Chapter 6: Parallel investigations

Initial investigations

2.6.8 Soon after 5.00pm on 15 April 1989 the SYP Chief Constable, Peter Wright, spoke by telephone with the Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd. There is no available record of the conversation. As a consequence, however, Sir Richard Barratt, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary, spoke with CC Wright the following morning ahead of a visit to Sheffield by the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, accompanied by Mr Hurd.[1]

2.6.9 Sir Richard noted that CC Wright 'believed that because (a) of the serious criticisms which were being made of police competence and (b) he was anxious that there should be seen to be an independent and objective professional scrutiny of the policing arrangements and actions, it was desirable for inquiries to be undertaken by another force'. This was usual practice.

2.6.10 It was 'mutually agreed' that, on behalf of CC Wright, Sir Richard would 'ascertain whether Geoffrey Dear, Chief Constable of West Midlands Police (WMP), was willing to take on the task'. Simultaneously, a decision had been made to establish a judicial inquiry. Accordingly, Lord Justice Peter Taylor had been approached.

2.6.11 Subsequently, a Home Office official noted that the 'original intention' was to ask CC Dear to be an 'assessor' for the inquiry but '[d]uring Sunday [16 April] Mr Wright came under increasing pressure to announce a police inquiry by an independent force ... and the Home Secretary agreed during his visit to Sheffield that Mr Wright should announce that Mr Dear would undertake this inquiry'.[2]

2.6.12 The WMP investigation had a wide brief to 'gather evidence on the planning and operational decisions of the South Yorkshire police' which would 'be made available to Lord Justice Taylor, who will have the help and advice of his police assessor, the Chief Constable of Lancashire [Brian Johnson]'.[3] It would also be 'available to the coroner and for the internal purposes of the South Yorkshire police'.

South Yorkshire Police: briefing the Prime Minister

2.6.13 At 9.00am on 16 April, CC Wright held a briefing with senior officers to get a 'grasp of the overall picture' of the disaster before meeting the Prime Minister and Home Secretary.[4] A position was already forming focusing on the late arrival of fans, ticketless fans and drunkenness.

2.6.14 Officers reviewed the chronology of the disaster, drawing comparisons with the crush on the same terrace at the 1981 FA Cup Semi-Final. SYP's role in the allocation of the smaller terrace to the team with the larger following was also discussed.

2.6.15 Superintendent Roger Marshall, who had been stationed outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles, reported that at 2.45pm 'there was an enormous press of fans pushing'. In the Police Control Box inside the stadium, Superintendent Bernard Murray had noted on CCTV a 'huge presence' at the turnstiles at 2.30pm but considered that the crowd 'should have got into the ground by 3.00pm via the turnstiles'.

2.6.16 The Chief Constable asked about the number of fans outside the ground without tickets because 'it's going to be a major issue'. Supt Marshall estimated '200/250 probably more' while Inspector Paul Hand-Davies, a mounted officer, considered it 'nearer ... 1,000 and that would be typical for Liverpool ... opportunists, they look for opportunities to pinch a ticket, to rob a ticket'.

2.6.17 The Chief Constable summarised the opening of the gates, the 'real issue' being the 'timing and the effect of those actions'. He discussed the potential enquiries and the task-in-hand of 'simply gathering all the evidence together instead of pursuing priorities and aspects where the responsibility/blame lies'.

2.6.18 Recognising the 'distressing and harrowing' experiences faced by police officers, he noted their 'good job' and what they had 'to deal with'. Their evidence would reflect a 'true impression of what we saw there' but it had to given 'in a balanced and responsible way'.

2.6.19 There would be 'some form of judicial enquiry' but, CC Wright stated, SYP had 'nothing to fear at all in a sense'. They had 'taken decisions ... done things on the basis of what we saw and in what circumstances presented themselves to us ... let's have it as it's been up to now, open, straight forward, no intention to try and blur'.

2.6.20 There should be no 'shedding any responsibility'. He continued: 'If it is that drunken, marauding fans, and I thought of this last night, contributed to this let somebody else say that'. The police had 'carried our responsibility', doing what had been considered 'essential to deal with the situation' with the 'knock-on effect' being 'fate'. It would not 'be right now to be talking about the animalistic behaviour of fans, the level of drink ... Whoever is looking at it overall will find that without any problem'.

2.6.21 The Chief Constable's initial position, therefore, appeared to accept the senior officers' allegations of the prevalence of drunkenness, ticketlessness and refusal to cooperate while not disclosing such allegations to the media. Within hours of this meeting, supported by officers who attended, he briefed the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary.

2.6.22 There appears to be no record of CC Wright's briefing to the Prime Minister and Home Secretary. An early draft of the Home Secretary's Statement to Parliament indicates some of the information Mrs Thatcher received in Sheffield.

2.6.23 CC Wright had stated 'that shortly after the start of the match there was a surge of spectators on the Leppings Lane terrace which crushed many at the front against the safety barrier ... account[ing] for most of the fatalities and injuries.[5] The suggestion of a 'surge' echoed comments CC Wright made in the media.

2.6.24 Comments made by Bernard Ingham, the Prime Minister's Press Secretary, in the aftermath of the disaster and some years later provide an indication of the discussion at the meeting. His Westminster lobby briefing of 18 April 1989 records journalists being informed that '[w]hat had happened on Saturday was not the result of obvious hooliganism but was more a matter of safety at sports grounds'.[6]  

2.6.25 However, this contrasts markedly with his position several years later when he wrote that during the visit to Sheffield on 16 April he 'learned on the spot' that '[t]here would have been no Hillsborough if a mob, who were clearly tanked up, had not tried to force their way into the ground. To blame the police is a cop-out'.[7] 

Figure 9: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with Press Secretary Bernard Ingham, second right, and others at Hillsborough on the day after the disaster
Figure 9: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with Press Secretary Bernard Ingham, second right, and others at Hillsborough on the day after the disaster

South Yorkshire Police: early days of the investigation

2.6.26 In the immediate aftermath, SYP's Detective Superintendent Graham McKay briefed senior officers that SYP 'had to start up the investigation and set up the Incident Room, equip it and build the machine as it were, but not start the engine'.[8] 

2.6.27 On 17 April, the emphasis changed. With WMP's arrival imminent, it was necessary for SYP not only to 'build the machine', but to 'pinpoint the information and indicate to the enquiry team where it can be found and the nature of it' before 'the evidence disappears into the sand'. 

2.6.28 The adequacy of the Leppings Lane turnstiles was a priority as 'it has been suggested that the reason the turnstiles could not cope was that the Liverpool supporters were getting to the turnstiles and instead of offering tickets were offering money'.

2.6.29 Another focus was 'how many of the three gates were opened, when they were opened, in what sequence they were opened and who authorised them to be opened'. Further, in supporting the Coroner, it was necessary to identify 'whereabouts the bodies have come from'.

2.6.30 SYP officers would not take statements but it was anticipated that SYP's information gathering 'might only last for a few days ... good or bad, warts and all'. The process had to be presented as impartial rather than 'getting our act together before the enquiry team arrives' and 'no-one should add or say anything to indicate to any potential witness that they ought to change their information in any way'.

2.6.31 A meeting of senior SYP officers had been held earlier in the day at which CC Wright had stated that 'if we [SYP] leave it to the West Midlands to provide the evidence we might not get the broad scope of events flowing in'.[9] SYP would need to be 'the authors of most of the information fed in'.

2.6.32 WMP Chief Constable Geoffrey Dear visited Sheffield on 18 April accompanied by Assistant Chief Constable Mervyn Jones.[10] ACC Jones returned the next day with three senior officers 'and informed members of the team that the West Midlands Police would be taking over all aspects of the enquiry'.[11] The SYP team was 'instructed to not pursue any further enquiries into the incident'.

2.6.33 WMP assumed control on 20 April and four days later the outside force took possession of the evidence collated by SYP.[12] A team of officers was established within SYP, headed by Chief Superintendent Donald Denton, to liaise with the WMP investigation.[13] A second team of SYP officers led by Chief Superintendent Terry Wain was tasked with gathering evidence for the submission to the Judicial Inquiry.[14]

[1] Memorandum from Sir Richard Barratt, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary, to Mr Addison, Home Office,12 June 1989, HOM000006720001, pp1-3.
[2] Internal Home Office memorandum, 4 May 1989, HOM000007740001, p1.
[3] Home Office file note entitled 'Link between Taylor Inquiry and West Midlands Police Inquiry', undated, HOM000007610001, p1.
[4] Notes of Chief Constable's briefing with operational staff engaged on FA Cup duties, 9.00am 16 April 1989, SYP000096360001, pp19-42. 
[5] Drafts of the Home Secretary's statement to the Commons about the Hillsborough disaster, with associated briefing notes, 17 April 1989, CMS000011940001, p6.
[6] Lobby briefing, 11am 18 April 1989, ING000000020001, p3.
[7] Scraton, P Hillsborough: The Truth Edinburgh: Mainstream Publications, 1999 (1st Edn).
[8] Briefing notes from South Yorkshire Police for briefing held on 17 April 1989, SYP000010190001, pp1-24.
[9] Note of meeting held on Monday 17 April, SYP000096360001, pp43-51 (quote on p50).
[10] Lord Justice Taylor also visited Sheffield on 18 April 1989. A number of organisations disclosed material to the Panel relating to an allegation made by an SYP officer against LJ Taylor and CC Dear in relation to that visit (for example, at SYP000151710001). In view of the officer's junior rank, their name has been withheld from publication.
An SYP officer allocated to driving duty that day later alleged overhearing a comment passed from LJ Taylor to CC Dear that, 'I suppose you realise that to give this inquiry any credibility we have to apportion the majority of the blame on the police?' CC Dear was alleged to have replied 'I suppose we do'. The allegation was not reported by the officer until almost exactly a year later, on 12 April 1990, after the officer has discussed the matter with Superintendent Norman Bettison.
At the request of SYP, the allegation was considered by the DPP and the Home Office. The DPP, Allan Green, advised that - even assuming the claim were true - no criminal offence had been committed. At the request of SYP, the DPP also took Counsel's advice, which confirmed his view.
Officials from the Home Office met with LJ Taylor and Mr Dear to discuss the allegation. LJ Taylor 'immediately rejected' the suggestion, calling it 'nonsense'. Mr Dear could not recall the conversation but 'would have objected' to any suggestion of bias. LJ Taylor, he said, had been 'scrupulously fair ... in his pursuit of the truth'.
The matter was taken no further.
[11] Note by Chief Superintendent Denton, 31 July 1989, SYP000096900001, p7.
[12] One of the issues under investigation at this stage was the theft of two CCTV tapes belonging to Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. Documents relating to the missing tapes - which have not been located - can be found in a report sent from Assistant Chief Constable Stuart Anderson to Mr Peter Metcalf on 11 May 1989 (SYP000160280001), in an 'Action' recording the outcome of the police investigation (SYP000127080001, pp46-47) and in the witness statements of Roger Houldsworth, the SWFC video operator (SYP000038680001), PC Guest (SYP000007660001), a CCTV contractor (SYP000038700001, pp396-397) and Douglas Lock (SYP000007670001).
[13] See, for example, extensive papers in SYP000096870001.
[14] Chief Superintendent Wain's briefing notes, 26 April 1989, SYP000097200001, pp1-6.