Chapter 12: Behind the headlines: the origins, promotion and reproduction of unsubstantiated allegations

Promoting the 'counter-attack'

2.12.181 Within weeks Mr Judge published a two-page review of the Shersby meetings. Under the banner headline 'Hillsborough - the police who dispute Taylor's verdict' the sub-heading read 'the anger still felt by ordinary police men and women who consider the inquiry report has whitewashed the hooligan element among Liverpool followers'.[58]

2.12.182 The article reported that the Police Federation Vice-Chairman, Mr Coyles, and Mr Shersby had described the Sheffield meeting as 'distressing and disturbing'. Mr Coyles was quoted as stating: 'These men and women have been through a hellish experience and they are labouring under a terrible sense of injustice'.

2.12.183 According to Mr Judge, there was 'no doubt at all that their recovery is being hampered, not just by understandable, if unfounded, feelings of guilt and inadequacy, but their resentment of the Taylor version of events leading up to the kick off at 3pm that day'. In fact the Police Federation solicitor had written to LJ Taylor stating that 'his report had failed to take account of the true significance of events preceding the kick-off, and asking for the evidence of rank and file to be reassessed'. Mr Judge stated that LJ Taylor declined the request.

2.12.184 The article stated that the Taylor Interim Report 'suggests that the junior police officers exaggerated the level of drunkenness and general disorderliness ...'. Officers had responded by claiming that LJ Taylor 'was not told the full truth because of the way in which their statements were edited, or because they were not allowed to give evidence which they considered to be of the utmost importance'.

2.12.185 What followed in Mr Judge's report were synopses of the allegations about drunkenness, 'urinating in the streets' and fans without tickets. It continued: 'As to the precise actions of some of the fans that day, the allegations made by the officers are as specific as they are sickening, but it would be pointless and unnecessarily offensive to recount them here'.

2.12.186 According to Mr Judge, the 'picture that emerges from all these officers is quite different from Lord Taylor's portrayal of a "normal" big match crowd'. Rather, 'a large section of Liverpool fans ... had been drinking to excess, many of whom were ticketless, but all of whom were determined to get into the ground before kick off'.

2.12.187 Among the 'majority of Liverpool fans' who had 'behaved with total propriety' was a 'large contingent of drink sodden louts whose general behaviour had shocked experienced police officers'. LJ Taylor and his assessors had 'rejected this interpretation of events' yet 'if the police version is indeed, the unpalatable truth, the Hillsborough Inquiry's interim report has ignored a major cause for concern'.

2.12.188 The article's publication coincided with Liverpool returning to Hillsborough to play Sheffield Wednesday in a league match. On the evening of the match the Sheffield Star published the headline 'NEW "LOUTS" TAG FOR LIVERPOOL FANS'.[59]

2.12.189 Given the severity of SYP officers' allegations published in the Tony Judge article, the Star considered it 'essential that Lord Taylor responds to these charges as soon as possible'. The following day the national press repeated SYP officers' accusations. There had been 'mass drunkenness', with fans 'stoned paralytic' and 'drink sodden' while the real issues had been 'whitewashed' by the Taylor Inquiry.[60]

Superintendent Bettison visits Parliament

2.12.190 A memorandum disclosed to the Panel and written by recently promoted Superintendent Bettison to the SYP Chief Constable in early November noted that at the October Police Federation meeting Mr Shersby had invited him to repeat his video presentation and commentary to an invited group of MPs in London.[61] The Chief Constable had agreed and of the 40-plus MPs invited, 12 met with Supt Bettison on 8 November.

2.12.191 Supt Bettison reported that the '"public" response' to his 'presentation was devalued by posturing and rhetoric on all sides' but 'individually' five MPs had 'warmly welcomed the input'. He had faced 'invective' and the 'monotonous persistence' of a Labour MP had 'caused' a Conservative MP 'to throw down his papers and storm out of the Committee Room'.

2.12.192 He considered that the meeting had divided on party lines. Another Labour MP 'had already made up his mind where the blame for the disaster lies - with the South Yorkshire Police'. Conservative MPs took an opposing view and one 'confided that in his view Taylor had got it all wrong and, as far as he was concerned, he intended to put the record straight'.

2.12.193 Supt Bettison reminded the Chief Constable that the Parliamentary debate on LJ Taylor's Interim Report had been postponed. Two Conservative MPs 'expressed disappointment that the debate was not more imminent as they believed the passage of time will diminish the impact of their "promised" attack upon the findings of the Interim Report'.

2.12.194 Finally, Supt Bettison noted that Mr Shersby 'mentioned privately that he had taken the opportunity to discuss the Hillsborough disaster presentation with the Home Secretary who expressed interest in seeing the video tape'. Mr Shersby would meet with the Chief Constable at the Police Federation dinner when 'he intends to raise this matter with you'.

The Chief Constable responds to the Interim Report

2.12.195 Prior to the inquests, in February 1990 the allegation of fans' drunkenness was taken further by the SYP Chief Constable, Peter Wright. Under the Daily Mail  headline 'HILLSBOROUGH CHIEF ATTACKS JUDGE', CC Wright expressed 'difficulty' in understanding how drink was of no consequence. He stated 'there were other factors ... which he hoped would emerge at the coroner's inquest and give people a different view of what happened'.[62]

2.12.196 Following an 'exclusive interview' with 'tough-talking' CC Wright the Sheffield Star published a story headlined 'Coroner will reveal the true story'.[63] The accompanying strap line was 'Hillsborough Disaster Inquiry'. He noted the 'very strong feeling of resentment and injustice' among SYP officers, not least because 'nobody seems to have grasped the full picture'.

2.12.197 The Star reported that CC Wright 'thought some of Lord Justice Taylor's comments were "harsh" and "savage"' but he was confident that a 'different picture' would emerge at the inquests. There were 'a lot of comments' he 'would like to make on Lord Justice Taylor's report, but in the circumstances I can't'.

2.12.198 As discussed in Chapter 6, following complaints by bereaved families,[64] CC Wright's comments were investigated by WMP.[65] The issue was whether he had sought to impose undue pressure on the inquests. Complaints that had been made against CC Wright were found to be unsubstantiated and the decision was that no breach of discipline had occurred.

Irvine Patnick MP - a further intervention

2.12.199 In the same month that CC Wright made his criticisms of the Taylor Interim Report Mr Patnick wrote to Detective Superintendent Stanley Beechey who had a significant role in the WMP investigation.[66] According to the letter D/Supt Beechey had visited the House of Commons on Monday 19 February. At the meeting Mr Patnick had agreed to 'supply ... further particulars'. He enclosed copies of the record of the Police Federation meeting with Mr Shersby and his correspondence with White's News Agency.
2.12.200 Mr Patnick had already provided the WMP investigation with his personal account of events, previously sent to LJ Taylor. In his covering letter to D/Supt Beechey he stated: 'I do think that the South Yorkshire police's evidence was not fully taken into account at the Inquiry and as a common thread runs through the three reports [his own, the Police Federation meeting and the exchange with White's] I do so hope something can be done to rectify this'.

[58] Article by Tony Judge in The Police Magazine, SCC000002600001, pp214-215.
[59] Sheffield Star, 29 November 1989.
[60] The Guardian; The Times; Daily Express; Daily Mirror; The Sun, 30 November 1989.
[61] Memo on Presentation to Members of Parliament on the subject of the Hillsborough disaster, from Superintendent NG Bettison to Chief Constable, SYP, 9 November 1989, SYP000097010001, pp349-351.
[62] Daily Mail, 6 February 1990.
[63] Sheffield Star, 6 February 1990, SYP000123600001, p126.
[64] Letter from Mr Devonside to South Yorkshire Police Authority, 3 March 1990, SYP000123600001, p131; Letter from Mr and Mrs Hicks to South Yorkshire Police Authority, 7 February 1990, SYP000123600001, p129.
[65] Complaint against CC Peter Wright, Investigating Officer's Report, 23 April 1990, SYP000123600001, from p213.
[66] Letter from Irvine Patnick MP to Detective Superintendent S Beechey 'Hillsborough Stadium Disaster 15th April 1989', 21 February 1990, SYP000046060001, p2.