Socialist Worker

Police lawyers would 'sort out' Hillsborough statements

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2447

Hillsborough memorial

Hillsborough memorial (Pic: Diego Sideburns/flikr)


A team of South Yorkshire Police (SYP) officers reviewed police statements in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster in liaison with lawyers, inquests have heard.

Some 96 Liverpool fans died as a result of a crush at the Sheffield stadium on 15 April 1989. Peter Hayes was the SYP deputy chief constable at the time. He began giving evidence to fresh inquests into the deaths on Monday of this week.

Hayes agreed that senior officers were asked to prepare their own accounts and then lawyers would “sort them out”. But he said he didn’t know what that meant.

Jonathan Hough, on behalf of the coroner, asked Hayes about a number of SYP meetings in the days after the crush.

Hayes attended a meeting with other senior officers, including SYP chief constable Peter Wright, the morning after the disaster.

Wright told the meeting, “If it is that the drunken marauding fans contributed to this, let somebody else say that.”

Hayes told the inquests that there was comment within the force that fans’ behaviour had caused “a lot of difficulties for the police outside the ground”.

The next day, Wright asked West Midlands Police to investigate SYP in the wake of the disaster. At a SYP meeting he said, “If we leave it to West Midlands to provide the evidence we might not get the broad scope of evidence flowing in.

“We have to be the authors of most of the information fed in.”

Wright asked officers to produce “aide-memoires” of their recollections of the disaster. He said this should include information on “crowd behaviour”.

Document

A document from a chief inspector written a constable three days after the disaster referred to the aide-memoires. It said, “Obviously, as time progresses, and by discussing with colleagues, other facts may come to mind, these details can be added to this record and dated accordingly.”

Hayes told the inquests that using police pocketbooks to record recollections would not be “appropriate”. He said it was easier to “update” recollections if they were recorded separately.

Hayes said that Wright was unhappy with comments made by Police Federation secretary Paul Middup that criticised fans.

Minutes from a meeting of the Police Federation’s South Yorkshire branch dated 19 April 1989 read, “Mr Wright admitted he would have liked to have been able to make the comments which Mr Middup had made.”

Hough asked Hayes if Wright “was happy to turn a blind eye while Mr Middup said what he could not be heard to say?” Hayes disagreed.

The minutes also recorded Wright as saying, “The only people to influence were the judicial inquiry.” Hayes said the “aide-memoires” were not aimed at influencing the judicial inquiry “in any direct sense”.

The Taylor Inquiry into the disaster began on 15 May 1989.

The jury heard that SYP solicitor Peter Metcalf asked for accounts from officers as the chief constable’s submission to the public inquiry was prepared. Hayes brought in Rotherham divisional commander Terry Wain to oversee the gathering of evidence.

He confirmed that this team reviewed police statements based on advice from SYP lawyers. He said he thought this was to remove “speculation and comment”.

Wain asked officers to produce accounts on plain paper.

He said officers should include “their fears, feelings and observations”. Hayes confirmed that this was done after advice from lawyers.

Hough asked Hayes about a meeting between SYP and lawyers on 26 April 1989. It discussed gathering evidence in preparation for the Taylor Inquiry.

Wain referred to a bundle of documents that had been put together. He is recorded as saying, “We have not taken any evidence yet with which to back up the comments contained herein, but we should be able to validate it given time.”

Stressed

Barrister Bill Woodward stressed that officers could contact the solicitors in confidence. Hayes agreed that this meant that officers’ accounts would be “treated as secret between South Yorkshire Police and its lawyers”.

Woodward also raised concerns about the possibility of litigation against SYP. “We must present our evidence in the most appropriate manner having an eye towards the future,” he said.

Hayes told the meeting that he’d been told that there were large numbers of Liverpool fans without tickets and with large amounts of alcohol. He said he got this information “from what officers were saying”.

Hayes was asked what he would say to the suggestion that he gave examples of fans’ misbehaviour to help Woodward put the SYP case forward. He replied, “I don’t know”.

The meeting discussed the possibility of closing the tunnel that led to pens 3 and 4, where the crush took place. Hayes agreed that this was seen as an “important matter for officers to include in their accounts”.

He confirmed that SYP was concerned about what Merseyside officers on duty at Hillsborough might tell the Taylor Inquiry about the police operation. Metcalf recorded a visit to SYP headquarters on 22 May 1989.

He said, “The conclusion was reached that we should offer to have Norman Bettison go over to Merseyside” to show officers a video “prior to their giving evidence”.

The video, showing footage from the day of the disaster, had been made by chief inspector Bettison. Hayes told the jury that SYP officers had also been shown the video before they made statements “to clear their minds”.

He agreed that the idea of sending Bettison to Merseyside might have been driven by a desire to avoid “a nasty surprise when they came to give evidence”.

Hayes attended a Police Federation meeting in October 1989 along with Michael Shersby MP, the parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation.

Bob Lax, chair of the SYP Federation, said the purpose of the meeting was “to draw out information that would be helpful to Michael Shersby when parliament came to debate the Hillsborough disaster”.

Hayes agreed that it could be said that the meeting “was convened to help Mr Shersby make a public case for South Yorkshire police officers in debates in parliament”.

But he denied that he was lending his support to that.

The inquests continue.


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