This week I spent 2 hours with the Deputy Chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission together with her team at Warrington Headquarters. Under Rachel Cerfontyne’s leadership, the IPCC’s independent investigation is focused on the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, specifically the actions of the police after the event and the cover up to divert the blame away from the authorities onto innocent fans. A second investigation, led by former Durham Chief Constable Jon Stoddart, Operation Resolve, is looking into the causes of the disaster. The IPCC has a role in overseeing this investigation where it applies to police actions.
I have a clear view on the IPCC investigations. They can’t be rushed. But the calls for swift justice are fully understandable. Families and survivors have faced 25 years of injustice at the hands of certain deeply mistrusted public authorities. Their lives have been torn apart and destroyed. The sad passing of Anne Williams and John Glover reinforce the calls for urgency.
But it is clear to me that in the greater fight for justice, and for the sake of a civil and democratic society where crimes don’t go unpunished, the importance of getting this right is paramount. Nothing must be left to chance in the thoroughness and procedural veracity of these investigations.
The depth of the IPCC investigation I witnessed at Warrington demonstrated to me that they are meeting these tests. Much of the archive and analysis work, together with the sheer scale of documentation and paperwork being reviewed is laboriously painstaking. The precision of the operation is exemplary. It gave me confidence that they will not fall foul of legal technicalities that could hinder the long-belated delivery of justice.
They have so far identified 242 police officers whose statements were changed after the disaster; that is 78 more than was revealed in the Independent Hillsborough Panel’s report. There is indignation that a small number of officers have refused to be interviewed (13 in total). I too share that indignation.
But I welcome that the weight of evidence is swelling. An overwhelming case for the prosecution is being built against those who were trusted with the safety of innocent people, but failed them and then subjected victims’ families to a 25 year ordeal, pointing the finger of blame at the deceased.
A truly heinous crime.
The witness appeal is another crucial part of their investigation. Obtaining statements from new witnesses, survivors whose story has lived with them silently since 1989. A painstaking, meticulous process which must be treated with sensitivity and care. But further building the case and increasing the weight of evidence against those responsible.
So far more than 1600 people have responded to the appeal which remains live and I would urge anyone who feels they have relevant information to contact the IPCC via their website www.ipcc.gov.uk/hillsborough-witness-appeal or telephone 0300 200 0003.
I want to pass on my thanks and appreciation to the IPCC team. The thoroughness of its work is the key to justice. These investigations represent by far the best chance of achieving that outcome.
For the sake of the 96, and to uphold the values of a civil society, this is why they can’t be rushed.