The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) will conduct a wide-ranging investigation into allegations of police misconduct raised by the Hillsborough independent panel report published last month. It will consider new evidence unearthed by the 395-page report and 450,000 supporting documents, and can recommend criminal charges or disciplinary action against the individuals concerned. These are the new areas that will be considered:
Failure to declare a major incident
The report showed that none of the emergency services effectively mobilised a major incident plan. One of the crucial new disclosures in the panel's report was that as many as 41 of the 96 victims of the disaster had the potential to survive beyond the 3.15pm cut-off point imposed by the coroner on the orginal inquiry. "Therefore a causation issue may arise in realation to the emergency response, which has not been previously considered," the IPCC said.
The report describes overcrowding at previous semi-finals at the ground in 1981, 1987 and 1988, but says that when the pens at the Leppings Lane end were full, the tunnels leading to them were closed on the instruction of senior officers. Evidence of a failure to do so in 1989 was among the information removed from police officers' statements. Senior officers denied knowing the tunnel had been closed in previous years, but there is evidence in the report that they may have lied.
Changes to officers' statements
The report reveals that in the aftermath of the disaster, statements taken from officers to present a "suitable case" for the inquiries that followed were altered on the instruction of senior officers to present the police in a better light and emphasise the role of the fans. Of 164 statements which were substantially altered, 116 were changed to remove criticism of the police. "The alleged nature of some of the amendments may amount to the criminal offences of perverting the course of justice or misconduct in public office. The deliberate alteration of statements may also raise misconduct offences in relation to honesty and integrity," the IPCC said. Aside from the method of taking the statements, the IPCC will also look into whether the Wain report, which was based on the statements, was biased and sought to divert criticism from South Yorkshire police. "At its highest this could amount to perverting the course of justice, and at the least, raises questions of discreditable conduct, and honesty and integrity," it said.
Alleged misleading of media and parliament
The original Taylor report revealed the sensationalist reporting of the behaviour of Liverpool fans, most notoriously in the Sun's story under its front page headline "The Truth", to be entirely without foundation. The independent panel's report sets out in detail the attempts of various South Yorkshire police officers to undermine Taylor's conclusions and blame drunk fans for the disaster. The IPCC will investigate comments from the secretary of the police federation, Paul Middup, named in the media as the source of untrue allegations of fans' drunken behaviour. It will look into a Police Federation meeting with MP Michael Shersby to determine whether the organisation deliberately misled him, and it will investigate the source of comments to White's news agency in Sheffield, which formed the basis of the Sun's story. The police briefing given to Margaret Thatcher and the home secretary at the time , Douglas Hurd, when they visited Sheffield the day after the disaster, will also be covered.
The actions in the gymnasium
The gymnasium underneath one of the stands was used as a temporary mortuary. The IPCC look into why the coroner gave the order to check all of the victims' blood alcohol levels, and will investigate the conduct of police in allegedly carrying out national computer checks on the deceased and others. It will also look into why relatives were questioned about how much alcohol their loved ones had consumed. "We will need to investigate whether this formed part of the attempts to gather evidence to shift the blame from South Yorkshire police, the IPCC said.
Potential problems with previous investigations
The statements taken by West Midlands police obtained no evidence that was compliant with the Criminal Justice Act, and the format caused a delay that may have led to disciplinary proceedings not taking place. The Police Complaints Authority expressed concerns in "the strongest terms" but had no power to act. In the meantime Chief Superintendent Duckenfield, who was in overall control on the day of the match, retired on grounds of ill health. The independent panel's report also raises concerns about the conduct of Cumbria's chief constable, Leslie Sharp, who concluded an investigation into his South Yorkshire counterpart, Peter Wright, three days before Wright's planned retirement. Sharp subsquently wrote to Wright, praising him and saying that he had not wanted to conduct the investigation. The IPCC said "these disclosures raise questions about the adequacy and thoroughness of the West Midlands police investigation and its oversight".
The role of Sir Norman Bettison
The chief constable of West Yorkshire police, Sir Norman Bettison, was referred to the IPCC for his role in disseminating misleading information in the wake of the disaster. He was present at the Police Federation meeting with Shersby on 3 October 1989, where he showed a video compiled from 65 hours of footage from Hillsborough. He later showed the same video to a wider group of MPs. The IPCC said it was "unwise" for Bettison to issue a statement in the wake of the independent panel's report and "insensitive and inappropriate" to mention the behaviour of the fans. The IPCC received a further "serious allegation", which will be investigated immediately, that Bettison sought to influence the decision-making of the West Yorkshire Police Authority in regard to its initial referral of him to the IPCC. Bettison announced earlier this month that he planned to retire next March.
What happens now?
The IPCC will spend several months determining the size and scope of what will be the biggest investigation into the police in British history. The home secretary, Theresa May, has promised to provide the necessary manpower and resources. It will ultimately decide whether criminal charges should be referred to the Crown Prosecution Service or make recommendations for disciplinary charges. It acknowledges, however, that its powers are limited where actions fall short of criminal charges and the individuals concerned have retired.
The Director of Public Prosecutions will review the evidence with a view to bringing manslaughter charges against organisations - which could include South Yorkshire police, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and Sheffield City Council - or individuals. The attorney general, Dominic Grieve, must also decide whether to apply to the high court to quash the existing 96 verdicts of accidental death. He will liaise with the familiies and the CPS over when to hold any new inquest.