Chapter 8: The Coroner's inquiry: from the immediate aftermath to the preliminary hearings

The pre-inquest review

2.8.92 On 6 March Dr Popper held a 'pre-inquest review' meeting with families' lawyers and two representatives of the Hillsborough Family Support Group. Dr Popper recorded the primary objective of the mini-inquests in his preparatory notes: 'at the end of the hearing bereaved should hopefully know where it has been possible to establish the when and where of death'.[41] They would be 'of limited scope ... Under no circumstances will we deal at this stage with How and even less with Why or Whom to blame'.

2.8.93 The process should not be 'detrimental' to the investigation by the DPP, who had agreed to limitations 'in the interests of justice not least that of the bereaved'. Dr Popper intended to release medical evidence and blood alcohol levels for each of the deceased, their movements on the day and, where possible, 'to indicate where the deceased was seen in a particular pen'.

2.8.94 Limitations on the mini-inquests also extended to evidence presented to the jury and the witnesses called. Prepared by WMP officers, summaries of evidence relating to each individual would be submitted to Dr Popper. They would 'to the best of ability be factually correct but will be non adverserial [sic] in tone and content'.

2.8.95 The summaries would be read by Dr Popper and circulated to the Hillsborough Steering Committee and the SYP solicitors prior to each mini-inquest. Solicitors could 'indicate whether they are content with summary or whether anything is not clear so that if it is possible that can be elaborated at the hearing'. It would also 'enable solicitors to share information with families so as to give pre warning of the evidence and lessen if possible distress'.

2.8.96 Dr Popper proposed that interim proceedings would assist families with their grieving, noting that almost a year on from the disaster, 'they had not received, in an official sense, clear explanations of where their loved ones died, how they died (in a pathological sense), what efforts were made to revive them and where they were identified'.[42] 

2.8.97 A 'mini-inquest ... would provide an interim stage ... so that the healing process for the bereaved could be brought one step nearer a conclusion and ... this would be of enormous help to the relatives'.

2.8.98 WMP 'wanted to know at what point the evidence would stop'.[43] Dr Popper responded that evidence would be taken 'probably up to the temporary mortuary ... if there were any particular difficulties we would do our best to try and answer the questions as best we could'.

2.8.99 Dr Popper then wrote to the DPP expressing his gratitude for 'dealing with the matter so promptly', noting that a pre-inquest review had been held and the inquests would be resumed 'on a limited basis on the 18th of April 1990'.[44]

2.8.100 Three days after the pre-inquest review, Mr Fraser, on behalf of the Hillsborough Steering Committee, wrote to other solicitors representing the bereaved outlining the proposed procedures for the mini-inquests.[45] He recommended that solicitors should send the summaries to their clients. Solicitors were advised that families could submit questions on a form provided and the WMP investigators would seek answers. Questions could be asked in court by the Steering Committee representative and families could have their solicitor present at their inquest.

2.8.101 However, this raised potential difficulties regarding costs as collective representation had been agreed with the insurers: 'After great difficulty we have persuaded the Municipal Mutual Insurers to fund the cost of "block representation" and this means that a member of this Committee will be present throughout the entire period the Inquests are [meeting] but if your client wants you to appear personally, you must deal with the question of your costs for doing so directly with M.M.I.'

Summarised evidence read by WMP

2.8.102 The Coroner's decision to provide summarised evidence to families and have summaries read by West Midlands Police officers before the jury was welcomed by the Steering Committee as an act of kindness:

we believe that this move by H.M. Coroner to impart information to families to be applauded and we have taken the liberty of making the point in open Court through the press. [He] is under no obligation to act in the way that he has and we believe that his stated intentions to assist families are entirely genuine and we trust that those families who you represent will accept this move on his behalf in the way which we believe that it is intended.

2.8.103 A further reason for welcoming the release of summarised evidence was that the solicitors would 'be in a better position to assess the pre-death terror/pre-death pain and suffering element in the damages claim and you will in due cause [sic] receive our further views on this aspect in a future [Steering Committee] Bulletin, together with a report on continuing negotiations with the insurers'.

[41] Notes of ground to be covered at pre-inquest review, 6 March 1990, SYC000001180001, pp102-103.
[42] Draft note for file 'To be agreed. Meeting between HM Coroner Dr Popper and legal representatives of persons who died at the Hillsborough disaster', 6 March 1990, SPP000001630001, pp2-3. 
[43] 'FILE NOTE', 6 March 1990, SYC000001390001, p45.
[44] Letter from Dr Popper to Mr CJ Cleugh, 14 March 1990, CPS000004310001, p1.
[45] Letter from D Fraser, Hillsborough Steering Committee, to all solicitors acting for bereaved families, 9 March 1990, SPP000000720001, pp2-6.