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
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 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
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.”
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
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”.
The inquests continue.
Misleading public inquiry?
Lord Justice Taylor’s public inquiry into the disaster began on 15 May 1989.
The court heard that Taylor had warned SYP that they could face the allegation that they failed to block the tunnel leading to pens 3 and 4.
Hayes said he was “probably” becoming aware of police failings when viewing the footage the day after the disaster.
This included police failure to control the crowd outside the Leppings Lane entrance and their failure to close the tunnel.
Pete Weatherby QC asked if this was the case, why there was no reference to a failure to close the tunnel in the SYP submission to the Taylor inquiry.
Hayes replied, “I find it inconceivable that that wasn’t part of the submission.”
The inquests heard that SYP made further submissions to Taylor before he considered his conclusions. They included no reference to failings by SYP.
Hayes denied that this was because it “was part of a cover up”. He denied that he was misleading the public inquiry.
Relatives said the police were ‘trying to set us up’
Francis Tyrrell's son Kevin died as a result of the Hillsborough disaster aged just 15. Francis told the inquests about his treatment by police on the day of the crush.
Police asked Francis to look at photographs of the dead at the gym at the Hillsborough stadium, yet they already knew Kevin was dead.
When Francis asked why he didn't tell him this an officer replied, "We haven't got time to tell people."
Francis, as with many relatives, told the jury that police stopped them from touching the bodies of their loved ones.
"It was like we were criminals," he said.
Leslie Jones said his wife Doreen had tried to cuddle the body of their son Richard. "But the police officer pulled her up roughly and said, 'Sorry he's the property of the coroner now, you can't touch him'.
"She was distraught by that."
Francis told the court that Sergeant Hall interviewed them about Kevin. "He just said, 'It's one consolation, your son hadn't been drinking'.
"I said, 'He doesn't drink'. I could hear other people shouting and I said to my brother, 'We're getting out of here because these are trying to set us up.' They wanted us to react. We were just getting treated like muck, basically."
Francis added, "There was no consolation that we weren't allowed to touch our son for the last time, because the next time he came home, he was cut to bits after a post-mortem, and there was no consolation to us that our son hadn't had a drink.
"When he was standing in them pens probably frightened to death, crying for his mother, it was no consolation to us that he hadn't had a drink, and it was no consolation that it's took us 26 years to try and get justice for him and the other 95."
Martin Thompson's brother Stuart died as a result of the crush.
Martin told the inquests, "The very first question asked was what had I had to drink today. Then I was asked what Stuart had been drinking."
John McCarthy told the court that officers from the criminal investigation into Hillsborough, Operation Resolve, had shown him a video of the body of his brother Ian Glover as he lay in the gym.
John said Ian had a bin bag covering his face. "No dignity at all, even when he was dead," he said.
Accounts could be 'vetted and amended'
Pete Weatherby also referred to a meeting on 26 April. Under a section headed "Mr Metcalf" it read, "You ought to note that pocket notebook entries can be called for and must be produced".
Weatherby said that, in contrast, "plain paper accounts could be vetted and amended".
Hayes denied that this was the reason for telling officers not to record their recollections of the disaster in their pocket books and to use plain paper.
Terry Munyard questioned Hayes on behalf of three bereaved families. Hayes agreed that Bettison was "at the heart of the South Yorkshire Police presentation of their case".
Munyard said previous evidence had said that by 5.15pm on the day of the disaster, "police photographers had been sent out to take photographs of cans of drink around the area of the stadium".
Hayes said he did not know who had ordered this. And he did not know who told officers to question relatives of the dead about victims' drinking.
Munyard pointed out that Hayes was the second most senior officer in SYP and arrived at SYP headquarters just after 4pm on the day of the crush.