A NUMBER of retired senior South Yorkshire Police officers told the inquest jury they still believed that Liverpool fans played a part in the causes of the Hillsborough disaster.
It was in stark contrast to the fulsome apologies issued by the force both after the 2012 Hillsborough Independent Panel report and after the conclusions of the fresh inquests in Warrington on Tuesday.
This morning, a group of retired South Yorkshire officers were told they “did a good job” in the wake of the Hillsborough inquests - which yesterday prompted the suspension of chief constable David Crompton.
Ultimately, the jury of six women and three men exonerated the fans and ruled their behaviour did not cause or contribute to the dangerous situation that developed at the Leppings Lane turnstiles at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final.
Among retired officers who gave evidence were:
• Gordon Sykes, an inspector who policed the area of the turnstiles.
Asked about the causes and explanations for control being lost and his view on the contribution made by the fans, he replied: “A large contribution by the fans, due to the lateness they arrived, the intoxication and they just totally overwhelmed us.”
He said he stood by his 1989 statement that fans converged on the ground in vast numbers and “many of these were carrying alcohol and many were drunk” and “appeared to have one purpose” of getting into the stadium.
He also stood by his comments to the Taylor Inquiry in June 1989 that “if they had not been drunk and acted on police advice, they would not have pushed forward”.
Mr Sykes did concede that he saw some “very brave behaviour” on the part of fans and equated it to the police performance on the day.
He said: “Yes the fans and police, the fans who were there at that time in the rescue operation were equally as professional and outstanding as the police that were there.”
Paul Greaney QC, representing the Police Federation, asked him: “Have we correctly understood that is your view, that the behaviour of some fans made a contribution to the disaster?
Mr Sykes replied: “Yes. I hold that belief. I have always held it, and I still do.”
• Former Detective Superintendent Graham McKay, who had overall responsibility for crime and CID operations on April 15 1989.
He told the inquests: “I don’t believe that people were acting in concert with one another, but they all had the shared objective to get into the ground by hook or by crook.
“When Gate C opened, floods of people started going in, but many of them had taken drink to such an extent that their standards of normal behaviour were lowered, they were loud, they were aggressive and utterly selfish.”
Mark George QC, representing families of the Hillsborough victims, asked: “Is it your opinion that when the mood of a crowd of people deteriorates in the way that you have described, that that itself is evidence of drunkenness?”
Mr McKay said. “No. No not at all. Can I say at this stage, there seems to be a perception in some areas that Liverpool sent 5,000 Sunday School teachers across to Leppings Lane on that day. That isn’t the case.
“The other side of the coin is that there’s a perception amongst some people that anyone who’s had a drink and goes to a football match is going to be unruly and behave outrageously. That isn’t the case either.
“But it was the case that a substantial number of people who arrived late at that gate had taken drink to such an extent that their standards of behaviour became unacceptable ... loud, brash, aggressive. Not aggressive, forceful.”
Mr McKay said he blamed some of the fans and did not accept the situation arose at turnstiles because the police lost control.
His “good friend” Superintendent Roger Marshall, who was in overall command at the turnstiles, said the problems were complicated by a substantial minority of fans who had drunk too much, he said, and were determined to get into the ground “come what may”.
Mr Marshall said: “Let’s be frank, control was taken from us. It was lost, but it was taken from us. A lot of things went wrong.”
He denied offloading blame onto supporters as he added: “If you want my honest opinion, I think that some of the fans, not all, have a responsibility for what occurred and for the situation that arose under my command outside.”
• Sergeant Paul Burman, who policed the west stand of the Leppings Lane end.
Mr Burman, who retired in 2001, told the inquests that he stood by his previous accounts of the tragedy.
He recalled a smell of alcohol and said it was “very apparent” there were “a lot of people who had a lot to drink” both in the stand and on the terrace.
He added that he saw fans surging forward to fight, abuse, insult and spit on officers trying to help the injured.
In his 1989 statement, he said: “In general terms, the behaviour of the Liverpool fans when events of the tragedy initially became apparent was nothing less than appalling and in my 19 and a half years of police service the worse that I have ever experienced.”
Raj Menon QC, on behalf of the families, said: “It is a grotesque exaggeration, isn’t it Mr Burman, a total mischaracterisation of the behaviour of Liverpool fans at that match on the day, isn’t it?”
The witness replied: “Sir I have to tell you this, I’ve worked matches before and this might sound controversial, but the Liverpool fans are the worst I’ve ever had to police.”
Mr Burman, in his 1989 statement, went on to say: “This tragedy was caused by the unruly and idiotic behaviour of the Liverpool fans themselves.”
Mr Menon asked: “You stand by that, do you?
Mr Burman replied: “Yes.”
Another comment in the sergeant’s statement after the disaster was: “I was disgusted at comments made late on Saturday night television by the Liverpool chairman when he stated that hooliganism by the Liverpool fans was not so and played no part in the tragedy.
“He ought to have been with me in the west stand - he would have had a very different viewpoint then - unless of course he is an hypocrite.”
Mr Menon asked: “You stand by that, do you?
Mr Burman replied: “Yes, I do.”
Another barrister for the families, Stephen Simblet, suggested to him: “Essentially what you did Mr Burman is you sought to justify the serious failures of the police in dealing with the situation by trying to transfer the blame onto the fans, didn’t you?”
Mr Burman said: “I’m not having that. That’s incorrect. I’m not having that at all.”