Chapter 11: Review and alteration of statements

The consolidation of the review and alteration process

2.11.30 The process of allowing self-taken statements was expanded to include officers from other forces on duty at Hillsborough, including those from Merseyside Police. A letter from ACC Jones of the WMP investigation team to the Chief Constable of Merseyside, Sir Kenneth Oxford, stated that the invitation to 'submit written recollections is based on criteria that I have already adopted with South Yorkshire Police officers'.[20] 

2.11.31 There would be 'no interviews just simple requests to which the officer will be free to decide what he or she wishes to say'. ACC Jones noted that CC Wright had requested copies of the recollections, and Counsel for the Taylor Inquiry had 'no objections'.

2.11.32 On 23 May, SYP Assistant Chief Constable Stuart Anderson circulated two updates on the progress of inquiries into Hillsborough.[21] The first focused on the Taylor Inquiry. The second was in response to SYP officers' concerns 'about alterations being made to their original statements prior to submission to West Midlands Police'.

2.11.33 ACC Anderson described the process: Hammond Suddards 'initially requested that all officers directly concerned should, as soon as possible, prepare a note of their recollections, in the form of a statement, including matters of comment and impression, whether or not this amounted to evidence'.

2.11.34 He stated that SYP had been advised subsequently by WMP that 'it would be appreciated if South Yorkshire Police officers, who were at Hillsborough, could effectively prepare their own factual statements for submission to the Inquiry'. This was agreed.

2.11.35 The 'obvious way of proceeding' was to 'look at the statements which had been initially prepared at our request, on the basis that if matters of hearsay and comment could be removed, these would be suitable as the factual statements requested by the West Midlands Police'.

2.11.36 ACC Anderson wrote that 'statements for submission to our own Counsel were intended to have an entirely different purpose to those submitted to West Midlands Police'. Initial recollections had 'contained a mixture of fact, conjecture and opinion'. Thus 'editing them for use as a factual statement by the Inquiry' necessitated the removal by the solicitors of 'conjecture and opinion', leaving 'only matters of fact'.

2.11.37 As all statements 'submitted to the Inquiry may be taken into account in reaching conclusions, whether or not the officer making the statement is called as a witness', it 'follows that the statements must contain only direct factual observations, as opposed to matters of impression'. ACC Anderson's note concluded: 'No amended statement will be submitted to the West Midlands Police until it has been seen, approved and signed by the officer making it'.

2.11.38 An early version of ACC Anderson's note, drafted by Mr Metcalf of solicitors Hammond Suddards, sheds additional light on the likely focus of the vetting process. Statements could be taken into account by LJ Taylor in reaching his conclusions, 'whether or not the Officer making that statement is called as a witness'.[22]

2.11.39 This could mean that criticisms made of 'other Officers, senior or junior' might be accepted by the Inquiry without being challenged in cross-examination. To prevent this from occurring, Mr Metcalf proposed that any statements containing such criticism 'should not be allowed to stand'.

2.11.40 Documents relating to a breakdown in the vetting process demonstrate that WMP and the Treasury Solicitor's Department were aware that alterations were being made to police recollections prior to their submission as formal statements.[23] 

2.11.41 A letter from WMP's ACC Jones reminded David Brummell, an official at the Treasury Solicitor's Department, that 'because of the slowness of the supply of written recollections from South Yorkshire Police Officers, it was agreed that we would take from them their initial submissions which would be later superseded by their signed final versions, after they had been checked by their appropriate legal advice'.[24]

2.11.42 ACC Jones stated that he had 'personally made an undertaking with the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police that only the final versions would be the ones used in the Public Inquiry and this was after discussion with you'. At the Inquiry, however, an officer had been 'referred to his initial submission which contained opinion that had subsequently been removed from his final account'. Given the undertaking made by ACC Jones to SYP that only amended statements would be submitted, he 'would hope that this would not happen in the future'.

2.11.43 In reply, Mr Brummell wrote that the main difference between the 'initial and final versions' of SYP officers' statements was that 'expressions of opinion were (as I understand it, on the advice of [SYP Counsel] Mr Woodward) removed from the final version'.[25] 

2.11.44 Yet it was the view of Andrew Collins QC, Counsel to the Inquiry, that 'there is absolutely no reason for excluding such expressions of opinion' where they touched on 'matters relevant to the Public Inquiry'. The Inquiry had in fact 'no objection in principle to written statements containing such opinion being submitted'.

2.11.45 Despite this view, and following the undertaking given by ACC Jones to the SYP Chief Constable, it was agreed that it would be inappropriate to use an 'original statement for the purpose of the Inquiry when this has been superseded by a subsequent statement'. Regarding the specific case, the final version of the statement had not been received in time and the original had been used. Mr Brummell wrote that 'I trust that this problem will not recur in the future'.  

2.11.46 This exchange of letters demonstrates that the team supporting LJ Taylor was aware that SYP statements were reviewed and altered to remove 'expressions of opinion'. Mr Brummell's letter, however, indicated that the Inquiry considered there was 'absolutely no reason' for amendments. Yet the process was clearly not considered improper and no objections were raised.

[20] Letter from ACC Jones to CC Oxford, 11 May 1989, SYP000017680001, p4.
[21] 'The Hillsborough Inquiry - Update I', by ACC Anderson, 23 May 1989, SYP000097520001, pp11-14 and 'The Hillsborough Inquiry - Update II' by ACC Anderson, 23 May 1989, SYP000097540001, p8.
[22] Draft 'Hillsborough Update', SYP000160270001, p5.
[23] The section below related to the Stuart-Smith Scrutiny, however, suggests that WMP may not have been aware of the extent of the changes made.
[24] Letter from ACC Jones to David Brummell, Treasury Solicitor, 7 June 1989, SYP000096900001, p44.
[25] Letter from David Brummell to ACC Jones, 7 June 1989, SYP000096900001, p46.