Football supporters who witnessed the horrors of the Hillsborough disaster have been asked to come forward and give the “definitive account” of what happened on the day.
Yesterday, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) revealed that “amendments or changes” were made to an as-yet unknown number statements from supporters who were there on April 15, 1989, when 96 Liverpool fans died.
Those supporters gave their statements to West Midlands Police officers, and have now been asked to speak to the IPCC, which is carrying out the biggest-ever inquiry into police conduct in England and Wales.
Chris Mahaffey, a former Metropolitan Police detective and now senior investigator for the IPCC, said: “We must assess whether there’s any evidence of criminal conduct.
“Our analysis, certainly of these large number of questionnaires completed by fans at the disaster, when you make comparison with these questionnaires against other documentation that appears to come from the same person, there are differences.
“Who was actually directing this, if there was someone directing this?”
Analysis has shown that statements taken by West Midlands Police officers from football supporters are not the same as the details given by the same people in questionnaires they had completed earlier.
A spokesman for the IPCC said yesterday: “It is known that thousands of members of the public gave witness accounts to West Midlands Police.
“The IPCC wishes to speak with these people to understand more about their experiences and the process they went through.”
This new investigation by the IPCC has already uncovered a mass of statements given by police officers on the day, that were doctored by South Yorkshire Police.
Deborah Glass, deputy chair of the IPCC, said the report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, published last September, had already raised “serious questions” over the work done by West Midlands Police.
West Midlands Police ran its own inquiry into the handling of the disaster by South Yorkshire Police and around 12,000 people spoke to that force as part of its inquiry.
That investigation formed the basis of Lord Taylor’s judicial inquiry into the disaster, the subsequent decision not to prosecute individuals, and the flawed inquests whose verdicts were quashed last year.
“We know thousands of people gave eyewitness accounts to that investigation,” Ms Glass said.
“We also know some of you have never been able to give your account. This is your opportunity.
“It will be difficult for you to recount these incredibly traumatic events. I know, for many of you Saturday, April 15, 1989 was, by far, the worst day of your life.
“I know many of you still carry deeply painful memories.
“It will be difficult for you to put your trust in the establishment after being let down so often in the past.
“It will be difficult for you to believe that after 24 years what you say can make a difference.”
Ms Glass, speaking at a press conference in Warrington, Cheshire, added: “We understand you may need support to overcome your trauma, your fears, your lack of trust.
“Hearing your experience can only assist our investigation.
“It will help us build the most comprehensive account there has ever been of what happened at Hillsborough - from the people who were there on the day.
“Witness evidence will be vital in helping to bring charges against any person or organisation found to be responsible.
“There are still many questions to be answered for the families of the 96 fans who died; for the survivors who still live with the trauma of their unimaginable experience; for the people of Merseyside who have lived under this terrible cloud for 24 years; and for the country to ensure the lessons of Hillsborough are fully learned.
“Families have told me that they don’t want the next generation to suffer the way they have .
“So we need to deliver the definitive account. We can’t do that without your help.”