An appeal to fans who were present at the 1989 Hillsborough disaster could help bring criminal charges against those responsible, the UK police watchdog has said.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has put out the plea for witnesses as part of its investigation into police conduct in the aftermath of the tragedy, in which 96 Liverpool fans died.
Around 12,000 fans gave evidence to West Midlands Police as part of an original investigation 24 years ago. The force was appointed at the time to look into the way in which South Yorkshire Police handled the disaster.
No individuals or organisations were prosecuted as a result of that original inquiry, but an independent report published last September highlighted a cover-up by the police and emergency services, while exonerating fans of any blame.
And the IPCC investigation has unearthed discrepancies between the information presented by West Midlands Police and other statements which appear to have come from the same fans.
As a result, the IPCC wants to hear from those fans again to find out how those differences have occurred. IPCC deputy chair Deborah Glass -- speaking at a press conference in Warrington, Cheshire, where the investigation is based -- made a direct appeal for fans to come forward.
"Witness evidence will be vital in helping to bring charges against any person or organisation found to be responsible," she said. "It will be difficult for you to put your trust in the establishment after being let down so often in the past.
"It will be difficult for you to believe that after 24 years what you say can make a difference. But we need your help. And your help will make a difference."
The IPCC is inviting witnesses to get in touch, with details on its website.
Ms Glass added: "Families have told me they don't want the next generation to suffer the way they have -- they don't want their children to still be looking for answers. So we need to deliver the definitive account. We can't do that without your help.
"We know thousands of people gave eyewitness accounts to that investigation. We want to speak to those people about their experiences of dealing with West Midlands Police. We also know some of you have never been able to give your account. This is your opportunity."
The victims of the disaster were crushed to death on an over-crowded section of terracing at an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, played at Hillsborough, the home of Sheffield Wednesday.
Verdicts of accidental death were recorded at the original inquests into how the victims died. But following the publication of the independent report, those verdicts were quashed -- with new inquests to begin on March 31, 2014 -- while two separate investigations have been set up to examine the conduct of the police and emergency services.
The IPCC is examining police conduct in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster. A second investigation, focusing on possible criminal behaviour by any people or bodies with responsibility for fan safety at Hillsborough, is being headed up by former Durham chief constable Jon Stoddart.