Senior police officers on duty when 96 Liverpool fans died in the Hillsborough disaster could face criminal charges, according to a senior investigator.
Jon Stoddart has indicated that senior officers -- in addition to the South Yorkshire Police force as a whole, Sheffield Wednesday FC, Sheffield City Council and the Football Association -- are being investigated for manslaughter.
The disaster victims were crushed to death on an over-crowded section of terracing at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough, home of Sheffield Wednesday, on April 15, 1989.
An independent report, published on September 12 last year, exonerated fans of any blame for the tragedy, and laid bare the extent to which the police and emergency services attempted to cover up their own culpability.
Stoddard, the former chief constable of Durham Police, is leading an investigation focusing on possible criminal behaviour by any people or bodies with responsibility for fan safety at Hillsborough.
That is running alongside a separate investigation being run by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the UK police watchdog, into the role played by police on the day of the tragedy and the subsequent cover-up.
Asked if South Yorkshire police, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield city council and the FA were being investigated for possible criminal culpability, Stoddart told the Guardian: “Yes, absolutely.”
He added: “We are exploring all liability, both public and individual.
“We are looking at unlawful killing; who is responsible for the deaths. Those 96 people went to Hillsborough to watch a football match and didn’t return home. We want to know what happened, how it happened and why, and who is responsible.
“Obviously we are looking at the command and control [of the 54,000 crowd at Hillsborough by South Yorkshire Police] on April 15.
“But clearly it is about more than just command and control and what happened with the emergency services’ response.
“It is about the safety of the stadium, certification, the planning and preparation, the engineering and design that went into the Leppings Lane end [where the 96 people died].”
Stoddart’s investigation, codenamed Operation Resolve and given a budget by the Government of £9.6 million, has to apply UK law as it was in 1989, at the time of the tragedy.
This means any organisations brought to court would face charges of gross negligence manslaughter, rather than corporate manslaughter, which did not become law until 2008.
Stoddart’s team are investigating the role of Sheffield Wednesday, who offered to host the 1989 semi-final despite the fact that Hillsborough’s safety certificate was 10 years out of date.
Sheffield City Council, which was legally responsible for licensing the stadium as safe, and the FA, which approved the use of the stadium for the match despite previous crushes at semi-finals there in 1981, 1987 and 1988 -- in which no one was killed -- are also being investigated for potential manslaughter charges.
South Yorkshire Police told the Guardian in a statement: “We continue to fully co-operate with all inquiries into the Hillsborough tragedy and will not be making any further comment so as not to compromise the investigations.”
Solicitors representing the former South Yorkshire police chief superintendent David Duckenfield, who was in command at Hillsborough, and superintendents Roger Marshall and Roger Greenwood, said it would be inappropriate to comment given the ongoing inquiries. Sheffield city council and the FA said they were co-operating with the Stoddart inquiry. Sheffield Wednesday declined to comment.
Stoddart’s comments have come as the IPCC revealed new evidence suggesting that fan statements given in evidence following the tragedy may have been altered by West Midlands Police, who carried out an initial investigation into the South Yorkshire force’s conduct in 1989.
The IPCC also said it had uncovered evidence that 238 police statements had been altered, 74 more than previously known about.
No prosecutions of any individual or organisation resulted from the original West Midlands investigation.