Hillsborough Disaster – Politics & Blame

14 Sep

After Boris Johnson’s louder cheers at the Olympics/Paralympics than the Prime Minister’s, we then had the publication of the latest official report into Hillsborough disaster (in short, nearly a hundred football fans died in a crowd crush) and saw Boris Johnson having to apologise for some silly things his then magazine The Spectator had said about Liverpudlians – your writer wondered whether that timing was coincidence. As someone might have advised Mr Cameron if it wasn’t a coincidence – and he may well have had no influence in the Report’s timing – luck doesn’t work like that.

Instead the storm has focussed on the Police handling of the disaster and their attempts to deflect responsibility afterwards, with for example the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Sir Norman Bettison – who had some involvement in the Police side of the original Inquest having found himself at the scene in 1989 – under pressure to resign for saying that the fans ‘made the Police’s job harder than it needed to be.’ Compared to what others were saying, this (with due respect to the bereaved) seems relatively mild – and more a matter of ‘He’s still in office – he’s an easy target.’ This is unlikely to help – as is Jack Straw’s curious attempt to blame Lady Thatcher even though it was her Government’s Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 that was the beginning of the end for the old-style policing that he both asserts to have existed and criticises.

Curiously, as with News International’s difficulties, the lawyers seem to be getting relatively little time in the pillory – although some NI lawyers have at least had their names mentioned re phone hacking. The Guardian suggests that junior police officers had their statements edited by senior officers and a lawyer to remove unhelpful material. The passage is this:

“However, the panel found that the statements were changed, by senior South Yorkshire police officers working with the force’s solicitor, to alter, delete or qualify comments made by officers “unhelpful to the force’s case”.


Of 164 statements substantially amended, the panel found 116 were to “remove or alter comments unfavourable to South Yorkshire police”. Allegations of drunkenness by supporters were emphasised, criticism of the police’s own operation or of senior officers was changed or deleted.”

That draft witness statements might need tidying up to remove matters of irrelevance hearsay opinion etc before being referred back to the witness for final signature – that is understandable. Surely, however, it is not the case that the Police Solicitor engaged in the deletion of inconvenient factual testimony? If the Guardian have accurately summarised what the recent Panel felt happened, then this is a grave allegation against the lawyer(s) involved as well. One trusts that this was a misunderstanding.


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