Chapter 9: The generic hearing, Judicial Review and continuing controversies

Disclosure of statements

2.9.30 Dr Popper wrote to DCC Jones regarding the release of statements and documents, confirming 'that these should remain confidential until after the conclusion of the D.P.P. inquiry (which has now happened) and the Inquests'.[14] Referring to restrictions in a previous case he concluded, 'I would have no authority to order the disclosure of statements to third parties'.

2.9.31 In the interest of fairness, however, he considered the same information should be available to all interested parties. Although statements had 'been made available to South Yorkshire Police solely for the use in disciplinary proceedings', it presented 'recipients with a very major problem of ensuring that information supplied for one purpose is not used for others'.

2.9.32 Dr Popper specified three categories: those in the DPP file and given to SYP; those in the body files in his possession but not given to SYP; and a 'large number of statements' unreleased. In all cases he had 'no further objection to their release'.

2.9.33 Within days SYP appear to have regretted receiving the documentary material 'as they had to make a decision as to what to do'. Dr Popper noted: 'I said that it was their fault, we had spelt it out for them, at least spelt it out to Mr Sharp and that was all that could be done'.[15]

2.9.34 Dr Popper had 'also told Mervyn [Jones] that should it come about that South Yorkshire had refused to release documents and that I was approached I would suggest that the matter be decided by the divisional court' as it would not 'be right for me to release the documents without their authority, bearing in mind that there was ... a major point a [sic] priniciple at stake'.

2.9.35 A significant, protracted correspondence followed, including legal opinion on the appropriateness of releasing statements, reports and other documents to families and their lawyers. The debate centred on the ownership of documents. DCC Jones was clear: 'the product of all the investigations must belong to the Chief Constable of SYP who was one of the original sponsors of the investigation in April 89 ... he is the "owner" of all the information and ultimately - perhaps after the Coroner's Inquests have concluded - will assume complete responsibility'.[16]  

2.9.36 In October, prior to the resumption of the inquests, CC Sharp informed Dr Popper that the Police Authority had decided to defer complaints made against Assistant Chief Constable Walter Jackson and that the Chief Constable had decided not to consider further the complaints against other senior officers until the conclusion of the inquests. Still concerned, however, Dr Popper sought advice from another coroner, and it was suggested that the full archive of material be delivered to his house so that he could state that he had been given access.[17]

2.9.37 In fact, the families' lawyers did not request access to the DPP report nor the investigation material but only to their clients' statements. Dr Popper agreed to limited access, shortly before each witness gave evidence, and the issue of equal access raised initially by Dr Popper subsided.

2.9.38 Dr Popper then decided to heed the advice he had received from a fellow coroner. As the Hillsborough Steering Committee (representing the bereaved families) had not asked for access to the 'whole shooting match ... the problem might not be quite as large as it would appear'. He 'suggested to Mervyn [Jones] that he should arrange to let me have a set of all the documentation for a few days at home so there could be no argument that not only was it available to me but in fact I had access to it'.[18] Although he 'wasn't proposing to read it all' he considered it 'would be sensible'. Accordingly, the mass of documentation - 'a van load' - was delivered to his home.

2.9.39 Dr Popper requested from SYP the names of witnesses they wanted to appear at the inquests. This was discussed between Deputy Chief Constable Peter Hayes and Peter Metcalf, the SYP solicitor. The 'general stance' was that what happened outside the stadium was 'of limited influence in terms of the actual deaths' but that '[t]urnstile signing and engineering factors' were 'more important'.[19] 

2.9.40 The main points of the Phillips Report[20] would be emphasised alongside 'the police view that crowd obduracy (non-cooperation) was of a most unusual degree and alcohol a far greater factor than the Taylor report states'. Mr Metcalf undertook to ask Dr Popper 'to ask West Mid [sic], who have full access to both used and unused statements and questionnaire material, to identify the best non-police (independent) witnesses in this regard'.

[14] Letter from Dr Popper to M Jones, 14 September 1990, SYP000118480001, pp31-32.
[15] File note, 'Telephone call from Mervyn', 19 September 1990, SYC000001360001, p77.
[16] Letter from M Jones to Mr Stephen Walker, Solicitor, South Yorkshire Police Authority, 15 October 1990, SYC000001400001, p216.
[17] File note, 'TELEPHONE CONVERSATION WITH PAUL KNAPMAN', 5 November 1990, SYC000001030001, pp10-11.
[18] File note, 'TELEPHONE CONVERSATION WITH MERVYN JONES', 6 November 1990, SYC000001030001, p15.
[19] File note, 'HILLSBOROUGH - INQUEST', 24 September 1990, SYP000123570001, p222.
[20] The Phillips Report is covered in detail in Chapter 6.