Socialist Worker

Inquest hears 'clear evidence' that Hillsborough cops tried to smear fans

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2451

Hillsborough memorial

Hillsborough memorial (Pic: Diego Sideburns/flikr)


An inquest has heard of “clear evidence” that police tried to denigrate Liverpool football fans in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster.

Some 96 Liverpool fans died after a crush at the Sheffield stadium in April 1989.

Terry Wain, chief superintendent with South Yorkshire Police (SYP) at the time, gave evidence to fresh inquests into the deaths last week.

Wain was responsible for the SYP submission to the 1989-1990 Taylor inquiry into the disaster.

The court was shown a memo from Wain to SYP detective inspector John Cleverley, dated 12 July 1990. It asked Cleverley to use the HOLMES police computer system to find certain evidence.

The memo read, “In preparation for the resumed inquest proceedings.

“Please interrogate the system to show those officers who can give the best evidence concerning (a) unruly behaviour by Liverpool fans; (b) non-ticket holders gaining entry; (c) forged tickets used to gain entry; (d) drunkenness by fans; (e) public houses in the area being crowded out; (f) volumes of sales of intoxicants generally, eg, off-licences and supermarkets.”

Wain told the jury this may have followed a “request from the legal team”.

Mr George, representing 22 families of the dead, said, “It looks as if this is clear evidence of an attempt to denigrate the fans.”

Wain replied, “I must agree with you.” He agreed that the attitude of SYP was “disgraceful”.

The crush occurred in pens 3 and 4 after fans streamed into the pens through a central tunnel.

Under questioning by the coroner, Wain agreed that the fact that police didn’t close the tunnel was “very significant”. He agreed that the fact the tunnel had been closed in the past “would have been significant”.

Wain couldn’t explain why his submission made no reference to previous instances of police blocking a tunnel.

Reference

He agreed that, had reference been made, it would have been harder to explain why police didn’t block the tunnel on the day of the disaster.

The court was shown two photographs taken by police photographer Dennis Bond at 5.55pm on the day of the crush. He had been asked to show images of discarded alcohol containers.

Terry Munyard QC said this showed that SYP began at an early stage “to create the narrative that this disaster was in some way caused by drunken fans”.

Wain said that appeared to be true.

Wain was asked if he “had in mind to take advantage of the conception that the Liverpool fans may have caused this disaster” when writing the submission.

He replied, “I don’t know.”

On 1 June Wain raised an action to obtain from all available sources information on Liverpool fans trying to get illegal entry to football grounds. This followed match commander David Duckenfield giving evidence to the Taylor inquiry.

Wain confirmed that this wasn’t a coincidence.

SYP solicitor Peter Metcalf visited SYP headquarters on 2 June. His attendance note described “some concern among the police that we are not ‘hitting back’ at some of the evidence which has been given.”

SYP told Taylor that, “Fans without tickets conspired to arrive late and create such trouble as would force the police to admit them to the match.”

Another note by Metcalf on 5 June recorded details of a conversation between him and someone from the police insurer. Metcalf had said, “We suffered some severe damage from Mr Duckenfield’s evidence”.

The note said that the two “discussed evidence in relation to the conspiracy theory”. A later note on 9 June records Metcalf’s visit to SYP headquarters. It said evidence gathered of a conspiracy by Liverpool fans was “still somewhat half-baked”.

Wain agreed that the version of his submission that went to the Taylor inquiry was “potentially misleading”.

Former chief superintendent Donald Denton also gave evidence last week. He was in charge of amending officers’ statements.

Denton said amendments removed opinion, comment and hearsay. He later agreed that some facts had also been removed and said some alterations had been “wrong”.

The court saw an attendance note written by Metcalf dated 10 May. It recorded a telephone conversation with assistant chief constable Stuart Anderson.

It read, “He mentioned to me that the chief constable had received a number of letters of support from other chief constables, some of them mentioning problems with Liverpool fans.

“He asked whether we should try and collate information about other incidents relating to Liverpool, with a view to presenting this to the inquiry.”

Recorded

The note recorded Metcalf suggesting that chief constables could be encouraged to contact the inquiry directly. It said, “We could not then be accused of orchestrating evidence, because we would be doing no more than redirecting to the inquiry matters which had been brought to our attention.”

Former detective chief inspector Alan Foster gave evidence to the inquests on Monday of this week. He helped to amend officers’ statements.

Foster said legal advice had included removing criticisms of police organisation and of senior officers. He told the court, “I was simply obeying orders”.

Mr George asked Foster about a statement made by PC West. It read, “I saw several officers wandering about in a dazed and confused state. Some were crying and some were simply sat on the grass.”

This part of the statement was crossed out. Reference to fans running around with advertising hoardings to help the injured was kept in.

Foster’s colleague Mr Jones wrote a note on the statement saying that amendments would be needed. It said, “He also states that PCs were sat down crying when the fans were helping dead and injured.

“This shows they were organised and we were not.”

Mr George said this was an “obvious attempt” to remove things seen as unhelpful to SYP. Foster said it was an “unfortunate” description of PC West’s statement.

Norman Bettison, a chief inspector at the time of the disaster, was also involved with preparing the SYP submission to the Taylor inquiry. He was due to begin giving evidence to the inquests on Friday of this week.


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