Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

Hillsborough: how police doctored 164 pieces of evidence

Debbie Routledge, a survivor in the Hillsborough stadium disaster 1989

The Hillsborough Independent Panel has not ruled out the possibility of criminal prosecutions over the deliberate distortion of junior police officers' evidence, which saw 164 statements substantially altered and comments unfavourable to the constabulary removed or altered in 116.

Two of the four doctored statements revealed in yesterday's Independent also feature in the panel's detailed examination of a "review and alteration" process undertaken by a senior South Yorkshire officer, Chief Superintendent Donald Denton, and Peter Metcalf, a lawyer from the force's legal representatives Hammond Suddards, which left some junior officers deeply uncomfortable.

Also complicit in the process was the then Chief Constable of the force, Peter Wright, who knew officers were concerned about the editing, the panel's research shows. The South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service, whose own deep failings were an unexpected part of the report, altered 54 of the 101 statements produced by its own staff. "There's sufficient new evidence that cries out for proper consideration for the proper authorities whose job it will be to decide [if there are grounds] for a prosecution," said solicitor and panel member Raju Batt.

The panel's chapter on the doctored statements shows that officers were expressly told not to record their experiences in their pocket books – the standard way of providing an accurate record. The amendment of statements began when West Midlands Police and Lord Justice Taylor's inquiry teams asked to see them.

Yesterday's report details exhaustively the way the statements were changed – with correspondence between the force and its lawyers stating that material "unhelpful to the force's case" would be removed. The most significant amendments clearly altered the meaning of the original and in most, the end result was to downplay or remove criticisms made by officers about "police leadership or the response to the disaster".

The panel observed how references to "panic" were frequently removed. In total, 23 officers had references to "chaos", "fear", "panic" and "confusion" altered or deleted from their original recollections.

The panel chronicles a short, undated note later issued to officers with guidance on how to complete statements. It states that "no CRITICISMS" [the force's capital letters] should be "levelled at anyone in the text of your summary." Furthermore, there should be "no mention of the word CHAOTIC [force's capitals] or any of its derivatives". These requests were the "express wish" of a Detective Inspector King.

The panel report concludes that Lord Justice Taylor and Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, who conducted a scrutiny of the Hillsborough evidence, were wrong to say that the doctoring of evidence did not affect the course of justice.

Click here to read the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report

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