CLAIMS that the grieving father of a teenage Hillsborough victim were physically assaulted by a police officer during a meeting with South Yorkshire’s discredited chief constable Peter Wright are to be passed to the Home Secretary.
Long-serving magistrate Barry Devonside, whose beloved son Christopher had only just celebrated his 18th birthday when he was crushed to death at Hillsborough, hopes Theresa May will take steps to change the culture of the controversial force following a succession of scandals to engulf the force.
He alleges that he was grabbed from behind and pinned against a wall when invited to meet the late Mr Wright at a South Yorkshire Police Authority meeting in Barnsley - and that the police chief then “sneered” at him before walking off.
Mr Devonside was among the Hillsborough relatives who met Mrs May in Warrington last week when she personally updated them on the inquiries still underway after an inquest ruled that 96 Liverpool fans were unlawfully killed at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final.
Though she stressed that any criminal charges are a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service, the Cabinet minister wants to hear of the family’s first-hand accounts after telling the Police Federation last month: “Remember Hillsborough. Let it be a touchstone for everything you do.”
She is also under growing pressure to order a fresh inquiry into South Yorkshire Police’s handling of the so-called Battle of Orgreave during the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike after The Yorkshire Post revealed that the same officers investigated this flashpoint - one which saw the prosecution of dozens of miners collapse in the courts because of unreliable police evidence - and Britain’s worst ever sporting disaster five years later.
Mr Devonside, who was worked for the Prudential insurance company, says he did not make an assault allegation at the time because he believed it would have been a “waste of time” as the Hillsborough families were already being denied the truth about the disaster.
Desperate for information, he attended all 80 days of the original Sheffield inquest which recorded verdicts of accidental death - subsequently quashed - and travelled to the Barnsley Town Hall meeting because he expected elected members of the Police Authority to question Mr Wright about the force’s conduct.
Though he can’t remember the precise date of the meeting, he believes it was in late 1989, or 1990, when the scale of the police cover-up was becoming clear. “It was a normal meeting and Peter Wright was spewing all kinds of lies about ticketless, drunken Liverpool fans,” Mr Devonside, 69, told The Yorkshire Post in an exclusive interview.
“I was sat behind these two Labour councillors who didn’t ask a single question. The meeting broke and I was ready to go home.
“A police officer came up and said ‘Are you Mr Devonside?’ I nodded. I said to him ‘What does he want to speak to me for?’ He said ‘Will you follow me?’”
He says he was then escorted down two flights of stairs while accompanied by Sheila Coleman, a longstanding advocate for the Hillsborough families. “There were 16 or 17 officers standing there and waiting,” said Mr Devonside, a magistrate for the past 18 years.
“I said to myself ‘Do I shake hands with this b*****?’. I told myself that I should do because I was the one who had not dropped my standards. I stuck out my hand and an officer out of nowhere pinned me against the wall by the throat with his other arm against my chest. Peter Wright just sneered at me and I said ‘you b******’.”
He says he was then led away by an officer and believes the police were trying to intimidate him. “I am going to write to the Home Secretary and explain exactly how we were treated. This is what we were up against,” he added. “I am a serving JP, and I want to be objective and free from bias, but the Home Secretary needs to know what we went through.”
Mr Devonside’s ordeal is among a raft of a new revelations in a new book, Hillsborough Voices, which chronicles the human stories of 18 people central to the fight for justice. He headed the original Hillsborough campaign group, later being replaced by Trevor Hicks who lives in North Yorkshire and lost two daughters in the tragedy.
Mr Wright stepped down as Chief Constable in 1990. He died in 2011.
South Yorkshire Police did not respond to requests for a comment. However Dr Alan Billings, the force’s crime commissioner, said he would read the book. He added: “I am in close touch with Theresa May and the Home Office over where we go next.”