Hillsborough focus on second force
A second police force has become the focus for possible criminal conduct after watchdogs found "differences" in witness statements taken from football fans at the Hillsborough disaster.
Analysis shows statements taken by West Midlands Police officers from supporters are not the same as the details given by the same individuals in questionnaires they had completed earlier.
The huge new investigation into the Hillsborough disaster by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has already uncovered a mass of statements given by police officers on the day that were doctored by South Yorkshire Police. The disaster, which killed 96 Liverpool fans in 1989, is now at the centre of the biggest inquiry into police wrongdoing in the UK.
The IPCC said "amendments or changes" were made to an as yet unknown number of fan statements and appealed for ordinary football fans who were at the ground to come forward and give the "definitive account" of what happened on the day.
Chris Mahaffey, a former Metropolitan Police detective and now senior investigator for the IPCC, said: "We must assess whether there's any evidence of criminal conduct. Our analysis, certainly of these large number of questionnaires completed by fans at the disaster, when you make comparison with these questionnaires against other documentation that appears to come from the same person, there are differences. Who was actually directing this, if there was someone directing this?"
Deborah Glass, deputy chair of the IPCC, said the damning report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel published last September had already raised "serious questions" over the work done by the West Midlands Police force.
West Midlands Police ran their own inquiry into the handling of the disaster by South Yorkshire Police, who orchestrated a cover-up, falsified documents and blamed innocent supporters for the tragedy, the independent panel report found. But the West Midlands force investigation formed the basis of Lord Taylor's judicial inquiry into the disaster, the subsequent decision not to prosecute individuals, and the flawed inquests whose verdicts were quashed last year. Around 12,000 people spoke to West Midlands Police as part of their inquiry.
Ms Glass added: "We know thousands of people gave eyewitness accounts to that investigation. We want to speak to those people about their experiences of dealing with West Midlands Police. We also know some of you have never been able to give your account. This is your opportunity. I know this will be difficult for many of you. It will be difficult for you to recount these incredibly traumatic events. I know for many of you Saturday April 15 1989 was, by far, the worst day of your life. I know many of you still carry deeply painful memories. It will be difficult for you to put your trust in the establishment after being let down so often in the past. It will be difficult for you to believe that after 24 years what you say can make a difference. But we need your help. And your help will make a difference. I can assure you we want everyone to have a voice."
Ms Glass, speaking at a press conference in Warrington, Cheshire, added: "We understand you may need support to overcome your trauma, your fears, your lack of trust. Hearing your experience can only assist our investigation. It will help us build the most comprehensive account there has ever been of what happened at Hillsborough - from the people who were there on the day. Witness evidence will be vital in helping to bring charges against any person or organisation found to be responsible. There are still many questions to be answered for the families of the 96 fans who died; for the survivors who still live with the trauma of their unimaginable experience; for the people of Merseyside who have lived under this terrible cloud for 24 years; and for the country to ensure the lessons of Hillsborough are fully learned. So we need to deliver the definitive account. We can't do that without your help. The families, survivors and campaigners have fought tirelessly over the last 24 years for the chance to allow your voices to finally be heard. Now that time has come."
The victims were crushed to death at the start of an FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough stadium on April 15, 1989. Last September's independent report led to a public apology by Prime Minister David Cameron, the quashing of the original inquest verdicts, the resignation of a chief constable and the launch of two further investigations into the disaster, with criminal prosecutions of individuals and corporate bodies not ruled out. Kelvin MacKenzie, the former editor of The Sun, also apologised for publishing the now infamous story blaming drunken Liverpool fans for the disaster.