The union representing South Yorkshire’s rank-and-file police officers faces condemnation today after appearing to defend the man at the heart of the Hillsborough smear campaign and questioning the independent panel’s verdict.
Paul Middup was the South Yorkshire Police Federation secretary in 1989, and one of the men named by the Hillsborough Independent Panel as having given briefings to the media that fans were drunken and violent as the disaster unfolded.
But the current federation chairman, Neil Bowles, told the Yorkshire Post that “just because the panel has made those comments, does not mean he has done anything wrong”.
Mr Middup was quoted in the infamous April 1989 front page of the Sun headlined “The Truth” – for which the newspaper has now apologised – as having told a news agency he was “sick of hearing how good the crowd were” and attacking the “tanked-up” fans.
Minutes of an April 1989 federation meeting released to the panel show Mr Middup told members he had been given “a free hand” to push the police’s version of events, and spoke of his “pride” at the media briefings he had given.
The independent panel, which spent 20 months scouring 400,000 documents, found the disaster was entirely the fault of authorities and that Liverpool fans were the subject of a cover-up and smear campaign.
South Yorkshire Police chief constable David Crompton has condemned the “disgraceful lies” told by officers in 1989 and insists the force is now “a very different place”. Prime Minister David Cameron also condemned the 1989 briefings as “wrong”, but insisted South Yorkshire Police is “a very different organisation today”.
However, Mr Middup still works at an office in South Yorkshire Police HQ in Sheffield. He has declined to apologise for his actions.
The current union chairman of has refused to condemn Mr Middup’s actions, and even appeared to question the findings of the panel. Mr Bowles said: “We are not going to comment on anything our predecessors did. We co-operated with the panel and allowed our minutes to be published – and that was with the co-operation of Paul.
“Just because the report has made those comments does not mean that he has done anything wrong. That is for an investigation and court of law to decide.”
Put to him that Mr Middup’s attack on the victims of the disaster was at least deeply immoral, the chairman said: “We represent officers’ views. If officers told me something that was contrary to what was happening in the Press at the time, then I might want to put that view across.”
Another former officer from the era, Sir Norman Bettison, was widely condemned on Thursday for criticising the fans as having “made the police’s job harder than it needed to be”.
Sheffield MP Angela Smith said of Mr Bowles’s comments last night: “At a time when the people of Sheffield are desperately trying to come to terms with the revelations about Hillsborough, this is incredibly insensitive. It does not reflect in any way the opinion of the vast majority of the people they are supposed to represent.”
Mr Middup retired from the South Yorkshire force in the late 1990s and is now chief executive of the South Yorkshire Police Credit Union, working in an office at the force’s headquarters. When contacted by the Yorkshire Post last week, he refused to comment.
The force announced on Friday it is considering referring unnamed individuals to the police watchdog. It declined to comment on Mr Middup’s position, but stressed the credit union is a separate organisation which is given “a small amount of office space” by the force.