Hillsborough investigators pass 23 cases to CPS for possible charges
Possible charges include gross negligence manslaughter and perverting the course of justice
A file picture of tributes placed at the Shankly Gates next to the Hillsborough Memorial at Liverpool’s Anfield Stadium. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA Wire
Investigators have passed files on 23 people and organisations suspected of involvement in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster and its aftermath to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to decide whether charges should be brought.
Fifteen of the 23 suspects have been investigated in relation to the disaster itself, in which 96 people were killed in a lethal crush at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough ground.
Operation Resolve, the police investigation into the cause of the deaths, said the offences it has sent to the CPS include gross negligence manslaughter, perverting the course of justice, misconduct in public office and offences for breaches of the Safety of Sports Ground Act 1975 and health and safety laws.
Operation Resolve said the 15 suspects include individuals and organisations, but did not identify them.
Files on the other eight suspects have been referred by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which has since 2012 been investigating South Yorkshire police officers for allegedly covering up the force’s own culpability for the disaster, and mounting a false case that Liverpool supporters were to blame.
The potential offences for which the IPCC has sent files to the CPS, relating to these eight suspects, include perverting the course of justice, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and misconduct in public office.
A further 170 allegations of police misconduct made by people who were at Hillsborough supporting Liverpool, and by family members of the 96 who died, are still under investigation, the IPCC said. Of those alleged misconduct offences, 38 are being investigated by Operation Resolve, because they relate to police officers’ behaviour on the day of the disaster.
Trevor Hicks, the president of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, whose two teenage daughters, Sarah and Vicki, were killed at the match, said he believed diligent investigative work had been done, but that he and some families were disappointed at the number of cases.
“My view is that it is better to go forward with 23 cases which are solid than more which might be lost, particularly as some of these potential charges are very serious,” he said. “But I am surprised the numbers is as small as that given the number of people involved on the day and in the years since.”
The IPCC said that a total of 289 statements made by South Yorkshire police officers were subsequently amended, and that the changes, including evidence of whether pressure was put on officers to amend their accounts, had been a central part of its investigation. The West Midlands police, which was brought in to investigate immediately after the disaster, has also been investigated for alleged malpractice and collusion with South Yorkshire police.
The IPCC also investigated the police briefings and information given to the media and politicians after the disaster, including lurid and false allegations about supporters, which were published in the Sun four days later. The decision to take blood samples from the bodies of those who died, to be tested for alcohol, was another focus of the investigation.
Further investigations were carried out into the alleged influence of freemasons in South Yorkshire police, and whether Sir Norman Bettison, a South Yorkshire police officer at the time of the disaster, had been dishonest about his involvement in Hillsborough when he subsequently applied for the role of chief constable at Merseyside police in 1998. Bettison has always denied any wrongdoing, and said it was not relevant to state his Hillsborough experience on the application form.
The CPS will now assess the files to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to bring charges. Robert Beckley, the officer in overall command of Operation Resolve, which also provided evidence for the new inquests into the disaster, said: “Our task has been to investigate whether any individual or organisation is criminally culpable for their role either in the planning and preparation for the match, or on the day of the game itself. The extensive file we have submitted, which contains over 35 million words, reflects four years of intense work from my team.”
The IPCC’s deputy chair, Rachel Cerfontyne, said the Hillsborough investigations had been the largest ever into alleged police wrongdoing in Britain.
“Conducting an inquiry of this scale and complexity, while supporting the longest running inquests in British legal history, has been a significant undertaking for the IPCC,” she said. “Our criminal investigation has now substantially concluded.”