Hillsborough – All In The Line of Duty ??

A week has elapsed since the Hillsborough Panel delivered its findings which left an indelible mark on police and Establishment integrity. Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral was a fitting venue for Bishop James and his panel to confirm what the families of the 96 victims had known in their hearts for years. Coincidentally, this cathedral hosted a Hillsborough memorial service attended, unless my memory is deeply flawed by Lord Justice Taylor and Mrs Thatcher. When “You’ll never walk alone” was played as the service ended I just sobbed, leaving tears glistening amongst the silver buttons on my uniform jacket. I was a Liverpool supporter and when possible, attended all home matches.

That afternoon, whilst juggling gardening with keeping an eye on my team’s progress on the telly, the phone rang. My deputy chief who was at the match had run Control Room and reported serious problems in Hillsborough. I changed in to uniform and set off to take control of setting up the dedicated Casualty Bureau. It is a specially equipped phone linked clearing house between frantic families calling in and those at the scene administering to the living and dealing with the dead. The Casualty Bureau helps identify casualties when a major accident occurs.

Names and physical description were chalked up on both sides of white back boards. Details grew steadily throughout the evening and the phone ran hot between the Sheffield hospitals and the make shift mortuary throughout the night. The numbers of dead grew steadily and we gasped when another someone was identified from a phone call and another piece of the jigsaw fell into place. So many dead with just clothing and bodily features still waiting for a name.

Such was the turmoil in Sheffield, Merseyside officers were rapidly despatched to assist an overwhelmed Yorkshire force. By early Sunday evening, it was all over bar the shouting and repercussions had not yet begun. I squeezed into a heaving Liverpool Catholic cathedral, so full that many squatted on the floor. The player who read a lesson struggled to control his emotions.

The passing of twenty three years would test most memories but it was only during a radio interview a day after the panel had delivered its toxic findings, a thought hit me which had not done so before! I’d been asked what had shocked me? “Nothing, I replied casually, “Doctoring evidence happened to me when I took my chief constable to an equality tribunal”. Radio Wales had been nervous that I would be too blunt on air but wanted a contribution so pre-recorded my interview. I did not mention the identity of the boss who had attended the match and had overseen the doctoring of files in Merseyside to defend the equality case against his Force.

It dawned on me that Jim Sharples had never mentioned what happened at Hillsborough even though he had been there and I was the senior ACC closely involved throughout the night. During that long evening and night in the Casualty Bureau, there was never the smallest hint that the fans’ behaviour had been responsible for what had gone on. The interviewer pressed on. “Yes, I recall the Sun’s dreadful slurs”, I said. “but I don’t recall that we ever discussed this either”. I explained that as senior officers we would meet daily for coffee and share events. Why had we never discussed how the fans had behaved? Perhaps the panel has just provided the answer?

I remember that the Operations ACC seized control of the Casualty Bureau situation as soon as he was back in force and made this clear to the press that he was back in charge. My own exhausting effort over that stressful week end was not acknowledged and I just assumed that anything I did worthy of praise was ignored. That was the way things worked as shown throughout my book, “No Way up the Greasy Pole”

In May 1988, Jim Sharples; had arrived as the new deputy chief but was still heading the enquiry into the Guildford 4 with its alleged malpractice by Surrey police. It was a high profile and sensitive enquiry which continued to hit the press.

Jim believed that the 4 were guilty and police were blameless. The then Arch Bishop of Westminster told him otherwise. A conversation from the confessional made the convictions unsafe. Jim’s view was the cleric was wrong and cop was right & he pressed on with a guilty as charged investigation. Wheel fell soon after when Jim was summonsed hastily to London to meet with Home office and the Director of Public Prosecutions. Documents had been unearthed in the bowels of Thames Valley HQ that supported the Arch Bishop’s view that the Guildford 4 had been framed! Jim did not elaborate on how his team had been so wrong.

“No Way up the Greasy Pole” records that Jim was concerned as the press had got hold of a rumour that the mainstay of the investigation, a superintendent, had been found wandering in a distressed mental state and was quietly pensioned off. Jim has shared this with me as he suspected that his work could unravel if the truth of the mental state of the senior officer became known. He was clearly very worried that the press would probe further. I muttered words of support but wondered if Jim should have done more to pursue the truth rather than attempt to keep the lid on what was revealed as police corruption.

Did Home Office select bobbies for tricky enquiries who would get the “right” result? I wondered.

Jim got the chief’s job in March 89 and he took over the force on 26th June 1989. What a roller coaster of a ride for him in so short a time! To have witnessed the match for himself and offer no sympathy or support to the 96 dead as the cover up grew louder was missed by me at the time. As the new CC he would have been a powerful voice to say what he saw. His position as chief must surely have allowed him to (wrongly) brief Mrs T over the fans behaviour. It is looking blacker for Jim. I hope I’m wrong!

It is now known that within hours a team of five officers were tasked to re-write the script and kill any criticism of police incompetence. Did Merseyside officers play any part? The West Midlands Crime Squad were given that job and yet in January 1989, now former MP Clare Short called on the House of Commons for an enquiry into alleged malpractices. “No solicitor in Birmingham would say anything other than that the (West Midlands Police) Serious Crime Squad is fundamentally dishonest” The men in the squad decide who are guilty and frame them”. Who better then to re-write the truth! Who decided to employ this dodgy outfit? Can only be a Home Office decision.

Just months after the squad started its dirty work, in August 1989, Geoffrey Dear its new chief constable was forced to disband the squad. I was Assistant Commissioner Dear’s PA when at Scotland Yard. Some time later, I gave him dinner in my pad on the Wirral and it was clear he had been sent to sort out the Birmingham mess and he found things very bad indeed.

Jim seems to have an unfortunate habit of being associated with dubious dealings. The Guildford 4 débâcle was not his finest hour, his force’s handing of the flawed evidence in my equality tribunal between 1990 and 1992 was nothing less than an attempt to pervert the course of justice. It was done to me serving police colleague! My Force tapped my phones, a victory I won in the Court of Human Rights in 1997. The judges concluded it was done to damage me and help the opposition. Not the best record for an upholder of the law and who was knighted for services to Policing. Should I just move on and forget the past? Good officers need protection too from bad bosses and there is no doubt now that Sir James fell firmly into that category, knighthood or not.

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