• Hillsborough

Police chief faces Hillsborough probe

ESPN staff
November 19, 2013
An independent report concluded 41 of the 96 Hillsborough victims could have been saved © PA Photos

Britain's most senior police officer is facing an investigation into his conduct on the day of the Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 Liverpool fans died.

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, is the subject of a complaint received by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which is the UK's police watchdog. Hogan-Howe, then an officer with the South Yorkshire force, was on duty at Sheffield Boys' Club as relatives waited for news of friends and family after the disaster.

The IPCC said it had received a formal complaint about Hogan-Howe from the family of a victim. It expects the office of London mayor Boris Johnson to rule whether it should be investigated. According to the IPCC, the complaint was "about Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe in relation to his role at Hillsborough".

In a statement released to the media, the IPCC said: "This complaint has been passed onto the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime (MOPC) for recording as required by the complaints process. However, in this instance, the IPCC expects the matter to be recorded and referred."

The Metropolitan Police have had to respond to conflicting accounts as to whether Hogan-Howe ever made a statement to any of the official investigations into the Hillsborough disaster. He said last year that he had done, but records do not appear to back that up.

In addition, Hogan-Howe has faced criticism over his handling of the operation to keep friends and families informed about fans unaccounted for following the disaster. A list of people believed to be alive was read out by an unidentified police officer at the Boys' Club that night, and it included the name of 14-year-old Adam Spearitt, who had actually died in the disaster.

The IPCC said it had contacted Spearitt's family to ask if they wanted the matter to be investigated. In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said it would be "inappropriate" for Hogan-Howe to comment on his role at Hillsborough while the IPCC was investigating.

In response to the confusion over whether Hogan-Howe had given a statement to any Hillsborough investigation, the force said: "We believe the only appropriate way to clarify the situation regarding accounts made by the Commissioner following the Hillsborough disaster would be through the official investigation being conducted by the IPCC."

The 96 victims of the tragedy were crushed to death on an over-crowded section of terracing at an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest, played at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough stadium, on April 15, 1989. An independent report, published in September 2012, cleared fans of any blame for the tragedy, and highlighted the role of the police and emergency services in attempting to cover up their own culpability.

The report concluded that 41 of the 96 victims could have been saved, and found that 164 police statements given as part of an initial investigation into the disaster had been altered - 116 of them to remove negative comments about policing on the day of the semi-final. A month after the report's publication, the IPCC announced that it would carry out a two-year investigation into both the role played by officers on the day and the subsequent cover-up.

In December 2012, a second investigation, named Operation Resolve and focusing on possible criminal behaviour by any people or bodies with responsibility for fan safety at Hillsborough, was launched and is being headed up by former Durham chief constable Jon Stoddart.

Hogan-Howe said in 2012 that he had refused to change his statement after being asked to by another police officer. But doubts have been cast as to whether he has ever made a statement.

The IPCC also said its investigators will speak to Sir John Major, who suggested last week that the police had put pressure on his government not to open an inquiry into Hillsborough when he was UK Prime Minister. Major, who was Prime Minister between 1990 and 1997, said: "We had pretty strong police views that there was no need for a report at the time."

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