IOPC moves closure for Hillsborough bereaved families and survivors a step further away

Hillsborough Truth and Justice St George's Hall

Following an on-line meeting between Executives from five West Midlands branches of the National Association of Retired Police Officers (NARPO) and senior officers representing the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) last month, it has emerged that 156 complaints, or allegations, against former police officers and staff involved in the Hillsborough Disaster are still being investigated almost 33 years later.

Of those, 68 complaints and 6 misconduct cases involve staff and retired officers from West Midlands Police. The remaining 88 involve ex-officers and staff from either Merseyside Police or South Yorkshire Police.

Inquests that concluded in April, 2016 found that 97 Liverpool fans were unlawfully killed as a result of a crush caused by police failures at the Liverpool versus Nottingham Forest FA Cup semi-final match at Sheffield Wednesday’s football stadium on 15th April 1989.

The IOPC says bereaved families, and those making the complaints about the actions of police either on the day on subsequently, were provided with the same investigation update.

No new lines of criminal inquiry have so far emerged, says the watchdog which will surprise some of the complainants, who were eye-witnesses on the day and/or suffered intimidation and statement-altering, subsequently. The IOPC has the power to refer them to the Crown Prosecution Service but appears reluctant, and, indeed, unlikely to do so given the passage of time.

Other points to emerge from NARPO, in a post by Birmingham Branch Secretary, David Jeans, in the news section of their website, said:

“The IOPC contingent included the head of the investigation plus the ‘Decision Maker’ [Sarah Green – see below] who has responsibility for the judgements (sic) within the final report relating to the officers and staff involved.

“The IOPC is keen to maintain regular contact with NARPO and to provide updates or answer questions.

“The Decision Maker has completed 80 reviews, so far – mainly complaints, and expects to finish her work late Spring [presumably 2022].

“The ‘sanction’ for WMP officers involved will be the wording, “If this officer was still serving, he/she would likely be subject to misconduct / gross misconduct proceedings.”

“All officers vulnerable to such ‘naming’ will have the opportunity to comment on the wording used, and to make representations to IOPC. This is known as the Salmon process.

“There is no right of appeal, other than via judicial review. However, the Decision Maker appeared to be quite willing to amend wording / judgements where an individual makes a strong case.

“The Salmon process is likely to take place during the Summer.

“The final report will first appear on a dedicated Hillsborough website and is likely to comprise 2,500 pages and 3,000 documents accessible via hyperlinks.

“A paper document will be published later – possibly in 2023.

“An IOPC individual, Mark Beales, has responsibility for communicating with those involved from WMP. He will be ascertaining their preferred method – email, letter etc. If necessary and appropriate, IOPC will make personal visits. (The five WM Branch Committee have previously agreed to jointly fund members’ travel if required to attend IOPC HQ.)

“IOPC are fully aware many WMP individuals are vulnerable in terms of age, health etc. and have undertaken to be as empathetic as possible.

“The rules in respect of not ‘naming’ deceased individuals, which are applicable to the CPS, do not apply to the IOPC.

“This protects people who were not interviewed under police caution”.

Mr Jeans retired from West Midlands Police, at the rank of chief superintendent, in 2004. 

The police watchdog say they will keep an open mind regarding information gathered under the Salmon Process and would be open to any representations made by those subject to complaint.

Sarah Green, formerly Deputy Chair of the now defunct Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and now IOPC Regional Director for the South East, said:

“Since the conclusion of the trial in May 2021, work to finalise the individual conduct and complaint reports, and the overarching final report for the Hillsborough investigations has been ongoing.

“As part of our commitment to keep interested parties updated we provided a detailed written update to families and complainants in December 2021. Similar updates are being provided to bodies representing the police and subjects.

“This is normal practice as an independent body to ensure all interested parties are kept up to date, and is standard for any IOPC investigation. Since the outset of our investigation we have always prioritised informing bereaved families first about any key developments.”

Ms Green acts as Decision Maker under powers delegated to her by the Director General of the IOPC, Michael Lockwood. Under the latter’s stewardship, the watchdog has moved ever closer to the police, under an even stronger ‘lessons learned’ mantra than its disgraced and discredited predecessor. Sarah Green has worked for both organisations since 2011. 

Deanna Matthews, a Hillsborough bereaved family member, active campaigner, and now a qualified barrister, took issue with the NARPO and IOPC statements: “No such empathy has been shown to the complainants, who are also most often the victims. A vast majority of these complaints had been submitted in the aftermath of the HIP and during the Inquest. A decade ago. And still left in limbo. With no closure. No accountability”.

A survivor of the Hillsborough crush in Pen 3, Nick Braley, a student at the time, now a chartered accountant and also an active justice campaigner, added his concerns:

“The IOPC Salmon process allows the police officers to see the reports findings, to challenge them, to make representations and if successful to change the findings. None of that is offered to those of us who have made complaints. How can a process be impartial when one side gets to challenge the findings and the other doesn’t?

“Additionally, the IOPC have dragged their feet. When my complaint was made in 2014 it is quite possible the officers were still employed by the police. Now, 8 years later it is certain they will all have retired. The lethargy of the IOPC reporting has allowed officers to escape whatever sanctions would have been made as serving officers”.

Richie Greaves, another pen 3 survivor and nationally known campaigner says, pointedly:

“I’m one of the 68 complainants. I first made contact with the, then, IPCC in January, 2013, after seeing an article in a Sunday newspaper which revealed that survivors statements had been doctored. We already knew the police and ambulance statements had gone through a ‘review & alteration’ process.

“Nine years have passed, it’s obvious to me they have no intention of finding anyone guilty of any offence. The establishment closed ranks after the inquests verdicts in 2016 and this is just the final piece of housekeeping by them before they try to draw a line under Hillsborough. They’ve dragged out the whole process hoping we’d die or just go away, but I’ve got news for them, we’re going nowhere and I will continue to educate people about the terrible events of the day and the biggest cover-up in British history. The IOPC are complicit in that national scandal”.

Since the publication of this article, NARPO has removed the Hillsborough update from its website.

The IOPC has published a Question & Answer sheet regarding The Hillsborough Investigation Final Report which can be viewed at this link.

Page last updated at 0825hrs on Friday 11th February, 2022

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2022. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Published by Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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