After Hillsborough, can we now trust the police?

By Kevin Donoghue, Principal Solicitor, Donoghue Solicitors

As a Liverpool Solicitor, lifelong Liverpool FC fan and a Kop season ticket holder, I was pleased to see that finally, after 23 years of fighting, the families of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster received the truth.

They now know, thanks to the report of the Bishop of Liverpool’s panel, that South Yorkshire Police acted disgracefully both on the day of the disaster, and in the aftermath.

In trying to shift the blame to the innocent victims, the Police:

  • deliberately misinformed the media, providing briefings to a local press agency which led to The Sun’s infamous ‘The Truth’ headline and the scandalous, unfounded allegations that fans stole from the victims, ‘urinated on brave cops’ and ‘beat up PC giving kiss of life’ (see Summary, points 144-148)
  • fabricated a ‘defence’ to deflect blame in the subsequent enquiries to ‘drunken ticketless individuals’ (see Summary, point 149).
  • amended 164 junior police officers’ statements, with 116 being specifically altered to ‘remove or alter comments unfavourable to SYP’ (see Summary, point 132.). These comments included removal to references regarding lack of leadership (Chapter 11 point 2.11.57), lack of radios (2.11.64) and organisation (2.11.65).
  • the panel also state that even though alcohol consumption was ‘unremarkable’, ‘A document disclosed to the Panel has revealed that an attempt was made to impugn the reputations of the deceased by carrying out Police National Computer checks on those with a non-zero alcohol level.’ (see Summary, point 70).

In a BBC interview, the current Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police has apologised and said that South Yorkshire Police is now a ‘very different place’.

His words may be comforting to some, but there is no doubt that problems within the police remain. As a specialist solicitor who pursues compensation claims against the police on behalf of victims of police wrongdoing, I am in constant contact with those who have been poorly treated by many different police forces.

Unfortunately, fabrication remains a recurring theme.

For example, in a case I am currently pursuing, my client was charged with assaulting a Special Constable. The police officer’s statement, made only half an hour after the alleged ‘assault’, described how my client pushed him, causing the policeman’s helmet to come off, then head-butted him to the forehead with such force that it caused him a pain in his neck and on his head. As a result, the Special Constable sprayed CS gas into my client’s eyes.

He was arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer solely on the basis of the statement written by the Special Constable, even though there were many other police officers at the scene.

What the officer didn’t know was that CCTV footage was found showing that no such assault occurred.

Rather than come clean and apologise, the Special Constable made matters worse during the internal complaint interview by suggesting that in fact the assault occurred off camera and that there might have been a clash of heads rather than a head-butt.

Amazingly, even though he made the statement when events were very fresh in his mind, it was stated in the complaint report that he made it without CCTV footage which would have assisted his recall. The police are trained, professional witnesses. It beggars belief to think that an officer would need the benefit of CCTV footage before making a statement only 30 minutes after such a traumatic event as allegedly being head-butted.

Although the Special Constable maintained his statement was accurate, the Crown Prosecution Service rightly decided not to prosecute, and now that I have seen the footage, I can see why. There was no assault; on camera, or off. The Special Constable’s helmet remained in place (until he removed it himself) so that it would have been impossible for my client to head-butt him to the forehead.

We can only speculate as to the officer’s motives for wrongly stating that he was assaulted, and then changing his story only in the face of damning CCTV evidence. It certainly appears that he knew full well that my client was innocent both at the time of arrest and during the subsequent prosecution. However, he was willing to allow the prosecution to continue and potentially see my client convicted at court and sent to jail.

I am now pursuing a compensation claim against the police on behalf of my client on a ‘no win no fee’ basis. He will recover significant compensation, which has to be paid for out of the public purse. However, he has had to endure the stress of the arrest, charge and subsequent investigation, and battle to clear his name. He is rightly aggrieved at the police’s conduct, which will go unpunished save for an award of compensation.

As in the Hillsborough case, if the police officer involved acted with integrity, all this could have been avoided.


Kevin Donoghue is Principal Solicitor at Donoghue Solicitors.