Police watchdog to be given new powers for Hillsborough inquiry

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SERVING officers could be forced to attend interviews under new powers granted to the police watchdog to allow it to investigate the full scale of the Hillsborough cover-up by the South Yorkshire force.

Home Secretary Theresa May yesterday said the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) will be allowed to compel serving officers to attend interviews and revisit allegations previously investigated by its predecessor, the Police Complaints Authority, as part of new, fast-tracked legislation.

The findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, published in September, absolved Liverpool fans of all blame in the 1989 tragedy and laid bare a shocking cover-up and smear campaign led by South Yorkshire Police.

It emerged this month the investigation will be the largest ever into the British police, with the conduct of at least 2,400 officers coming under scrutiny.

Fears have been raised that the IPCC – which is facing a 21 per cent cut to its budget as part of the Government’s austerity drive – could lack the necessary resources available to mount such a large-scale inquiry.

“Last month I made a commitment to ensure that the IPCC has the power and resources it needs to carry out its investigations into the Hillsborough disaster,” Mrs May said in a statement.

“This commitment was made in the knowledge that the families of the victims and survivors have waited 23 years for the truth about the disaster to be revealed.

“This fast-track legislation will enable the IPCC to conduct a thorough, transparent and exhaustive investigation into the Hillsborough disaster.”

Meanwhile, Mrs May revealed yesterday the IPCC says it will be in a position to call witnesses in early 2013, by which time it is hoped the new legislation will have come into force.

Alongside its report, the Hillsborough Independent Panel – chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool – published 450,000 pages of documentation that it had gathered to compile its report.

But IPCC chief executive Jane Furniss says there is still more evidence to be compiled as her watchdog considers whether police officers were guilty of misconduct or criminal offences

Among the officers being investigated is former West Yorkshire Chief Constable Sir Norman Bettison, who resigned last month after weeks of pressure over his own role in the police response to Hillsborough. He refutes allegations made against him.