It is now official - the Hillsborough football disaster was followed by a massive police cover-up. Where they cover up once, they cover up on other occasions as well.
Hillsborough: 'absolutely essential' that police are prosecuted
Prosecuting police officers who engaged in the cover-up of the Hillsborough disaster is “absolutely essential”, the former chief constable of South Yorkshire police said today.
Hillsborough: prosecuting cover-up police 'absolutely essential'
Mr Wells said it was “absolutely essential” to pursue prosecutions against any officers who had engaged in the cover-up following the disaster. Photo: GETTY IMAGES
By Andrew Hough
9:00AM BST 13 Sep 2012
Hillsborough report key findings:
• Police carried out criminal record checks on deceased to 'impugn reputations'
• Senior officers privately discussed 'animalistic behaviour' of 'drunken marauding fans'
• New evidence suggests dozens survived past 3.15pm inquest cut-off point
• 116 of the 164 South Yorkshire Police statements were doctored
• South Yorkshire Ambulance Service evidence was misleading
• No evidence to support police account that fans were drunk and aggressive
• Margaret Thatcher expressed concern in Cabinet that the first inquiry into the disaster contained 'devastating criticism of the police'
• Weight placed on blood alcohol levels among the dead was 'inappropriate'
• The Sun's allegations originated from police and a local MP
Richard Wells, who took up the post in 1990, the year after the tragedy, admitted he was “disappointed and angry” at the police failings that had been exposed.
He also said that police forces across Britain had "a culture of authoritarianism, defensiveness [and] excessive secrecy" at the time.
Mr Wells was speaking a day after it was claimed the incident led to the "the biggest cover-up in history", after a new report disclosed yesterday the extent to which police doctored statements and tried to blame innocent fans.
Prosecutions for manslaughter and perverting the course of justice against police and other public bodies could be considered. The inquest into the 96 deaths are almost certain to be re-opened.
There have also been calls for a fresh public inquiry to question those involved.
A panel given unprecedented access to 450,000 official documents about the fatal crush at the 1989 FA Cup semi–final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest discovered officers attempted to smear the dead by checking them for criminal records and medics had tried to prove they were drunk.
Meanwhile, police and ambulance workers doctored hundreds of statements to deflect criticism.
Speaking today, Mr Wells said it was “absolutely essential” to pursue prosecutions against any officers who had engaged in the cover-up, adding that it was “outrageous” that any statements were changed.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I swallowed, maybe to my own regret now, the prevailing account that the statements had been looked at for criminal justice purposes and emotional, non-evidential material had been removed.
“It does seem much more intense than that. A group got together to make it better than it was.”
Asked if prosecutions should happen, he replied: “It is absolutely essential.”
He added: “I don’t know how practical it is going to be now. But the inquest, if that is reopened, my help to shed further light on the details.”
An independent inquiry led by Lord Chief Justice Taylor in the immediate aftermath of the disaster found the main cause had been a failure in crowd control by South Yorkshire Police
Mr Wells said the report was "historic" and as important as the suffragettes in changing the attitude of police, which he added was "authoritarian" and “defensiveness” at the time of Hillsborough.
He added: “I am disappointed and angry that (failings in) my chosen profession for 36 years have been revealed and of course I played a part in that and I deeply regret that.”
A damning report, published yesterday by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, laid bare a shocking cover-up which attempted to shift the blame on to its 96 victims.
The report found that 164 police statements were altered, 116 of them to remove or alter "unfavourable" comments about the policing of the match and the unfolding disaster.
The report found that authorities in Sheffield knew well in advance that the football ground was unsafe and flawed inquests ignored the fact that up to half of the victims could have been saved had the rescue attempts been better.
The Crown Prosecution Service is under pressure to investigate police for perverting the course of justice and misconduct in public office over the doctored statements and smear tactics.
Council and football club officials could also face charges of negligence manslaughter if it was proved they let the match go ahead, knowing the stadium was unsafe.
South Yorkshire Chief Constable David Crompton said if officers had broken the law, they should be prosecuted.
"My position is a very simple and straightforward one, which is that if people have broken the law then they should be prosecuted," he told BBC Two's Newsnight programme.
"It doesn't make any difference whether they're a police officer or anybody else."
"We will treat this with the utmost seriousness. And then if people have got serious questions to answer, we'll act appropriately."
Families of the dead said they had been vindicated in their 23-year battle to uncover the truth but stressed they would continue their efforts to bring those responsible to justice.
David Cameron said the bereaved had suffered a "double injustice" as the state failed to protect their loved ones then they were accused of causing the tragedy.
In a statement to the House of Commons as the new 395-page report was published, the Prime Minister said: "On behalf of the government – and indeed our country – I am profoundly sorry for this double injustice that has been left uncorrected for so long."
The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, said the report had raised "significant issues" and would consider whether he should ask the High Court to set aside the accidental death verdicts recorded in the original inquests, paving the way for a jury to find they had been killed through negligence.