Probes into Hillsborough tragedy now focus on 22 suspects

The 1989 Hillsborough disaster at Sheffield Wednesday's ground.
The 1989 Hillsborough disaster at Sheffield Wednesday's ground.
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Twenty-two people have now been identified as suspects by two ongoing investigations into the Hillsborough disaster, including some who were not police officers.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) revealed last night 13 retired or serving police officers were now being regarded as suspects as part of its inquiry into the aftermath of the 1989 tragedy in Sheffield, in which 96 Liverpool fans died.

It today said that Operation Resolve - the wider criminal investigation into the disaster - has also identified 13 people “who fall within the suspect category”. Six of these are retired police officers and seven worked for other, non-police organisations.

As the commission said four of those identified are being treated as suspects by both investigations, the total number of people being treated in this manner is now 22.

The IPCC confirmed that some of the retired or serving police officers being treated as suspects in its own inquiry are being interviewed on suspicion of manslaughter. Other suspected offences include perverting the course of justice and misconduct in a public office.

Deputy IPCC chairwoman Rachel Cerfontyne said in the watchdog’s latest update: “These are the first tranche of individuals we have deemed suspects. I do not expect them to be the last.”

The IPCC’s inquiry - the biggest it has ever undertaken - covers the actions of the police in the aftermath of the crush at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield in April 1989, which left 96 Liverpool fans dead.

The investigation was announced after the commission reviewed the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which undercovered a huge amount of new evidence about what happened during and after the tragedy.

It is examining allegations including those surrounding amendments to police statements, the actions of the police officers after the disaster and the role of West Midlands Police, which investigated what happened at the time.

Operation Resolve, under the command of assistant commissioner Jon Stoddart, the retired chief constable of Durham Police, is a new, wider-ranging criminal investigation into the disaster.

The IPCC said: “In the last two weeks, Operation Resolve has also commenced interviews with those individuals who have been identified as suspects and these interviews are taking place under criminal caution.

“To date, Operation Resolve has identified 13 individuals who fall within the suspect category; four of these are of the joint interviews with the IPCC. Six of these individuals are retired police officers, the remaining seven are from other organisations.”

New inquests into the 96 deaths are due to begin in Warrington on Monday and, in relation to this latest information, the IPCC said: “As this is a criminal investigation, we do not intend on disclosing publicly the names of the individuals who are regarded as suspects.

“We will, however, provide these names to the coroner should he request them and we have made this clear in our latest update to him.”

It was revealed that during the new inquests a 3D model of Hillsborough stadium will be used after being created by forensic imaging firm. Experts are also planning to “plot the movements of the 96 deceased and key emergency services decision-makers on a map of Hillsborough stadium.”

The IPCC added thay it was prioritising a probe to find out which senior police officers blamed supposedly drunken Liverpool fans for the crush in comments to Whites News Agency, in Sheffield, whose copy led to The Sun’s infamous ‘The Truth’ headline.

It said: “There is information within the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report to suggest that Whites News Agency received information from senior police officers about the behaviour of Liverpool fans which led to negative stories being published in the press.

“Following representation from legal representatives for the Hllsborough families, the Coroner has asked us to look into this matter.

“As a first step, the Coroner has asked us to ascertain from Whites News Agency the names of the officers who made the comments, and this work has now commenced. This line of enquiry forms part of the independent investigation into whether police officers were responsible for providing misleading information to the media and politicians.”

In its latest update, the IPCC said 1,700 witnesses had now come forward, including 400 who had never given an account before.

In relation to the controversial issue, highlighted by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, of police officers changing their statements about the tragedy, the commission said eight further suspected examples had been identified.

It said it had now identified a total of 251 accounts “which are suspected of being subject to amendments”.

Of these 251 officers, 24 are dead, 12 have been deemed unfit for interview at this time and 13 have refused to be interviewed, the IPCC said.

Ms Cerfontyne said the commission was continuing to look at allegations from some families of those who died that they had been subject to police surveillance.

“We have also been conducting further work around the allegations of surveillance we have received,” she said.

“We have received one specific allegation against a named police force - West Midlands Police - and we will be investigating this as part of our independent investigation into the aftermath of the disaster.”