool's executive mayor, Joe Anderson, said: "This is a momentous day that the families and the city have waited 23 years for.
"It is absolutely clear for everyone to see that those affected were victims not only of a terrible event, but also of an unforgivable miscarriage of justice.
"They were aided and abetted by some sections of the media, who should now apologise for misleading the nation and smearing the reputation of Liverpool FC fans and the city."
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