Fans’ accounts of Hillsborough tragedy ‘may have been altered’

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The handwritten witness accounts of football fans at the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy may have been altered, according to the police watchdog investigating the aftermath of the tragedy.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) says it is dealing with “a huge amount of documentation” relating to the disaster, much of which has not previously been seen.

This includes more than 90 police pocket notebooks recovered by investigators which could contain crucial new information about the disaster at Sheffield Wednesday’s stadium.

The books have been handed in to South Yorkshire Police by retired and serving officers after the IPCC last month said it was looking for them.

The force has also found boxes of notebooks and other documents that cover the period of the disaster, which could contain vital details.

The deputy chairwoman of the IPCC, Deborah Glass, said: “This is an ongoing criminal investigation the like of which has never been seen before in this country. Already we are uncovering more about the disaster and its aftermath.

“Hillsborough has had a history of inquiries by the police and others, many completed quickly, coming to flawed conclusions. Our investigations need to deliver the last, definitive account.”

Last month, the IPCC revealed that at least at one officer made a note of what happened that day, against instructions, and that none of the previous inquiries into the tragedy had recovered any such notebooks.

The disaster, which claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans in 1989, is now at the centre of the biggest ever inquiry into police conduct in the UK.

The IPCC said it has uncovered evidence to suggest that the statements of 74 more officers might have been changed, and that fans’ witness accounts could also have been altered. A total of 164 amended statements were identified by the Hillsborough Independent Panel last year.

Investigators are set to appeal for witnesses next week in relation to how West Midlands Police ran their inquiry into the handling of the disaster by South Yorkshire Police.

About 12,000 people spoke to West Midlands Police as part of their inquiry. Liverpool Football Club are expected to promote the appeal during their home match on September 21.

Ms Glass added: “I cannot emphasise enough the significance of all this work. It builds on the work of the Hillsborough Independent Panel.

“But their work was a starting base. I acknowledge and understand the views of those who want quicker progress, and I cannot ask those who have waited 24 years to be patient.”

Sheila Coleman, from the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, said independent scrutiny of the investigations into the aftermath of the disaster is “paramount” for campaigners, and that without it they would have no faith in the inquiries.

Currently one IPCC probe is looking at the aftermath of the tragedy, while another inquiry is being led by Jon Stoddart, a former chief constable of Durham, into the causes of the tragedy and the 96 deaths.

New inquests are expected to be held next year after the original verdicts of accidental death, recorded by the then Coroner Stefan Popper, were quashed.

Ms Coleman said: “Surely after so many years of cover-up and corruption it’s not too much for families to expect independent scrutiny of the police and the IPCC investigations?

“Without rigorous scrutiny the Hillsborough Justice Campaign will have no faith in the investigations of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the Jon Stoddart investigation team or the IPCC.”

Current DPP Keir Starmer is due to leave his role next month. His successor, Alison Saunders, who rejected calls for fresh inquests into the deaths in 1996, will not take any decisions over whether criminal charges should be brought in relation to the case.

They will instead be taken by the Crown Prosecution Service’s chief executive, Peter Lewis.