Chapter 11: Review and alteration of statements

The South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service

2.11.135 Review and alteration of statements was not confined to SYP. A similar process was also adopted by the South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service (SYMAS) and South Yorkshire Fire Service prior to the Taylor Inquiry.

2.11.136 According to files from the WMP investigation, statements from SYMAS and Fire Service staff 'were not taken by West Midlands Police Officers' but 'were made to solicitors for the respective services who in turn provided them to the West Midlands Police for use at the Judicial Inquiry by Lord Justice Taylor'.[93] Subsequently some ambulance staff were interviewed by WMP to supplement their statements.

2.11.137 No documents were provided to the Panel regarding the internal processes adopted within the Fire Service, but Yorkshire Ambulance Service (as it now is) provided relevant documents. Statements were reviewed and stylistic changes - corrections to grammatical or spelling errors - were made. Amended statements were signed by their authors. As with SYP, however, some amendments were substantial. These included the insertion or deletion of sentences or paragraphs.

2.11.138 Statements taken by SYMAS solicitors from 101 ambulance personnel were submitted to WMP. Of these, 54 staff members' formal statements were pre-dated by earlier handwritten versions. There is no record of an earlier version of the remaining 47 statements. The early statements were taken within days of the disaster and the final, formal versions were produced two weeks later.

2.11.139 There are no records describing the SYMAS statement-taking process, but the quote above from the WMP investigation suggests that statements were produced after discussion with legal advisers and senior SYMAS staff.

2.11.140 Separately, a letter from an anonymous complainant noted that 'ambulance personnel are being interviewed individually by a panel of senior officers'.[94] The  complaint alleged that ambulance staff were being 'intimidated' and were 'withholding information in case of reprisals'. The documents contain no other evidence of staff intimidation.

2.11.141 Analysis of the statements indicates that internal discussions between ambulance personnel, senior SYMAS staff and solicitors occurred after initial handwritten statements had been produced, and it is possible that the initial statements were also the product of interviews.

2.11.142 Details added to initial statements, and the regularity with which particular issues were highlighted, are recurrent features within final statements. It is possible that final statements were written and agreed in response to questioning or prompting.

2.11.143 The principal differences between initial handwritten statements and subsequent final versions were the addition of significant commentary and points of clarification, as well as grammatical corrections and the addition of timings. Further details were added in all 54 statements where handwritten original versions had been provided.

2.11.144 In addition to expanding their original statements, ambulance personnel appear to have responded to questions or prompts relating to their role and training history, as well as their knowledge of the SYMAS major incident plan and Hillsborough emergency plan.

2.11.145 In 17 cases, the statements contain amendments to material which might have been perceived as negative towards SYMAS. For example:

We did not see any Ambulance Officers at the Royal Hallamshire and Ambulances were stopping at the normal casualty entrance, preventing further Ambulances getting through to the Major Incident Entrance.[95] 

2.11.146 As with the SYP amendments, in these 17 cases direct or implied criticisms of the SYMAS organisational response or decisions were downplayed or deleted. For example, the following comment relating to organisation of ambulances at the stadium was made in the officer's handwritten statement, yet it was absent from the final version:

From my position at the rear of all the parked vehicles [waiting to enter Hillsborough] it appeared that there was some problem at the front of the line as no vehicles were moving off.[96]

2.11.147 In the same statement, a comment that 'a [leading ambulance man] told me there were more casualties and it was chaotic' was removed and the description of an ambulance as 'abandoned' was amended to read 'parked'.

2.11.148 In another example, the following comment made in the handwritten version was deleted:

On arrival at the Northern General Hospital Casualty Department there was a lot of confusion and it took several minutes to locate trollies [sic] for the patients. We quickly arrived back at the Leppings Lane end of the Ground which seemed to be blocked by Fire Tenders and a large crowd.[97] 

2.11.149 Another officer's comments about poor radio communications - '[w]e could only contact control with extreme difficulty ... equipment was inadequate' - was excluded from his final statement.[98]

2.11.150 In eight cases critical material was added to the initial versions. One statement, for example, contained the following additional comment: 'there was no [ambulance] officer in charge'.[99] 

2.11.151 Another included an observation on communications: 'I had been given no information whatsoever and [name redacted] had not told me which part of the ground to go to. I set the radio automatically onto ERC [emergency response] channel because I regarded it as a major incident, even though this had not actually been specified'.[100]

2.11.152 A comment was added to an ambulance officer's statement about 'initial difficulties' with radio communications, 'presumably because of the number of crews transmitting at the same time'.[101] Another officer added that the scene was 'chaos', with 'casualties lying all over the place'.[102] 

2.11.153 Some common alterations concerned the strength of presumption of death amongst those who appeared to be beyond help during the initial process of evacuation from the pens. A comment from one officer was amended from 'I presume he was dead' to 'I believe he was already dead'.[103] There had been suggestions that not all may have been dead at this early stage.

2.11.154 Other insertions were critical of the intervention, or non-intervention, of SYP's response: 'I was staggered at the number of fatalities. Most of the bodies that I saw had clearly been dead for some time and I could not understand why their condition had not been noticed earlier'.[104] 

2.11.155 A statement made by an ambulance officer concerning his ignorance of the Hillsborough emergency plan had the following comment deleted: 'At this stage I did not realise that the casualty clearing point was in the gym. I was not aware of any Hillsborough plan prior to this emergency'.[105] 

2.11.156 Comments were inserted into some statements regarding checking victims for potential signs of life. An officer's statement had the following sentence inserted: 'Although some of the bodies had coats pulled over their heads we checked every single body for signs of life'.[106]

Further changes to SYMAS statements

2.11.157 Although the precise process of review and alteration remains unclear from the documents, it appears that further alterations were made to some statements that had already been amended. The Panel was unable to determine from the disclosed documents who had suggested these changes.

2.11.158 While records are incomplete, unamended 'final' statements were collected by the WMP investigation team, dated early May 1989.[107] Amended versions, dated early June, were located within the Taylor Inquiry papers at the Home Office.[108]

2.11.159 Of the SYMAS statements disclosed to the Panel, 49 had alterations to 'final' statements, 33 of which related solely to correction or clarification. The remaining 16 had more substantial deletions or details added, five of which were more significant.[109] The following section was removed from one statement:

The access for the ambulances onto the pitch was pitifully inadequate. The access was narrow and the angle of approach difficult with obstructions on either side which, compounded by the number of fans in the area, made access to the pitch extremely difficult and hazardous. The ambulances needed to use their sirens and two tone horns simply to get from the arrival area onto the pitch and it was not a safe area for fans or the ambulances ... [On arrival back at the ground in the evening] ... most of the equipment of the Ambulance service had been exhausted.[110]

2.11.160 In another statement, deletion of six separate references to an ambulance crew member being unaware of the location of the 'casualty clearing point' for Hillsborough was advised. These included:

At this stage I did not realise that the casualty clearing point was in the gym. I was not aware of any Hillsborough plan prior to the emergency ... 

I asked [Control] where the casualty clearing point was. There was a pause and then I was told to go to the Leppings Lane end. Ray Clarke was at control. I think he was telling me where to go and I do not think he knew where the casualty clearing point was ...

... and asked [name redacted] where the casualty clearing point was as I thought Control had told us it was in Leppings Lane. He said that he did not know but that the vehicles in front were being loaded and would be moving shortly.[111]

2.11.161 The rationale underpinning the process adopted for making the initial alterations, the further amendments to the 'final' statements, and whether LJ Taylor and others were aware of the process, was not evident from the disclosed documents.

[93] WMP Report to the Director of Public Prosecutions: Part VI, SYP000038830001, p4.
[94] Anonymous letter, YAS000002400001, p19.
[95] Typed version of original statement, YAS000000700001. Final version of statement, YAS000001350001.
[96] Typed version of original statement, YAS000001000001. Final version of statement, YAS000001810001.
[97] Typed version of original statement, YAS000000790001. Final version of statement, YAS000001480001.
[98] Typed version of original statement, YAS000000890001. Final version of statement, YAS000001620001.
[99] Typed version of original statement, YAS000000670001. Final version of statement, YAS000001290001.
[100] Typed version of original statement, YAS000000950001. Final version of statement, YAS000001730001.
[101] Typed version of original statement, YAS000001010001. Final version of statement, YAS000001820001.
[102] Typed version of original statement, YAS000000980001. Final version of statement, YAS000001790001.
[103] Preliminary Statement of [name redacted], 7 May 1989, YAS000001480001, p3.
[104] Preliminary Statement of [name redacted], 7 May 1989, YAS000001480001, p5.
[105] Preliminary Statement of [name redacted], 5 May 1989,YAS000001540001, p4.
[106] Preliminary Statement of [name redacted], 5 May 1989, YAS000001570001, p4.
[107] For example, SYP000065630001. Statements included within West Midlands Police's report to the Director of Public Prosecutions, produced in March 1990, are also the unamended versions.
[108] For example, HOM000000860001.
[109] Two are quoted below. The others are at references YAS000001810001, YAS000001940001 and YAS000001900001.These include deletions of descriptions of 'chaos' and radio problems.
[110] Ambulance Service version with amendments proposed, YAS000001910001. Taylor Inquiry version with amendments made, HOM000001740001. West Midlands Police version with amendments not made, SYP000014020001.
[111] Ambulance Service version with amendments proposed, YAS000001540001. Taylor Inquiry version with amendments made, HOM000000860001. West Midlands Police version with amendments not made, SYP000065630001.