‘Compel Hillsborough officers to testify’

THIRTEEN former police officers who are refusing to give evidence about the Hillsborough disaster should be “compelled” to do so, a senior MP has said as the force faced a barrage of criticism in the House of Commons.

The 1989 Hillsborough disaster

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said every former officer should be “made to co-operate” with the ongoing inquiries into the 1989 stadium disaster, in which 96 football fans were crushed to death following a raft of police failures.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) revealed last month that 13 unnamed former officers – believed to be from the South Yorkshire force – have refused to comply with their requests for an interview as their Hillsborough inquiry continues. Two more have failed to respond at all.

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“We need compulsion,” Mr Vaz said yesterday. “They need to be made to co-operate so that we get to the truth.”

The 1989 Hillsborough disaster

MPs expressed their “horror” at revelations that South Yorkshire Police have only recently surrendered more than 2,500 police notebooks which may have relevance to the dual criminal and IPCC inquiries into the disaster.

Home Secretary Theresa May admitted she was “disappointed” the notebooks – and other documents which have recently come to light – were not handed to the Hillsborough Independent Panel when it began its initial inquiry in 2009. South Yorkshire Police insisted last night it never prevented the panel from accessing any documents, and that the “majority” of the 2,500 notebooks “will have little or no relevance” to the Hillsborough Disaster.

But the force was repeatedly criticised by furious MPs in an impassioned debate following Ms May’s latest update on the inquiries’ progress yesterday.

David Blunkett, the MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough and a former Home Secretary, said: “The horror of finding that there is still information, in terms of these handbooks that have just been discovered, will have shocked all of us once again.”

Ms May admitted she did not know why the notebooks were not handed over at an earlier stage, adding she felt it “extremely unfortunate that, at various stages, South Yorkshire Police did not provide all the evidence”.

In the Lords, Home Office Minister Lord Taylor of Holbeach spoke of his shock at learning of the notebooks’ existence.

“I was astounded, as I think all noble Lords would have been, at the discovery of these pocket books,” the Minister said. “I have no idea whether there are any other pocket books that have not yet been discovered.”

Ms May also came under pressure to reveal whether the families of those who died were spied upon by police or security services in the aftermath of the disaster, in the way the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence’s family appear to have been.

“First, families lost loved ones; then they were criminalised, and now it seems that they may even have been shadowed like terrorists,” said Liverpool MP Steve Rotheram.

But the Home Secretary said it was not Government policy to reveal surveillance targets, adding that the IPCC is “aware” of the allegations and will investigate them if necessary. “We do not identify those who may or may not have been subject to interception in any form,” Ms May said.

In a statement, South Yorkshire Police defended its failure to hand over all police notebooks to the panel several years ago.

“At all times we made it clear that the Hillsborough Independent Panel could have access to any documents they requested,” a spokesman said. “We adhered to this offer throughout.”