Summary of Chapter 11: Review and alteration of statements
Eight years after the disaster it was revealed publicly for the first time that statements made by SYP officers were initially handwritten as 'recollections', then subjected to a process of 'review and alteration' involving SYP solicitors and a team of SYP officers. In a number of cases police officers were asked to reconsider and amend their initial statements before they were forwarded to the Taylor Inquiry.
The documents disclosed to the Panel show that there was confusion concerning the status of the recollections, the rationale behind their review and alteration, the extent of the amendments and officers' acceptance of the process. While Lord Justice Stuart-Smith raised concerns about the appropriateness of the process, he considered there was no malpractice involved.
Other disclosed documents show that the practice of review and alteration extended to the South Yorkshire Ambulance Service.
126. From the documents disclosed to the Panel it is apparent that the decision to gather self-taken recollections from SYP officers, rather than following the standard procedure of contemporaneous pocket-book entries as the foundation for formal Criminal Justice Act statements, originated in the immediate aftermath of the disaster on 16 and 17 April. The initial justification was to provide SYP and the Force solicitors with candid, 'warts-and-all' accounts from officers that would be used to inform SYP's submission to the Taylor Inquiry.
127. What followed, however, was an extensive process of review and alteration of the recollections and their transition to multi-purpose statements. The disclosed documents reveal confusion about the purpose of recollections, initially taken for SYP 'internal' purposes, and their subsequent use by the WMP investigation. It was brought into stark relief in the confusion surrounding the status of statements presented to the Taylor Inquiry and the Inquiry's acceptance of the 'final versions' of the reviewed and altered statements.
128. It was the Taylor Inquiry's understanding that the 'final versions' of SYP statements differed from the initial 'recollections' only with regard to the removal of officers' opinions. The Inquiry team considered there to be 'absolutely no reason' why opinion should be removed, but did not consider the process improper and did not raise any objection.
129. The process of transition from self-taken recollections to formal Criminal Justice Act statements was presented as removing 'conjecture' and 'opinion' from the former, leaving only matters of 'fact' within the latter. Disclosed correspondence between SYP and the Force solicitors reveals that comments within officers' statements 'unhelpful to the Force's case' were altered, deleted or qualified (rewritten by the SYP team).
130. A significant number of SYP officers were uncomfortable with the methodology adopted in reviewing and altering their initial accounts and with the role of the SYP solicitors in this process. Senior SYP officers, including the Chief Constable, were aware of these concerns and the disclosed 'Hillsborough updates' demonstrate their attempts to assuage these concerns. An SYP inquiry liaison team was available to provide junior officers with 'necessary information and assistance' prior to giving evidence to the Taylor Inquiry.
131. Examination of officers' statements shows that officers were discouraged from making criticisms of senior officers' responses, their management and deficiencies in the SYP operational response: 'key' words and descriptions such as 'chaotic' were counselled against and, if included, were deleted.
132. Some 116 of the 164 statements identified for substantive amendment were amended to remove or alter comments unfavourable to SYP.
133. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith raised concerns about the derivation and operation of the process of review and alteration with SYP's Chief Superintendent Donald Denton and Peter Metcalf (Hammond Suddards, SYP solicitors).
134. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith also wrote directly to a number of officers to investigate the extent to which they were 'pressurised' into making alterations to original statements.
135. One officer stated he had accepted the changes only because he was suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress. He considered it an 'injustice for statements to have been "doctored" to suit the management of South Yorkshire Police'. Another officer had accepted the process, but had not realised how much of his statement had been removed.
136. Detective Chief Superintendent Nick Foster of the WMP investigation team informed the Stuart-Smith Scrutiny that in five out of a sample of six amended statements material should not have been removed. In one case he 'question[ed] the objectivity ... of the person vetting'. He considered that the investigation had not been affected by the deletions made.
137. The disclosed documents demonstrate that the role played by the Force solicitors was more significant and directive than was understood by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith.
138. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith accepted that SYP edited those statements that were 'unhelpful to the police case' but 'at worst this was an error of judgement' as there were only a few examples 'where matters of fact were excluded'. The process reflected an 'understandable desire' to protect the interests of a Force on the 'defensive'. Yet Lord Justice Stuart-Smith found no 'irregularity or malpractice'. There had been no negative consequences for the Taylor Inquiry, the criminal investigations, the disciplinary proceedings or the coronial inquiry.
139. The documents disclosed to the Panel show that the review and alteration of statements extended to the South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service (SYMAS) and its solicitors. While there is variation in the amendments, in a number of cases they deflected criticisms and emphasised the efficiency of the SYMAS response.