Socialist Worker

Hillsborough: How police and Tories conspired to blame fans

The cover-up over the cops’ role in the Hillsborough disaster began the same day—and it went straight to the top of South Yorkshire Police

Issue No. 2501

South Yorkshire Police

South Yorkshire Police (Pic: flickr.com/scoutnurse)


Senior police officers met two days after the disaster and drew up a plan to blame Liverpool fans for the crush. Chief superintendent Terry Wain addressed the meeting.

According to former inspector Clive Davis Wain said, “We are going to put the blame for this disaster where it belongs—on the drunken, ticketless Liverpool fans.”

Wain said officers should “gather the evidence to show this”. This meant looking for beer cans, and visiting licensed premises and off licences.

Davis added, “Mr Wain had been given a job to do, and he would have only been given that job by the direction of the chief constable.”

The chief constable of South Yorkshire Police (SYP) at the time was Peter Wright. Wright spoke to a Police Federation meeting four days after the disaster. The inquests heard that he told officers, “If anybody should be blamed, it should be the drunken,ticketless individuals.”

SYP had to provide a submission to the 1989-90 Taylor Inquiry into the disaster. Wright appointed Wain to oversee the gathering of evidence for that submission.

Exaggeration

Wain agreed that SYP’s submission to the Taylor Inquiry included a “defence of senior officers” and involved “some degree of exaggeration”.

On 1 June 1989 Wain raised an action to obtain information from all available sources on Liverpool fans trying to gain illegal entry to football grounds.

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

SYP solicitor Peter Metcalf was recorded on 9 June 1989 noting that evidence of such a conspiracy was “somewhat half-baked”. Yet still the cops pursued it.

In July 1990 Wain asked a detective inspector to use a police computer system to find negative evidence about Liverpool fans.

Wain agreed that this appeared to show “clear evidence of an attempt to denigrate the fans”.

Norman Bettison was a chief inspector with SYP at the time.

The court heard that Bettison had bragged of being part of a team “tasked with making sure that SYP bore no blame for the Hillsborough disaster and it was all the fault of the drunken Liverpool supporters”.

Bettison denied this—but confirmed he was tasked with looking for evidence of fans’ drinking and misbehaviour.

Bettison said a number of criticisms of the police response “add up to a serious failing”. He agreed that none of these criticisms were included in SYP’s submission.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel reported in 2012 that nearly 200 police statements had been amended, 164 substantially. “Some 116 of the 164 removed or altered comments unfavourable to SYP,” it said.

Assistant chief constable Stuart Anderson asked SYP solicitor Peter Metcalf if SYP should collate information about “incidents” relating to Liverpool fans from other police forces.

Metcalf suggested that chief constables could be encouraged to contact the Taylor Inquiry directly because “we could not then be accused of orchestrating evidence”.

A letter from Metcalf to the police insurers admitted SYP had “been contacting other police forces asking for comments about the behaviour of Liverpool fans”.

Officers were told to write their accounts of the day on paper instead of their notebooks. Coroner Sir John Goldring said it seemed this had been “decided at the highest level”.

A record of a meeting between SYP and lawyers noted that “pocket notebook entries can be called for [by the inquiry] and must be produced”.

The jury heard that SYP solicitors Hammond Suddards “reviewed the written accounts of 416 officers” and “commented on 158”. SYP also “vetted” some accounts.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel reported in 2012 that nearly 200 police statements had been amended, 164 substantially. “Some 116 of the 164 removed or altered comments unfavourable to SYP,” it said.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission found evidence that more officers’ statements had been altered after the panel reported.

It has also found evidence that fans’ statements may have been amended. Officers said they were encouraged to include evidence of drunkenness or bad behaviour among fans.

SYP had been warned that it could face the allegation that officers failed to block the tunnel to pens 3 and 4. SYP solicitors removed the only two references to the closure of the tunnel in previous years from SYP’s submission.


How cops caused the crush

Aerial view of Leppings Lane

Aerial view of Leppings Lane (Pic: Hillsborough Inquest)

Police failure to control crowds at Hillsborough led to a bottleneck of fans outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles.

Policing expert Douglas Hopkins told the inquests it should have been “very obvious” at 2.40pm that kick off should have been delayed.

Superintendent Roger Marshall said it was “one of his most profound regrets” that he did not request a delay.

He agreed that he took “very few” steps to manage the situation at Leppings Lane and that his actions contributed to congestion.

He agreed it was the responsibility of police to monitor pens 3 and 4 and it was one of his “great regrets” that they didn’t.

Coroner John Goldring said match commander David Duckenfield “agreed that monitoring pens was his ultimate responsibility. He failed to do so.”

SYP’s chief constable was recorded at a meeting two days after the disaster saying that Duckenfield was “well aware” of the possibility of closing the tunnel.

Duckenfield agreed that his failure to close the tunnel to pens 3 and 4 was “the direct cause” of fans’ deaths.

He failed to warn stewards or police that he was going to order the gate open.

There is no record of Duckenfield declaring a major incident.

Duckenfield accepted that there should have been a contingency plan to deal with large crowds outside the ground.

He agreed the disaster could have been avoided had he deployed more officers at the turnstiles.

Duckenfield agreed that he “froze” as the disaster unfolded.

He admitted he was “practising and persisted in a far-reaching deceit” over his role in the disaster.

Duckenfield retired early on a full pension and avoided disciplinary proceedings.


Eyewitness—‘We were in shock. Then the lies started’

Slander by The Sun

Slander by The Sun


Liverpool fan Marco Catena was in pen 3 on the day of the disaster.

“We walked in there about 2.20. At first I didn’t notice anything different. I didn’t see people dying in front of me. You can’t see because you couldn’t move.

“Only when people started being dragged out of the back, I saw bodies lying around.

“Afterwards the radio said there were nine dead. Then 20. Then 30.

“We were in shock. Then the lies started.

“The Sun said we urinated on the coppers trying to save fans, that we pick pocketed. I didn’t see anyone doing that.

“Liverpool supporters carried injured fans on billboards. The coppers were like headless chickens. They wanted to say we were all drunk.

“They thought—we’ve cocked up, let’s blame the fans. That’s what happened.

“It took the families and the justice campaigns 27 years to turn that around. It’s a disgrace.

“Pens 3 and 4 were packed at quarter past two if not earlier. The police control room had the perfect view of them.

“They knew. They said supporters would find their own level. But when I walked down that tunnel I didn’t know it was jam packed. All the police had to do was block the entrance to the tunnel like they did in 1988.

“A solicitor told me that if I’d been standing three or four feet to the right I could have been dead.

“It was pot luck based on what time you walked in and where you were standing. It could have been anybody.”


An independent cover-up?

West Midlands Police (WMP) investigated SYP in the wake of the disaster. The inquests heard that then SYP chief constable Peter Wright told officers they had to “be the authors of most of the information fed in” to WMP.

John Mervyn Jones was assistant chief constable of WMP at the time.

Jones sent a letter to government legal body Treasury Solicitors on 9 June 1989. It asked whether heavy drinking among fans was a “Liverpool characteristic”.

Jones denied that he sent the letter after a request from SYP.

Derek Bruder, a Merseyside officer at the time, attended the match as a fan. He said WMP pressured him to change his evidence.

The original inquests did not look at any evidence after 3.15pm.

But Bruder said victim Kevin Williams was alive when he was lying on the pitch after the crush. Footage showed Kevin being carried out of pen 3 at 3.28pm.

Bruder said WMP inspector Matthew Sawyers wrote a new statement for him and there had been “a conscious and determined effort to put words into my mouth”.

Sawyers disagreed that it was “very inconvenient” to have an officer giving evidence of signs of life in Kevin after 3.15pm.

Dr Nat Cary agreed during the fresh inquests that the cut-off time was “wholly wrong and arbitrary and there was no pathological basis for it”.

Former special police constable Debra Martin also gave evidence that Kevin was alive when she helped carry him to the ground’s gym. She said she faced “bullying and manipulation” to change that account.


Tories repaid the brutal police force that attacked the miners

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher (Pic: Margaret Thatcher Foundation)


Tory MPs met with police to plan their cover-up in the wake of Hillsborough. The disaster took place four years after the end of the Miners’ Strike.

Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher had relied on South Yorkshire Police (SYP) to lay siege to working class areas to try and break the strike.

SYP chief constable Peter Wright had overseen police attacks on miners at the Orgreave coking plant in 1984.

Now the Tories repaid the cops’ loyalty. Thatcher and then home secretary Douglas Hurd visited SYP officers the day after the disaster and were given a briefing. Apparently there is no documentation to reveal what was in the briefing.

But Thatcher refused to welcome the “broad thrust” of the Taylor report into the disaster because it contained “devastating criticism” of the cops.

Irvine Patnick was Tory MP for Sheffield Hallam at the time of the disaster. He went on TV within hours calling for pubs to be closed near football grounds when matches were on, and saying fans could be breathalysed.

Patnick claimed that fans had kicked police and urinated on them, and that he had seen the bruises.

He later apologised for spreading the lies and said he got his information from SYP.

Patnick issued instructions to official investigations demanding that they listen to officers’ lies.

He wrote to Lord Justice Taylor within five days of the disaster recounting the officers’ allegations.He told Taylor they would “have to be considered”.

Patnick later contacted an officer in the West Midlands investigation claiming that officers’ evidence “was not fully taken into account at the inquiry”.

He said he hoped “something can be done to rectify this”.

Tory MP Michael Shersby, who represented the Police Federation’s interests in parliament, attended a meeting at SYP Police Federation headquarters six months after the disaster. He said he wanted to “bring out that the police did behave magnificently”.

Norman Bettison, by then a superintendent, was also there.

The inquests heard that the meeting aimed to rebut Taylor’s interim report, which rejected the claim that drunken fans caused the disaster. Shersby told Douglas Hurd that police testimonies had been altered to take out negative descriptions of fans’ behaviour.

In fact police statements contained many negative descriptions of fans.

Shersby invited Bettison to address MPs in London. Bettison recorded that one Tory MP “confided that in his view Taylor had got it all wrong and, as far as he was concerned, he intended to put the record straight”.

Bettison met with 12 MPs in the House of Commons in early November 1989. He said at least two MPs “expressed disappointment” that a debate on Hillsborough had been postponed as it could “diminish the impact of their ‘promised’ attack upon the findings of the interim report”.

Bettison and Patnick were later knighted.


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