None of the former police officers under investigation for more than 170 allegations of misconduct relating to the 1989 Hillsborough disaster will face disciplinary proceedings because all have retired, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has said.
The complaints of misconduct are being investigated in addition to the potential criminal offences by 23 police officers, organisations and individuals which have led to files being sent to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for consideration of charges.
Police officers can still be prosecuted for criminal offences after retirement, but not disciplined. That means none will face internal action over the 170 complaints, which include some of improper and callous behaviour by some officers on the day of the disaster – in which 96 people were killed at an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest – and subsequent alleged falsifying of witness statements.
Hillsborough disaster: deadly mistakes and lies that lasted decades
Bereaved families have accused South Yorkshire police of having mounted a cover-up to avoid blame for the disaster, and having falsely blamed the lethal crush on the behaviour of Liverpool supporters. West Midlands police, who were brought in to investigate, have been accused of failing to act impartially and of colluding with the South Yorkshire force.
In April, the jury at new inquests into the disaster found that the 96 people were unlawfully killed due to a series of police and safety failings, and gross negligence manslaughter by the South Yorkshire police officer in command, Ch Supt David Duckenfield. The jury completely exonerated the Liverpool supporters, ruling that their behaviour in no way caused the dangerous situation at the football ground.
The IPCC’s deputy chair, Rachel Cerfontyne, said that because the most severe sanction from a misconduct charge was dismissal, officers could not be disciplined after they had retired.
She confirmed that all the officers against whom the complaints had been made, by relatives of those who died and others who attended the match and survived the lethal crush on the Leppings Lane terrace, had retired.
Trevor Hicks - the president of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, whose two teenage daughters, Sarah and Vicki, were among those unlawfully killed at the match – said he had always been appalled that police officers were protected from misconduct proceedings by retirement.
In 1991, Duckenfield avoided disciplinary charges by retiring on medical grounds, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. His deputy, Supt Bernard Murray, did not subsequently face action because South Yorkshire police argued it would be unfair for him to do so alone. No police officer, individual or organisation was prosecuted or disciplined for any offence relating to the deaths of the 96 people or alleged cover-up, leading to a 28-year campaign by families and survivors calling for justice and accountability.
“It is fundamentally wrong that police officers can escape scot-free, with pensions for life, when they have allegations of misconduct against them,” Hicks said. “Some junior South Yorkshire police officers did a fantastic job trying to help people on the day, and I have commended them, but the behaviour of some caused great distress to families.”
Becky Shah, who was 17 when her mother, Inger, died at Hillsborough, criticised the system as outrageous and said she and her brother Daniel, who was 13, remained traumatised by the conduct of some police officers.
She said her friend Stephen Oates, who was at the match with Inger Shah and had to identify her body at 2am, was then immediately asked offensive questions by South Yorkshire officers, including whether he was “shagging” her.
Daniel Shah, who was also at the match with his mother, was interviewed subsequently by West Midlands police officers, who asked him aggressive and intrusive questions about whether she drank alcohol and had boyfriends. Becky Shah said this had contributed to their trauma in the years since, and that the police officers should be held accountable.
“We are still distressed by how the police behaved and have to live with it all our lives,” she said. “It is outrageous that police officers have impunity from very serious misconduct offences by retirement, and the law should be changed.”
Many survivors have complained of similar aggressive questioning by West Midlands police officers, and that the typed statements produced from their interviews did not properly reflect what they had said. A group of survivors have also alleged that South Yorkshire police falsified witness statements, including a claim that Liverpool supporters injured a police horse in the crush.
Cerfontyne said the IPCC continued to investigate the allegations, which investigators currently do not consider to be criminal matters, although they are being kept under review. The IPCC intends to conclude whether charges would have been brought if the officers were still serving, and include these findings in a final report on Hillsborough to be published following any potential prosecutions.
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