The commissioner of the Metropolitan police, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, is facing an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission into his actions on the day of the Hillsborough disaster in April 1989, in which 96 people died.
The IPCC said on Monday it has "received a complaint about Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe in relation to his role at Hillsborough" and expects to investigate it as part of the inquiry into alleged police misconduct on the day of the disaster and afterwards. The complaint against Hogan-Howe, Britain's top policeman, includes the fact that he appears never to have made a statement after Hillsborough to any of the official investigations into the disaster, despite having said last year that he did. In a statement, the Metropolitan police said it would be "inappropriate" for Hogan-Howe to comment on his role while the IPCC is investigating. Referring to the commissioner having said he made a statement when he apparently did not, the Met said:
"We believe the only appropriate way to clarify the situation regarding accounts made by the Commissioner following the Hillsborough disaster would be through the official investigation being conducted by the IPCC."
Hogan-Howe, an inspector in the South Yorkshire police in 1989, was on the night of the disaster in charge of a Hillsborough boys' club where anxious friends and families were kept waiting by the police for news of missing people.
The Guardian revealed at the weekend that the operation at the boys' club was severely criticised by Stephen Lowe, then the archdeacon of Sheffield, who was in charge of priests ministering to families. Lowe said the operation led by Hogan-Howe had been "utter chaos" and "a shambles", that families at the boys' club were not given the information they needed about their missing relatives, and that Hogan-Howe and his officers had kept themselves "apart".
The family of Adam Spearritt, who died at Hillsborough aged 14, have never received any explanation from South Yorkshire police about why Adam was incorrectly included in a list of people read out by a police officer at the boys' club as "safe and well", which gave them false reassurance.
From the boys' club, once the police said they were ready, families were taken to the gym at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough football ground, where the bodies of the dead Liverpool supporters had been laid out waiting to be identified. The families have always resented the police operation planned at the gym; they were shown polaroid photographs of all the victims, then if they identified a family member, they were immediately taken to make a statement, and quizzed about whether the victim had been drinking.
The families have always believed that South Yorkshire police mounted a cover-up as the disaster was unfolding, to avoid the blame for deaths caused by their own mistakes, and to pass blame on to stories of drunken and ticketless fans, for which there was no evidence. The IPCC said on Monday its investigation into the alleged cover-up has now found that the statements of 240 South Yorkshire police officers were amended afterwards.
Hogan-Howe said last year he had refused to change his statement after being asked to by another policeman, but in fact it has now turned out he apparently never made any statement at all.
The IPCC also said its investigators will speak to Sir John Major, after he suggested last week that the police had put pressure on his government not to open an inquiry into Hillsborough when he was prime minister. Major said: "We had pretty strong police views that there was no need for a report at the time."