Chapter 11: Review and alteration of statements

Development of the review and alteration process within South Yorkshire Police

2.11.4 The disclosed papers reveal that the process of review and alteration undertaken by SYP developed incrementally in response to requests for evidence from West Midlands Police (WMP). In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, on Sunday 16 April 1989, SYP began to shape the investigation that followed.

2.11.5 At this initial meeting senior SYP officers anticipated that police officers would be interviewed as witnesses (in fact this did not happen). A record of the meeting disclosed to the Panel stated: 'Every officer is going to have to be interviewed and a statement obtained and they are going to have to be interviewed by Detectives. Duty statements [written by officers] are out.'[2] 

2.11.6 In contrast to their professional training, officers were instructed not to record their experiences in pocket books and 'anyone who was involved yesterday take time to sit down and make some notes'. The briefing officer asked if officers had 'made a pocket book brief'. None had. The briefing officer continued: 'Do not start making pocket book entries. Yesterday was the most traumatic experience of my life and large chunks of it I cannot remember. I am sure it must be the same for many of you'.

2.11.7 The rationale for abandoning pocket book entries was not fully explained. However, in a meeting with Counsel some days later, Mr Metcalf stated that 'briefs, accounts etc will remain privilege'. Thus they would remain confidential to SYP and its legal advisers. In contrast, 'pocket notebook entries can be called for [by the Inquiry] and must be produced'.[3]

2.11.8 On Monday 17 April, a meeting was attended by Chief Constable Peter Wright, Chief Superintendents Brian Mole and David Duckenfield, and other senior officers.[4] The chronology of the disaster was discussed, along with the process of evidence gathering.

2.11.9 At this meeting the process of note-taking, suggested the previous day, was developed. Detective Superintendent Graham McKay suggested that '[s]o far as the enquiry team is concerned - set down your recollections over the next few days. We should be doing that with officers at the game'. The Chief Constable replied:'Very good point - all officers at the game to make records of their recollections'.

2.11.10 This was the first reference in the disclosed papers to gathering 'recollections', rather than 'notes'. While the planned use of the recollections was not set out in detail, the notes of the meeting recorded that the intention was to gather evidence to inform the forthcoming investigation by WMP. CC Wright stated: '[I]f we [SYP] leave it to the West Midlands to provide the evidence we might not get the broad scope of evidence flowing in'.[5] SYP should be 'the authors of most of the information fed in'.

2.11.11 By 20 April the planned use of 'recollections' became more formalised and was explained in a letter from solicitors Hammond Suddards to SYP Deputy Chief Constable Peter Hayes.[6] SYP would be expected to submit a 'formal proof of evidence' (a written submission) to the Taylor Inquiry.

2.11.12 This would include details of SYP's approach to policing Hillsborough and an account of events on the day of the disaster. To produce this 'proof of evidence', Hammond Suddards advised, 'it will be necessary to have statements from as many as possible of the Officers who were deployed at the ground on that day'.

2.11.13 Because the statements to be provided by SYP officers were 'not required for the purpose of any criminal investigation', there was 'no reason ... for them to be prepared on CJA [Criminal Justice Act] forms and indeed many can, in our view, be self-taken, in the sense of simply forming a record of the recollections of the Officer concerned'. The quality of the Chief Constable's submission to the Taylor Inquiry would, they advised, 'depend very much on the accuracy and quality of information provided by the Officers who were on duty'.

2.11.14 On 25 April, DCC Hayes informed WMP's Assistant Chief Constable Mervyn Jones of SYP's 'intention to obtain self-serving [i.e. self-taken] statements down to the rank of inspector and from all officers involved at the Leppings Lane end of the ground'.[7] DCC Hayes reported that ACC Jones 'saw no problem with that whatsoever, understands that we need to be getting on with this quickly, has no worries over this but thanked us for informing him of our intended action'.

2.11.15 The process of gathering 'recollections', also noted in the documents as 'self-prepared' or 'self-taken' statements, began on 26 April. Chief Superintendent Terry Wain, in charge of putting together SYP's 'proof of evidence', briefed officers at 9am.[8] Recollections would follow a template suggested by Hammond Suddards to produce a full account of the events on the day.

2.11.16 Regarding their collection from officers, 'that's where you fellows [those present at the meeting] come in'. Accounts would be obtained from 'as many as possible of the officers who were deployed in the vicinity of the Leppings Lane end of the ground that day' including 'not just those in the ground but those in the terraces at the turnstiles and outside the ground at Leppings Lane'.

2.11.17 The initial template was narrow, requesting details of officers' actions. It was soon revised to request information on 'the mood of fans', 'actions of stewards', 'any breakdown in radio transmissions' and whether officers had dealt with any of the deceased, as well as information as to their 'fears, feelings and observations'.[9]

2.11.18 C/Supt Wain stated that SYP's task was 'not to examine the policing arrangements on that day or to investigate actions or to establish blame in any way'. The 'job' was 'merely to collate what evidence South Yorkshire Police officer [sic] can provide to their Chief Constable in order that we can present a suitable case, on behalf of the force, to the subsequent inquiries'.[10] Consistent with legal advice given to SYP, officers' accounts were to 'be self-written on plain paper and will not be taken under CJA [Criminal Justice Act] rules'.

2.11.19 Later on 26 April a meeting of senior police officers, including DCC Hayes and C/Supt Mole, and their legal Counsel, Bill Woodward QC, was held at which the process was confirmed.[11] DCC Hayes informed Mr Woodward that the 'main players in this are doing their own accounts'. He asked, 'is that O.K. or would you rather someone take their statement'. Mr Woodward replied, 'It couldn't be better. They can put all the things in that they want and we will sort them out'. 

2.11.20 At this point, 'self-taken' statements were intended to inform a submission to the Taylor Inquiry, the contents of which would be controlled by SYP.[12] The statements were not intended to be shared but this changed within days as a consequence of requests from WMP.

2.11.21 On 29 April ACC Jones wrote to CC Wright, inviting a number of senior officers to 'submit evidence' to be 'pass[ed] on to Lord Justice Taylor's Inquiry'.[13] From the documents disclosed this was the first formal indication that WMP did not intend to interview SYP officers, but would be content to rely on written evidence.

2.11.22 According to a note written on the same day by Mr Metcalf of Hammond Suddards, the WMP request gave 'rise to some concern'.[14] Given the various roles assigned to WMP, Mr Metcalf initially had felt 'it might not be fair on the Officers' if self-taken statements were to be used at the inquests or in disciplinary proceedings, rather than being restricted to the Taylor Inquiry.

2.11.23 CC Wright, however, 'was satisfied that the West Midlands inquiry had a duty to report only to the Judge [i.e. LJ Taylor]'. He considered that 'there was no practical difficulty because there was not going to be anything in the self-taken statements which would not have been in CJA [Criminal Justice Act] statements if taken'.

2.11.24 Even so, it was agreed 'that it would be sensible for [Peter Metcalf] to see these statements before they went out to the West Midlands inquiry and to have some time to go through them with the men involved'. In doing so, Mr Metcalf 'made various suggestions for alterations'. This included the statement of Assistant Chief Constable Walter Jackson, who 'had not included any of the details of the planning of the match'.

2.11.25 On 7 May, ACC Jones wrote to CC Wright submitting a request from LJ Taylor for written recollections from more SYP officers.[15] Officers had been selected because of the SYP 'operation order which identifies those police officers who were likely to be at Leppings Lane end, both inside and outside the ground'. Counsel to the Inquiry was keen to obtain 'as many written submissions as possible' prior to the opening of the hearings on 15 May 1989.

2.11.26 ACC Jones wrote that the 'invitation to submit written recollections follows the same criteria as for the senior officers before, in that there will be no interviews just requests to which the officer will be free to decide what he or she wishes to do'.

2.11.27 On 9 May, C/Supt Denton consulted Mr Metcalf.[16] Mr Metcalf's note of the conversation recorded that WMP's request for statements concerned 120 officers of whom 100 had already provided an account to SYP. Outstanding accounts would be provided specifically for WMP, while 'for the others, there would need to be some scrutiny of the existing documents'. Many 'might be suitable to be handed on without further ado' but 'those which included comment or matters of speculation would probably have to be redone'. 

2.11.28 A letter from C/Supt Denton to Mr Metcalf recorded that the solicitor had 'agreed to vet' the requested recollections.[17] A note from C/Supt Wain to the SYP Incident Room confirmed the process: 'Nothing currently in our possession will be released to W/Mids until it has been vetted by our legal representatives'.[18]

2.11.29 Hundreds of officers' recollections were vetted, continuing into June. For SYP, the process was led by C/Supt Denton. Mr Metcalf undertook the key role on behalf of Hammond Suddards. The correspondence between SYP and Hammond Suddards concerning individual officers' recollections was substantial and conducted primarily by fax.[19]  

[2] SYP briefing given at noon on Sunday 16 April 1989, SYP000010040001, pp9-14.
[3] Meeting with Counsel, 26 April 1989, SYP000097210001, p2.
[4] Notes of SYP meeting, 17 April 1989, SYP000129200001, p37.
[5] Notes of SYP meeting, 17 April 1989, SYP000096360001, p50.
[6] Letter from Hammond Suddards to Deputy Chief Constable SYP, 20 April 1989, SYP000096850001, pp8-10.
[7] Note of conversation between DCC Hayes and ACC Jones, 25 April 1989, SYP000097140001, p3.
[8] 'Briefing for officers co-ordinating the collation of self-prepared statements from Police Officers on duty at the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough - 15 April 1989', 26 April 1989, SYP000097200001, p7.
[9] Police Officer's recollection with copy proforma, 28 April 1989, SYP000111860001, p16.
[10] 'Briefing for officers co-ordinating the collation of self-prepared statements from Police Officers on duty at the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough - 15 April 1989', 26 April 1989, SYP000097200001, p7.
[11] Minutes of Meeting with Counsel, 26 April 1989, SYP000097210001, p90.
[12] The report ultimately produced as a result of this process is 'SYP submission to Taylor', SYP000096740001.
[13] ACC Jones, WMP, to CC Wright, SYP, 29 April 1989, SYP000096900001, p11.
[14] Notes written by Peter Metcalf on conversations with SYP officers, 29 April 1989 to 2 May 1989, attached to letter to Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, 11 November 1997, HOM000037560001, pp4-7.
[15] Letter from ACC Jones to CC Wright, 7 May 1989, SYP000096900001, p39
[16] Attendance notes written by Peter Metcalf on discussions with SYP held on 9 May 1989, attached to letter to Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, 11 November 1997, HOM000037560001, p9.
[17] Letter from C/Supt Denton to Peter Metcalf, 9 May 1989, HOM000030840001, p29.
[18] Note from C/Supt Wain to the Incident Room, 10 May 1989, HOM000030840001, p30.
[19] For example, at HOM000030840001 from p34.