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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 622-i
House of commons
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Home Affairs Committee
Hillsborough Independent Panel Report
Tuesday 16 October 2012
CHIEF CONSTABLE David Crompton and DETECTIVE CHIEF INSPECTOR Philip Etheridge
rt hon Lord Falconer QC, Margaret Aspinall, Trevor Hicks and Jenni Hicks
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 119
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 16 October 2012
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Chief Constable David Crompton, South Yorkshire Police, and Detective Chief Inspector Philip Etheridge, South Yorkshire Police, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Can I call the Committee to order and welcome our witness today, the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire? Could I refer all those present to the Register of Members’ Interests where the interests of all members of the Committee are noted. Are there any other interests that need to be declared?
Alun Michael: I should declare as an interest that I am intending to stand as a candidate for the Police and Crime Commissioner elections on 15 November in relation to South Wales.
Chair: Thank you very much, Mr Michael. As this is Mr Michael’s last meeting as a member of the Select Committee, on behalf of the Committee could I also thank him very much for all the work that he has done on the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Justice Select Committee, and wish him well in his election?
I move now to the subject matter of today’s inquiry. This is not a new inquiry into Hillsborough; this is for the Committee to be updated on progress since the Independent Panel’s report. I am most grateful to you, Chief Constable, for coming here today to give evidence. Would you like to put on the record your views of the Independent Panel’s report? When you first read it, what was your reaction?
Chief Constable Crompton: My reaction, Chairman, was shock. I read that as the head of an organisation that had been held very much to blame over the years, and also, once the Panel’s report came out, that was all brought together in one comprehensive document. I was shocked. It was a very difficult day. I made that very clear to the media on the day. It has remained a difficult experience since then, and it will continue to be a difficult experience for quite some time.
Q2 Chair: What is morale like in the South Yorkshire police force at the moment?
Chief Constable Crompton: People are feeling a little beleaguered. In fairness, the minority of the force were even serving at the time of Hillsborough, and not all of the people who are currently in the force and who were around then were at Hillsborough in any way, shape or form. Inevitably when you get an organisation that becomes the focus of lots of negative media attention then it is difficult for people. So, yes, people are going around with slightly heavy hearts, but these are serious issues.
Q3 Chair: We realise and we accept that you were not there during those times-you served in other police forces-but you were very clear when you spoke to Newsnight on the day of the report. You said this, "My position is very simple and straightforward, which is that if people have broken the law then they will be prosecuted." Do you stand by that statement?
Chief Constable Crompton: Absolutely, yes. In one sense it is not a revelation for any police officer to say that if somebody has broken the law, they should be prosecuted, and I absolutely stand by what I said.
Q4 Chair: Presumably you have looked at the report in great detail and you have been following this whole issue from the time that you were appointed Chief Constable. I know it was very recently, but clearly when you took over you knew that the Panel was meeting. Do you have any idea as to how many people may be responsible and may have to be prosecuted?
Chief Constable Crompton: That is an impossible question to answer at this stage, Chairman. I am sure Committee members will be aware that this matter was referred to the IPCC not just by me but by other police forces as well. The IPCC made a lengthy press statement on Friday where they made clear in quite some detail the issues that they were going to look at. That process has been set in motion. I am on the record on several occasions having said that I will co-operate in any way at all I can to assist the IPCC with their endeavours, which will probably be lengthy and complex.
Q5 Chair: That is the process that this Committee wishes to follow from now on. We would like to see regular updates as to what is happening with regard to these matters. Do you accept the findings of the report that 164 statements have been altered by senior officers in the South Yorkshire Police? Do you accept what the report said on that?
Chief Constable Crompton: Yes.
Q6 Chair: You do. Is it right that there are now 195 serving officers in South Yorkshire who were on duty on the ground on the day of the Hillsborough tragedy, or is that figure too high or too low? We are just interested in the facts.
Chief Constable Crompton: My understanding was that the figure was nearer 100 and that we currently have about 200 officers who are serving in the force who were in the force at that time, but not necessarily at Hillsborough. My understanding was that the figure was lower than that.
Q7 Chair: Let us get the figures right; 100 currently serving South Yorkshire police officers were at the ground on the day in question?
Chief Constable Crompton: Yes. I don’t know if it is exactly 100, but a figure around about that. Some of those officers were on duty right from the outset, other officers-once things had gone wrong-were drafted in to try to deal with the aftermath, and that led to the sorts of numbers that you just referred to.
Q8 Chair: When I wrote to you, in your reply to me you referred to an "alleged cover-up". You will recall your letter to me just after the report was published. Do you still believe it was an alleged cover-up rather than anything more? Why have you added the word "alleged" before cover-up, when the Independent Panel is quite clear that the statements were altered?
Chief Constable Crompton: That might well have been the old habits of a police officer coming out. Things are alleged ultimately until they are proved from that perspective, and although there is very significant information and detail in the report, we are now involved in a process that will either ultimately prove or not whether there was a cover-up. I don’t mean it to sound disrespectful to anybody; it was merely a technical detail.
Q9 Chair: You accept what the panel report has said, that there was a cover-up and that statements were altered?
Chief Constable Crompton: I definitely accept that the statements were altered, yes.
Q10 Chair: Taking us through the process now, the IPCC are conducting their own very detailed inquiry. You know you have 100 police officers who are currently serving. Do you know how many former police officers who were employed by South Yorkshire you have on your files whom you may need to consider?
Chief Constable Crompton: Considerably more than 100, Mr Chairman.
Q11 Chair: Do you know how many?
Chief Constable Crompton: If I said 600 or 700, that would be in the region. People are aware if they have read the report that in the region of 1,000 police officers were on duty at the game on the day. They were not all South Yorkshire police officers, although the vast majority were. Just to give you a general figure for people to work with, there are several hundred retired officers who may come within the ambit of this inquiry.
Q12 Chair: That is very helpful. Thank you very much for trying to be specific on that. If we could look at the process, what exactly are you doing? We know there is an IPCC inquiry. What are you doing to send to the IPCC those cases you have described as being people who may need to be prosecuted? Are you going through this person by person, file by file, and who is doing this, bearing in mind the resources that you have? You are talking about 1,000 police officers, either serving or former police officers, so how is that process being put together?
Chief Constable Crompton: So far the IPCC have only asked us for details of officers who are either currently serving, who were there, and of retired officers, and those who may no longer be around because they have died. In terms of trying to complete their records, we are in the process of supplying that information. As far as detailing which particular members of staff or officers or former officers should be looked at for which particular offences, I have to be clear and say we are not doing that.
Q13 Chair: You are not doing this?
Chief Constable Crompton: Let me explain, please. Prior to the referral process I talked through at length with the IPCC about what might be the best long-term objective in doing this. I came to the view, and it was supported in the end by the IPCC, that the less South Yorkshire Police has to do with any referral process, given the general context we are working in, the better in the long-run for the inquiry. Let me elaborate just a little bit more. As I said, my concern is to assist the IPCC as much as possible. The issue for me was less about whom we might refer but whom we might decide not to refer, and at some later stage it would probably have been highly likely that someone would have said, "Well, we really don’t agree with your reasons for not referring these people."
Chair: Yes. So you are not doing that process?
Chief Constable Crompton: No.
Q14 Chair: What are you doing, just giving the names and address and the files and leaving it up to them?
Chief Constable Crompton: Yes, because I still have a team who are very familiar with the archive and all of the material that has been supplied by the force, I have said that we will provide the IPCC with any material that by one means or another they feel is relevant but for whatever reason they might not have had so far.
Q15 Chair: So you will hand over a list of names of the serving officers and the former officers who were there on the day, but you will take no part in assessing whether or not they were culpable for anything on that day, is that right?
Chief Constable Crompton: That is right, and I think that is the best way of going about it.
Q16 Chair: How long will that process take?
Chief Constable Crompton: We can complete that process quite quickly.
Chair: What does that mean?
Chief Constable Crompton: Within a week.
Q17 Chair: Within a week of today you can give them the lists of names that they require?
Chief Constable Crompton: Certainly the vast majority anyway.
Q18 Chair: When do you think you can give them the complete list?
Chief Constable Crompton: Probably in a week, but if I said a fortnight, that would be reasonable.
Chair: Two weeks from today you would have done your work and handed it to the IPCC?
Chief Constable Crompton: Yes.
Q19 Chair: One final question from me. You know that today the Attorney General has announced that he is going to apply to the High Court for fresh inquests. Presumably you fully support that decision?
Chief Constable Crompton: Yes. The families wrote to me two or three weeks ago and I wrote back and made it very clear that we would not oppose any request to reopen the inquests. I asked the families to proceed on that basis so that it did not introduce either any extra difficulties or costs into the system.
Chair: Thank you.
Q20 Mr Winnick: Can I just go back for a moment, Chief Constable? You said you accept the Panel’s findings. Do you do so without any qualifications whatsoever?
Chief Constable Crompton: Yes.
Q21 Mr Winnick: Thank you. The Chair also referred to the 116 of 164 statements identified for substantive amendments that were amended to remove or alter comments unfavourable to the police. As far as the police are concerned, is that not one of the most serious aspects of this matter?
Chief Constable Crompton: It is. It has dominated the commentary ever since 12 September when the report came out. It is a very serious issue that needs to be resolved.
Q22 Mr Winnick: Chief Constable, would this not mean that since this terrible tragedy occurred in April 1989, the feelings of the relatives and the local community as a whole in their criticism of the police have been absolutely justified?
Chief Constable Crompton: Yes, I would agree.
Q23 Mr Winnick: Apart from the fact of what has happened regarding the alteration of documents, which is a very serious criticism of the police, what are the main lessons that the police force of which you are Chief Constable should learn from this?
Chief Constable Crompton: One is around the general size of pulling together all of the documents that were required as part of this inquiry. The Hillsborough Independent Panel made a recommendation that there should be some move to establish an archive in the early stages after any large disasters. I would support that in the sense that it has taken a lot of time and effort to try to locate many documents that have not always been that easy to locate over the last 23 years. So in terms of some of the administration that lies behind this, there are some lessons to learn. As far as the operation of the force is concerned, some of the main issues have been dealt with over time. For example, a very clear one would be how police officers are trained to deal with and control football matches. That has changed out of all recognition over the last 23 years. It is not new learning, but it is learning that stems from the original Hillsborough disaster.
Q24 Mr Winnick: Just one final question, if I may. You were not there at the time and in no way responsible-no one is suggesting you were-but can you explain the sickness in mind of very senior police officers at the time who wanted to say the responsibility for the tragedy was drunken people, hooligans, thugs and the rest of it? What sort of sickness could have occurred in the minds of those police officers who wanted to put the blame on totally innocent people?
Chief Constable Crompton: I cannot answer your question because I cannot speculate what was going through people’s minds. It was wrong, and in the immediate aftermath of the disaster people did and said things that were wrong.
Q25 Mr Winnick: Wrong and sick, would you accept?
Chief Constable Crompton: Yes.
Mr Winnick: Thank you.
Q26 Chair: You have made an apology, have you not, on behalf of the South Yorkshire Police to all those concerned?
Chief Constable Crompton: Chairman, yes. On the day of the release I made an apology to the families and the Liverpool supporters, and I will take this opportunity of repeating both the apology and how sorry we are for what went on that day and also things that went on subsequently.
Chair: Thank you. I am going to suspend the Committee for 10 minutes.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Q27 Steve McCabe: Mr Crompton, given what we have heard about the very large number of statements that were altered, are there currently any national standards or guidance on the taking and handling of evidence from police officers in situations where the police force itself may be accused of negligence or wrong doing?
Chief Constable Crompton: The short answer is no, there is no national guidance in those circumstances. There is guidance about how officers take statements in different circumstances, but not in the circumstances that you describe.
Q28 Steve McCabe: Do you think there is a need for some kind of national set of standards now? It seems to be one of the central features of this case that it was possible to deliberately distort what had happened. This was all about the evidence that was being provided by officers. It appears it was to protect their own force at all costs.
Chief Constable Crompton: In my opinion, no, there does not need to be a national standard. This was a unique event, and I do not feel it is necessary to go to the effort of creating a national standard for a one-off event. It just needs to be recognised as a unique event and dealt with.
Q29 Steve McCabe: Can I just ask you one last thing on that, then? In the absence of any national standards, how can the rest of us share your confidence that the absolute distortion of evidence by police officers in circumstances like this is a one-off event?
Chief Constable Crompton: If we were able to take ourselves back to 1989, there was no IPCC; there was the Police Complaints Authority, who had much more limited powers than the IPCC. As things stand now, all police forces have regular meetings with the IPCC irrespective of whether any serious incidents immediately prompt that meeting. So there is a constant overview of what is going on in the force. Any serious incidents of anything like the magnitude of Hillsborough would immediately invite the IPCC to be involved with much greater powers than used to exist with the Police Complaints Authority. Hopefully it would never happen, but should anything like this happen again, the sense of overview and scrutiny that would be brought to bear in the future would be of a completely different magnitude to what was there in 1989.
Steve McCabe: Thank you.
Q30 Chair: Your colleague, Richard Wells, who was Chief Constable between 1990 and 1998, talked about a culture of defensiveness and excessive secrecy at the time in the British Police force. Today, of course, you would say this was totally different, that you have to judge those circumstances at the time, and that the culture has altered dramatically; or has it?
Chief Constable Crompton: The culture is different. However, there is an issue about trust that comes out of Hillsborough. I have said this locally in relation to South Yorkshire in that it probably prompts us to look again at how we do our business and not necessarily just accept that time, culture and so on has moved on. We should look to try to open the police service up a little bit more to external influence and scrutiny. It is not necessarily something that we just stand still with; things have moved on since the late 1980s and the 1990s, but that does not mean that we are in a perfect place even now.
Q31 Chair: One of the issues is police forces investigating neighbouring police forces. In the case of Hillsborough it was not quite neighbouring, but the West Midlands Police force assisting Lord Justice Taylor did the investigation into South Yorkshire. A whole series of reports said everything was okay, when in fact it was not. They were not just let down by the police-in a sense, the whole of the establishment with this succession of reports from the Taylor report to the Independent Panel, absolved those responsible. Does it disappoint you that this has happened?
Chief Constable Crompton: Absolutely. Had things been different would we be sat here talking like this now? I suspect not. So yes, it does.
Q32 Mark Reckless: It appears certain politicians were involved in promulgating quite uncritically the South Yorkshire Police line at the time. Sir Irvine Patnick has apologised for his role in that. Do you think that something like that could still happen today or is there a better and perhaps more independent relationship between police and politicians now?
Chief Constable Crompton: It is a more independent relationship, but if I were to sit here and say that could not possibly happen today, I am not sure that would be a wise thing to do. While there might be a different relationship and times have moved on, I would not say it is impossible.
Q33 Chair: I have been approached by a parliamentary colleague who is a constituency MP for one of the police officers who was on duty on the day of the Hillsborough tragedy. He has informed me that this young police officer, because of what he was made to do by senior officers, has been totally traumatised by the experience. There were a number of very young officers there who had never experienced this before. What support and help is being given by South Yorkshire to these young police officers-obviously 23 years ago-who may still be in the force and who may have been affected by this terrible tragedy as well? What I have said to you, is that the first time you have heard of that issue?
Chief Constable Crompton: No, it is not the first time. In fairness, there is certainly more than one officer who has found life difficult and traumatic ever since the Hillsborough disaster. Support has been there throughout, whether that be via the Police Federation themselves or whether it be via the force Occupational Health Unit and Welfare and so on. Support is there, but clearly there will always be some people who find it more difficult than others to deal with a tragedy.
Q34 Chair: Finally on Hillsborough, before we turn to grooming, when will there be closure for South Yorkshire Police force? Will it be when somebody ends up going before the courts for what they have done wrong, being charged, prosecuted and convicted? Because you talked about prosecution in that Newsnight interview that you did on the day of the publication of the Panel; is that what represents closure for South Yorkshire, or if not, what does?
Chief Constable Crompton: If it is shown from the inquiry that people have broken the law and they are prosecuted, that may represent closure. But it is not possible to say that there is one unique thing that will represent closure for the different people who are involved in the Hillsborough disaster. For example, if I was a member of one of the families who had lost someone I am not sure whether closure would ever be possible. If I was an officer who was there and traumatised, likewise I might find it very difficult to get over it. What you describe could be one element of it, but I don’t think it is the only element.
Q35 Chair: In respect of your colleague in West Yorkshire, are you quite happy with the way matters are proceeding on that? He has been referred to the IPCC, and he has announced his retirement.
Chief Constable Crompton: It is a matter for the West Yorkshire Police Authority and Sir Norman. It is entirely separate from South Yorkshire.
Q36 Chair: Thank you. The Committee will be coming back to you from time to time to monitor this situation. Select Committee has never had an inquiry into Hillsborough and there is no point in having another inquiry into what happened, but we are very concerned about the process that goes on from here. With your co-operation we will be kept informed and we will keep Parliament informed.
Mr Crompton: I am happy to co-operate.
Chair: Thank you.
Q37 Nicola Blackwood: I just wanted to ask one question about what your policy is going to be in terms of co-operating with the IPCC investigation. One of the ongoing problems that has come before this Committee is public confidence in IPCC investigations, and in particular the fact that the IPCC cannot compel officers to give interviews where they have been involved in a death or a serious injury, except in cases where a criminal or misconduct offence is suspected. Are you going to grant the IPCC interviews or not, in this case, given the high level of public concern and the history associated with this case?
Chief Constable Crompton: The short answer is that even if I was to grant an interview, I cannot force somebody to say something if they are unwilling to do so.
Nicola Blackwood: No, but even if somebody said, "No comment," that still acts as evidence in cases, as you know from your own experience.
Chief Constable Crompton: In truth, it is the first time it has been raised with me. I will take that one away and talk it through with the IPCC who I am in regular dialogue with.
Nicola Blackwood: Okay; thank you.
Q38 Chair: That is very helpful; thank you very much. Chief Constable, we are now going to turn to our other inquiry that we were already conducting into grooming of children. This is an on-going inquiry, and I know that you would like DCI Etheridge to join you at the dais. We do not normally do this in the middle of hearings, but as he is here, that would be very helpful.
Detective Chief Inspector Etheridge: Thank you.
Q39 Chair: As you know, the Committee is conducting an extensive inquiry into child grooming, and South Yorkshire features very heavily in this. What surprises me and others is the fact that we have had so few prosecutions by South Yorkshire of those who are the perpetrators of grooming. Why is that?
Chief Constable Crompton: If you look at the articles that were in The Times newspaper in which this surfaced, one of the issues that was highlighted was an internal report in 2010 that identified and recognised that, given the intelligence and the feeling that was coming from other agencies about the level of potential offending, we simply did not have sufficient resource devoted to this particular activity. At that time there were only three people dedicated to it in the force. There are now significantly more than that; we have eight. It was written within the report that it contributed towards some of the difficulties that had spanned the number of years prior to that.
Q40 Chair: As you say, this surfaced in articles written by Andrew Norfolk in The Times. Have you ordered a review as to why so few people were prosecuted? According to the information we have we are talking about large-scale grooming operations lasting at least 10 years involving hundreds of victims and thousands of offences each year, but in the end only eight people were prosecuted. I understand that this happened before you arrived, but you are the Chief Constable now. When you saw what was being said in newspapers, which seem to have uncovered more than anyone else, did you institute a review as to why this has not taken place?
Chief Constable Crompton: As a result of knowing that I was coming here we are looking again at what the process was over several years. It is important to recognise that the situation the force is in now is very different to the one that pertained a few years ago. Not only do we have more dedicated resources, we have a number of ongoing inquiries, of which of course it would not be right for me to give details. However, things have certainly moved on and the extra resource has given us the opportunity to go after the offenders to a greater degree than was probably available to us a number of years ago, although we have had one or two notable successes. What is quoted in the newspaper as intelligence that the police were aware of, we were aware of some of that; the question then is whether you have the ability to turn the intelligence into evidence in order to get to a prosecution, and that can be very problematic, as I know this Committee has heard before. Some of the intelligence was with other agencies and did not necessarily come to the police, so it is not all quite as it looks on paper, but I acknowledge we did not have enough resource devoted to this.
Q41 Chair: We take the resources point, but let me give you an example. I would like you to bear with me on this because it sums up the problem in South Yorkshire. "A Risky Business intelligence report for South Yorkshire Police in March 2008 linked three members of a family to 61 girls. Of those 61 girls, 43 were said to be ex-girlfriends of one or more family members and 13 were said to have been raped, sexually assaulted or threatened by one or more members of this family. In March 2008, a Social Services initial assessment record noted that in February of that year a 12-year old girl was found in a blue Peugeot with a member of this family who was then aged 22. The car was stopped on Fitzwilliam Road, Rotherham. In the car was a bottle of vodka. Both the 22-year-old and the girl were arrested on suspicion of car theft. Indecent photographs of the girl were found by police on the man’s mobile phone. He was not charged with any offence." It is clear that South Yorkshire knows who this family are, but not a single member of this family has been charged.
When this kind of information gets to a Select Committee, I would imagine it is with the South Yorkshire Police, and although I accept your view about resources, this is a situation now where you know who these people are, presumably, or are you saying this is now stopped in Rotherham or South Yorkshire, and this is not happening any more?
Chief Constable Crompton: Let me be clear. I am not saying that at all, no. Although I recognise what you just said, my understanding is that not all of that information was within police possession and the bits that were not capable of being translated into a criminal case, because while the girls would be disclosing to the staff at Risky Business, that was not translating through into disclosures in evidence to the police. So even though it reads absolutely horrifically, and as a father and parent I don’t deny that for a second, when it comes down to translating that intelligence, dreadful as it is, into a case, that has proved very problematic over the years.
Q42 Chair: It cannot be that we just did not have enough police officers to deal with it and the unit was too small. It must be more than that to those who are the victims.
Chief Constable Crompton: My understanding is it is more than that, yes. There is a resource issue, but over and above that ultimately you have to have the confidence of the victim who will then make the disclosure and put that into evidence in a form that will stand up in court. That is a problematic area and, again, I know the Committee have heard about this before. I am not falling back on the resource issue but it is an issue about how the victims are dealt with. Nowadays, we would deal with the victims in a slightly more sophisticated way, and even if we were unable to get to a prosecution, which is the gold standard, we now have alternative means that perhaps we never used to pursue where we can link up with the licensing authority of the local authority or go for different offences rather than necessarily the obvious one that seems to present itself.
Q43 Chair: Because what surprised me is in the recent cases of sex abuse. The Metropolitan Police have announced yesterday the BBC are having an inquiry, the Met Police have put in a lot of resources. Why can this not be done for ordinary victims in South Yorkshire, the kind of resource that goes into, for example-?
Chief Constable Crompton: Can I just say, Chairman, that is where we are now? We have some dedicated resources, and we also-
Chair: You are telling us you have eight people. It has gone up from three to eight.
Chief Constable Crompton: I was about to elaborate on that. We have eight people who do nothing but this, but we have about another 50 who are broadly involved in child protection and so on. Child protection is a wider issue than just child sexual exploitation, and where we get jobs that start to develop then we can bring specially trained staff into that. We have in excess of 60 staff involved or potentially involved in this, in the force. The point I was just going to go back to was that our methods of dealing with victims over the years, and this is not just police forces but other agencies as well, there has been a journey in terms of the learning around child sexual exploitation that has gone on over some time. I know the much-publicised investigation that you are talking about. If you go back 10 or 15 years, victims were not dealt with in the same way.
Q44 Chair: The Met Police have decided to do this in the Savile case, but you are not putting in the resources necessary when you find a 22-year old man and a 12-year old girl in a car with a bottle of vodka. I am not a police officer, but it is pretty serious, is it not?
Chief Constable Crompton: Yes, it is serious.
Chair: But nobody was prosecuted.
Chief Constable Crompton: Nobody was prosecuted, but my understanding is that there were no disclosures by the victims. Whether we could get to that a number of years later is highly problematic. I am not saying it is impossible, but it is highly problematic.
Q45 Bridget Phillipson: Chief Constable, I note what you say, that the situation now is very different, and I sincerely hope that is the case. It is true that the challenges the police face are reflected more broadly in society around the culture of disbelief that victims can often face. What are you doing within the force to tackle that culture that often stops victims, both child and adult, from feeling they will be believed when they come forward to make a disclosure?
Chief Constable Crompton: I am very grateful you have asked that. We have training for every single officer in the force now, specifically in relation to child sexual exploitation. For more senior detectives who might be in charge of those investigations, we have upgraded training and a different training package. Over and above that, some of our officers now have a programme of going around schools, because one of the fundamentals in all of this is that we need to equip young girls-because primarily but not exclusively it is about young girls-with the knowledge and the skills and the awareness to recognise how they can get drawn into some of this, so that they can spot that at an earlier stage. We have moved an awful long way over the last 10 years. The short answer to your question is that every operational officer in the force has had training in relation to child sexual exploitation, and more senior people and those people who work in specialised units have additional training as well.
Q46 Bridge Phillipson: Is it not important that we challenge the attitude that has existed, not just in this case but more broadly, that young women who are 13, 14, 15, who we imagine are capable of giving consent to having sexual relationships with older men, but those young women are legally not in a position to give consent?
Chief Constable Crompton: Absolutely, I could not agree more. Just to add to that, something that we and a number of other forces have done is we are now significant users of what we call "abduction notices". It does not have directly any legal standing, but it is a notice that we give to somebody who has a youngster with them in circumstances that are suspicious, making it clear that they have no right to have that youngster in their possession. That then can be quoted back in court proceedings and also used in evidence against them later.
Q47 Bridget Phillipson: In terms of the case the Chair referred to, where, for example, you would find someone in possession of indecent images but you had a victim perhaps unwilling to give evidence against the perpetrator, can you foresee victimless prosecutions in those cases?
Chief Constable Crompton: If the images were truly indecent, then my understanding is yes. Without getting into a different debate, in that particular instance the Chairman referred to I am not convinced that they were indecent images, but nevertheless my answer to your question is yes.
Bridget Phillipson: Thank you.
Q48 Chair: DCI Etheridge, you are the lead on child sexual exploitation. Do you really need training to know that there is something wrong if there is a 22-year-old man in a car with a 12-year-old girl and a bottle of vodka and indecent photographs of the girl on the man’s mobile phone?
Detective Chief Inspector Etheridge: No, I do think police officers do have that awareness generally, Mr Chairman, but the training that the Chief expressed there gives officers awareness of all of the issues that are there, not just the fact that there is a child with a 22-year-old. The question that arises from that is the training allows officers to not only protect the child but look for evidence. You mentioned about the evidence being on the phone-this training is being rolled out to all frontline officers and all detectives and we are learning from that.
Q49 Chair: The trouble is maybe people are spending too much time at seminars and not enough time catching the people responsible. I know we are not police officers and not trained to deal with this situation, but it is quite obvious when things are not quite right. It is an instinct thing, is it not? Those figures I gave you, three members of a family linked to 61 girls: have you not heard of this case before?
Detective Chief Inspector Etheridge: I have, yes.
Chair: So you know about it and you know the family that I am referring to?
Detective Chief Inspector Etheridge: I do, yes.
Q50 Chair: But none have been prosecuted?
Detective Chief Inspector Etheridge: They have not, but there have been successes within Rotherham for prosecutions for child sexual exploitation in 2008.
Q51 Chair: How many did you successfully prosecute this year?
Detective Chief Inspector Etheridge: For child sexual exploitations?
Chair: Yes, in South Yorkshire.
Detective Chief Inspector Etheridge: For this type of offence we have not prosecuted anyone this year at this stage.
Chair: You have not prosecuted anybody?
Detective Chief Inspector Etheridge: We currently have two live investigations in South Yorkshire, but again it would be unfair of me to-
Q52 Chair: The trouble for us in this inquiry is that week after week we see in newspapers, especially in The Times, all this information and you are telling this Committee that nobody has been prosecuted for child exploitation in South Yorkshire in 2012. DCI?
Chief Constable Crompton: Chairman, perhaps can I help?
Chair: Can I just ask the DCI, since he is the lead?
Chief Constable Crompton: Yes.
Detective Chief Inspector Etheridge: That is correct, but if you go back-
Q53 Chair: Isn’t that an embarrassment?
Detective Chief Inspector Etheridge: No; if you go back through the years, Mr Chairman, we have had successes. In 2008, we had eight nominals from Rotherham convicted at court. In 2010, we have an example here where a Slovakian girl was prosecuted that was brought into this country for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
Q54 Chair: So you can tell us one example in 2010?
Detective Chief Inspector Etheridge: Yes, I can.
Q55 Chair: Thank you. One final question from me: is the ethnic origin of the perpetrators a factor in the police deciding whether or not to prosecute people? Is there any question that you will not prosecute because someone appears to be from a particular ethnic origin?
Chief Constable Crompton: No, Chairman, it is not a factor at all. I know that there might be popular opinion that that is not the case, but if you look over a number of years at the sorts of very similar child sexual exploitation cases that there have been in the county, then it does create a profile that people would understand.
Q56 Chair: But it is an issue, is it not?
Chief Constable Crompton: People think it is an issue, and therefore we have to recognise that is an issue.
Q57 Chair: Do you think it is an issue?
Chief Constable Crompton: Not in the way that you have put it to us.
Q58 Mr Winnick: Can I just say, Chief Constable and to your colleague, that the illustration that the Chair gave of the child in the car with an adult and vodka does not persuade me, and I doubt if any other member of this Committee is so persuaded. I am rather shocked, I must say. Chief Constable, would it be possible for us to have further information following this session of the Committee over what occurred, because I think it is a rather serious issue?
Chief Constable Crompton: Absolutely, yes.
Q59 Nicola Blackwood: One of the reasons it is frustrating is that there are significant numbers of successful prosecutions going on in other places. The figures that emerged in The Times article were significant, and when matched against the number of prosecutions we are hearing about they just seem to be disproportionate. Even when you lay that against the resources argument, it does not really seem to add up. In terms of disclosures, there is a very good reason why a lot of these young girls do not tend to be comfortable disclosing to police. They are in fear of disclosing to the police because they are in thrall to the men who have groomed them for so long, but they may well be disclosing to other agencies. Those other agencies may not be trained up in how to present the evidence that they have gathered as evidence that can be used, which is why other areas in the country have worked on building up co-located units that can work together and develop trusted working practices so that that intelligence can be gathered to form evidence in order to work on prosecutions. This has worked effectively in a number of other places in the country. Is that what is happening now in Rotherham? Is there some hope for some of these girls who are trapped in this situation, or is there no hope for them yet?
Chief Constable Crompton: Absolutely there is hope, and in direct answer to the question that you have posed, we have co-located units in Rotherham, in Sheffield, in Doncaster and, in the very near future, Barnsley.
Q60 Nicola Blackwood: When were these set up?
Chief Constable Crompton: About a year ago.
Q61 Nicola Blackwood: Why have there been no prosecutions coming out of these units as there have in other places?
Chief Constable Crompton: In fairness, given the sort of time lag that you have before you get to a result at court, setting the units up a year ago is not necessarily sufficient time to start to see significant results coming out of the court process at the other end.
Q62 Nicola Blackwood: How many arrests have been associated with the units?
Chief Constable Crompton: I could not tell you that.
Q63 Nicola Blackwood: Could you write to us with that information?
Chief Constable Crompton: Yes, I can absolutely do that.
Q64 Nicola Blackwood: Okay, and what is the make-up of the co-located units? They have police officers involved, because you said eight police officers are involved in these units.
Chief Constable Crompton: Distributed around the force; social workers, counsellors-
Q65 Nicola Blackwood: Are those social workers?
Chief Constable Crompton: I am not sure whether they wear two hats, but certainly in some cases they are separate counsellors as opposed to the social workers who work for the local authority.
Q66 Nicola Blackwood: Okay, and what about NHS?
Chief Constable Crompton: Yes, health.
Q67 Nicola Blackwood: What about the voluntary sector?
Detective Chief Inspector Etheridge: There is some engagement at the co-located site with the voluntary sector, yes.
Q68 Nicola Blackwood: Some engagement?
Detective Chief Inspector Etheridge: Yes, although they are co-located they are there temporarily, if that makes sense.
Chief Constable Crompton: They are not there every day of the week.
Detective Chief Inspector Etheridge: That is right.
Nicola Blackwood: Okay.
Q69 Mark Reckless: I have a few questions. Can you clarify, please, this confidential 2010 report by the Police Intelligence Bureau warning that thousands of such crimes were committed in the county each year. What does that refer to?
Chief Constable Crompton: I need to clear this up, because there was a piece of work done around that report that looked at the vulnerability and risk factors around youngsters across the whole of South Yorkshire. Those sorts of risk factors would be missing from home, poor school attendance, truancy, problems with drink, problems with drugs, and you could name a number of others. When you then combine that with age profiles what you get is a total number of potential victims. What has gone on within that report is a process of extrapolation where you are looking historically at how many offences might be associated with a victim, and then hypothetically you can come up with a number. That is not the real number, but hypothetically that is the number that went into the report.
Q70 Mark Reckless: Giving unfair perceptions suggesting you are prosecuting very small numbers?
Chief Constable Crompton: It does give an over-exaggerated perception of what the risk is and the number of offences involved, but I am not trying to minimise the seriousness of the situation at all.
Q71 Mark Reckless: Have we not heard that there were 61 alleged victims just from one family?
Chief Constable Crompton: Yes. The question is to what degree that information was capable of being converted into evidence by the police at the time.
Q72 Mark Reckless: In light of newly disclosed material, are you proposing further legal action currently?
Chief Constable Crompton: If it is possible, then that is fine. At the moment the co-located units that we have are dealing with live investigations as opposed to historic investigations.
Q73 Mark Reckless: You answered in the negative when the Chair asked you whether ethnicity was a factor in your decision not to prosecute in these cases.
Chief Constable Crompton: Absolutely.
Q74 Mark Reckless: Is it not a decision of the Crown Prosecution Service whether or not to prosecute?
Chief Constable Crompton: Yes. In terms of the police decision to arrest and process and determine investigations it has no influence whatsoever, but ultimately a decision to prosecute would be the CPS’s, you are correct.
Q75 Mark Reckless: But you, as the police, are happy with the number of prosecutions rather than being critical of the CPS on that front?
Chief Constable Crompton: The CPS have a difficult job. They have an absolute standard of proof that they have to take into court. If a case cannot be brought to meet that standard of proof, then I have sympathy for them; they are in a difficult situation, because they can only give one answer.
Q76 Mark Reckless: Is that not only one part of the test? Do they not also have to judge whether it is in the public interest, and is there not some suggestion that issues of race and diversity are getting caught up in that public interest test?
Chief Constable Crompton: I am not aware that that is the case in South Yorkshire.
Mark Reckless: Thank you.
Q77 Chair: Mr Crompton and Mr Etheridge, I had hoped when you came to give evidence on grooming that you would come to this Committee with some fresh information. I must say I am very disappointed, because I don’t think South Yorkshire has a grip on this very difficult subject. I am very surprised that nobody has been prosecuted this year, DCI Etheridge, and I am very surprised that you have not initiated an inquiry into all these very serious allegations about the number of victims that are involved. We appreciate the number of officers has increased enormously. We also appreciate you were not the Chief Constable at the time. However, this is an issue for the police, and the Committee’s message is that we do need to get a grip of the situation in South Yorkshire so that the information that comes before you needs to be processed and people need to be prosecuted if they have committed a crime. In this particular case that I have mentioned, this family are presumably still wandering around the streets of Rotherham with these very serious allegations about the number of girls who are connected to them. It is not usual, and you don’t need forensic training to know that there is something wrong. So, Mr Etheridge, we would like you to write to us in a month’s time setting out what has been done by South Yorkshire to try to get a grip of this subject and I hope, Mr Crompton-it is up to you to decide this, this Committee cannot ask you to hold a review-that you should really be looking very seriously at this issue and perhaps having a review of what has happened. You have a lot on your plate with Hillsborough and with these other issues as well as routine policing which you also have to do-we appreciate that-but this is in the public domain, and the Committee is very concerned and the public is very concerned.
Chief Constable Crompton: We do treat it seriously, Chair.
Detective Chief Inspector Etheridge: Can I just add very quickly, Chair, when you said it is co-location has worked in South Yorkshire, it-?
Chair: Sorry, can you speak up.
Detective Chief Inspector Etheridge: Sorry, I do apologise. Co-location has worked within South Yorkshire working with other partners. With the live investigations that were undertaken, we do have, or we are beginning to get, the confidence of the girls that have been affected by these crimes that are ongoing. That is working. I don’t have those results here and now for you, because these are live investigations. We have engaged with CPS at an early stage in these live investigations to find the best way to obtain evidence from them, and potentially victimless prosecutions. These are all steps that we have taken since 2010. You are right, I don’t have those results for here and now, but I will write to you.
Chair: Thank you.
Q78 Mark Reckless: Rather than just engaging with the CPS at arm’s length, why not put someone from the CPS in those co-located units?
Detective Chief Inspector Etheridge: That would be easier said than done. I accept what you are trying to achieve there, but you are asking me to provide information about-
Q79 Chair: Tell us who is the problem and we will write to them, because Mr Reckless has a good suggestion that we need to follow up. Mr Crompton, if you did what you are doing on Hillsborough and the aftermath to Hillsborough in respect to a child grooming I think the Committee would be satisfied. We are not satisfied at the moment. We hope that you will deal with some of these points urgently, but we are most grateful to you for coming today, both of you. Thank you very much.
Examination of Witness
Witness: Sheila Coleman, Representative of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, gave evidence.
Q80 Chair: Mrs Coleman, thank you very much. Thank you for sitting patiently. I am afraid we had a vote, as you know, and we were dealing with two inquiries. May I begin on behalf of the whole Committee in again passing on all our condolences for all those involved as victims of what happened at Hillsborough. Twenty three years may have passed, but of course it does not take away the pain of the way in which you will have to deal with this very sad issue.
We have some specific questions. We will be taking evidence from the Hillsborough Family Support Group after you. In particular, I am sure that you would welcome the decision taken today by the Attorney General to apply for a fresh inquest. Is this something that you welcome?
Sheila Coleman: Yes. I am speaking on behalf of the families and survivors in the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and also Anne Williams, who represents herself in these matters but is ill. Yes, we welcome it, we have long campaigned for the inquest verdict to be quashed. In fact, we were party to the judicial review in 1993 where we brought evidence that indicated that some of the deceased could have survived and also that statements had been altered. Yesterday was a welcome move forward.
Q81 Chair: You have heard the evidence of David Crompton and what South Yorkshire is doing?
Sheila Coleman: Yes.
Q82 Chair: Is there anything else that you want South Yorkshire to do, apart from what he has just said? Obviously, they have just told us they don’t want to be involved in investigating themselves again. They are limited to writing to the IPCC, giving them the list of serving officers, and giving them the list of former officers. Is there more that you want from South Yorkshire, other than what you have heard today?
Sheila Coleman: We were heartened that he said that he did not want any more hands-on involvement in terms of South Yorkshire Police. That is another step forward. We would just seek clarity in terms of the IPCC investigation and the DPP investigation that there is nobody involved who has previously been involved in investigating any aspect of the Hillsborough disaster.
Q83 Chair: I am a bit confused, because there are a lot of these investigations going on. We have had this shocking report that you have waited so long for. I get the impression there are a lot of organisations and different parts of Government doing different things and I worry that they are not co-ordinated enough. You are chasing the IPCC, you are chasing South Yorkshire, you are chasing the DPP, and you are asking Government to do certain things; do you think there is a way that this myriad of different follow-up regimes should be brought together?
Sheila Coleman: Yes, I think a public inquiry would resolve some of those issues. Clearly, what is happening now is what families have been doing independently for years in terms of running around trying to move things forward. We are aware, it is very complex, and 23 years on many families have suffered ill-health, have died, there is a natural progression where people are weary but still feeling they have to fight on all fronts, and if there is a way where all the strands could be brought together to give true transparency and accountability then the Hillsborough Justice Campaign would welcome that.
Q84 Chair: But you are happy to see those officers who are currently serving for South Yorkshire continuing to serve in their jobs, in their posts, and you are happy at the process, but you are concerned about the timing? This concerns me.
Sheila Coleman: We would not say we were happy, but for years Hillsborough families and survivors have been powerless in this procedure and some of us are now quite shocked to hear the number of officers who are still serving in South Yorkshire Police who were involved on the day of the disaster. So, no, we are not happy, but we have learned to accommodate situations, because we have been hard-pushed to move things forward. In respect of South Yorkshire Police, in particular, the survivors in our campaign feel very aggrieved at how they have been excluded over the years in terms of access, and I would like to say to the Committee that any pressure you could bring to bear in respect of including survivors in any process for the future would be greatly welcomed. They are the people who have been vilified in terms of the statements being altered, and so on.
Q85 Chair: So, at the moment, who is keeping you informed? We know all this is happening, because we watch television and read the newspapers and we go online, but who is writing to you saying, "By the way, this is happening now"? How is that process happening?
Sheila Coleman: The IPCC wrote to the families via the Bishop of Liverpool, who is the Chair of the Panel, in respect of this meeting today, I discovered it from a Tweet of yours and that was how we came to be here today from the Hillsborough Justice Campaign. We subsequently contacted MPs, and Maria Eagle gave us the procedure and we then contacted you. So, it is not an ideal situation, and that is something we would ask of this Committee: that you assist us in making sure that for the future processes all families have equal access to information and the consultation process, because at the present time that is not happening.
Q86 Chair: Did you call for the resignation of Norman Bettison?
Sheila Coleman: We called for him to be sacked.
Q87 Chair: Right. Is that still your position?
Sheila Coleman: Yes. At the very least we believe West Yorkshire Police should suspend him, given the comments of the IPCC, and in fact given the comments of West Yorkshire Police in reporting him to the IPCC.
Chair: Thank you very much for coming to give evidence to us today. It has been extremely helpful. We will bear in mind what you have said about access to information and we will ensure that you are kept informed of everything that this Committee does. We have a website, but not everyone has access to websites, so we will make sure that you are written to. We would also like to know precisely what is happening in terms of what the campaign is doing. Thank you for coming.
Sheila Coleman: Thank you very much.
Chair: Could I now call to the dais Margaret Aspinall, Trevor Hicks, Jenni Hicks, and Lord Falconer.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Margaret Aspinall, Trevor Hicks and Jenni Hicks, Hillsborough Family Support Group, and Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton QC, gave evidence.
Q88 Chair: Mr Hicks, Mrs Hicks, Ms Aspinall and Lord Falconer, thank you very much for coming to give evidence to us today. Can I declare an interest? I have served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Lord Falconer when he was the Solicitor General when the last Government was in existence.
I would like to start with a question to you, Mr Hicks. Can you describe very briefly your reaction to the independent report when it was published? Did you feel that there was vindication? Did you feel it was closure? Did you feel that it just underlined everything that you have been saying in the past?
Trevor Hicks: Three questions there, Chair. Yes, we felt vindicated. As you will appreciate, we have been accused of lots of things, made scapegoats and all the rest of it. Yes, we felt vindicated. We were very shocked. We thought we knew most of the information and the depravity-if I could use that word-of what had gone on in South Yorkshire Police, and obviously what we were really shocked about was the medical evidence, which of course has not been accessible to us before. We considered that the previous inquest process was severely flawed, and obviously today is very relevant. We probably need to deal with those in turn and I will try to do it quickly.
We represent around 68 of the bereaved families. We have been actively involved, we hear what Sheila says, and again we were speaking to the DPP yesterday. We are in London for two days doing exactly what is what. So, to answer your question, we were shocked, we felt vindicated, and we feel that this is only the beginning of closure.
Q89 Chair: I should have begun by, again, passing on the condolences of this Committee to all of you for the loss of your children. Mr Hicks, your daughter died at age 19, your other daughter, Victoria, died when she was only 15, and Mrs Aspinall, your son James died when he was only 18 years of age. We cannot even begin to feel what you feel at this moment even though it was so long ago. It is a terrible tragedy and you have our sympathy and our admiration for what you have done.
Mrs Aspinall, when you looked at all the various reports, going all the way back to Lord Justice Taylor, the report that was commissioned by Jack Straw, the West Midlands investigation, why do you think it took so long to get to the truth? Was there someone trying to stop this happening, or is it just the fact that the systems of Government did not work? Was it a conspiracy, or was it just people not doing their jobs?
Margaret Aspinall: I think it was a combination of everything, I always thought Hillsborough was a cover-up from the very top to the bottom. We always felt, as families, that everything we went forward with they always gave us the impression that they were slightly opening the door but they did not. They always slammed the door in our face because what we wanted to put forward as evidence we were not allowed to. When we had the private prosecution, also when you had the generic inquest, witnesses were chosen; we had no part to play in that. Witnesses were chosen, and when we put certain questions forward to Mr Popper, we never got the answers to them. They did not give us the answers. Even though we were, also at that time, saying to him, "You have to go beyond the 3.15 cut-off time" he was having none of it, and there was nothing we could do about it.
That happened not with just the generic inquest, but everything that we went forward to. As you know, we have had the private prosecutions, we have had judicial reviews, we have also had the scrutiny, which was absolutely appalling, and every time we wanted to put something forward they stopped us from doing it. What made it worse for all of us at that time, was that Mr Stuart-Smith kept saying to us, "You need new evidence," and yet all that evidence has been there all those years but we knew that at the time.
Q90 Chair: Mrs Hicks, does it surprise you to know the number of serving police officers that are still at South Yorkshire Police? There was a figure of 100 given by David Crompton. Do any of you wish to comment on this; were you surprised at that number?
Jenni Hicks: Yes.
Margaret Aspinall: Yes. Go on Jenni, would you like to answer on that?
Jenni Hicks: No, that is all right, you answer.
Q91 Chair: Are you satisfied with the proposal of what both his and South Yorkshire’s involvement is going to be? They will get the list together, and they will send the list to the IPCC.
Trevor Hicks: I need to declare an interest. I have a business in West Yorkshire, so Norman Bettison is my local Chief Constable, and I have very much come out in favour for him to be dismissed. We would like to say one thing: we believe there is an element of Freemasonry involved. Witnesses have come forward in recent weeks. You will appreciate lots of people want to purge their conscience. Something we had not considered before is whether the closed ranks of Freemasonry was part of the reason. I think you asked the question of the cover-up of Mr Crompton; we don’t accept his answer. Until March of this year, he was number two to Norman Bettison, and you will understand that in view of the history of Hillsborough we are very concerned that he will be vigorous enough-this was a phrase used quite a lot in the report-if we use the investigations by the West Midlands Police. One of the difficulties here in the evidence gathering, or the statement altering, whichever way, is that everything other than the South Yorkshire officers was dealt with by West Midlands Police under the PACE-Police and Criminal Evidence-rules. South Yorkshire were allowed to take their own statements, hence the doctoring that took place. There are lessons to be learned.
Q92 Chair: Lord Falconer, if I can bring you in. Nobody knows more about the way in which the system of Government operates than you. You are a former Solicitor General, Attorney General, you have served as a Minister in the Home Officer, a Minister in the Cabinet Office and Lord Chancellor. From what I have heard so far, I get the impression that there are a lot of people wanting to get closure on this. The IPCC has an inquiry, the Attorney General is going to apply for a fresh inquest, there is a lot going on but it is not co-ordinated. Is there a view that there ought to be some individual, perhaps a special prosecutor-I know we don’t have a system as they have in the United States of special prosecutors-appointed by the Attorney General or someone else, the Home Secretary, appointing someone to just bring all these strands together.
Lord Falconer: What you say is what the families would very much like to see. We went to see the families, and Michael Mansfield and I also went with them and we saw the Director of Public Prosecutions, who was incredibly impressive, and he said that there needs to be a knitted-together investigation. The families and I worry that you end up in a situation where the IPCC does an investigation, they then refer it to the DPP, who then does another investigation, and it is just more and more of the same.
What the Director of Public Prosecutions was saying to us is to have one group of people investigating. They should work with the coroner, there should be no delay once the new inquests are set up, and we assume there will be a new inquest. If you ask us who should lead it, we were incredibly impressed by the Director of Public Prosecutions and we would be more than happy to see him lead it, but we thoroughly embrace the idea of getting rid of the complication, and having one group co-ordinating it, one person driving the investigation. The Director of Public Prosecutions told us yesterday that on Monday there is going to be a debate in which the Home Secretary will speak on behalf of the Government in the House of Commons. The Director of Public Prosecutions suggests that we go to see the IPCC and we go to see the Home Secretary and suggest that the internal bits of Government agree the Director of Public Prosecutions approach, and we are incredibly keen to see that.
There is one other aspect to it, which is that there are civil claims as well as criminal claims and inquests. We just heard the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire say that he unreservedly accepted the report-Mr Winnick asked if there were any qualifications, and he said no qualifications at all in relation to accepting the report. That means he is accepting that there was a cover-up that caused unimaginable pain for 23 years. The civil claims can all be short-circuited if the South Yorkshire Police, and those who accept the contents of the report indicate that they will not resist any claim.
Q93 Chair: Yes. This is not because you don’t have confidence in the IPCC, but you want it kept away from the police, is that right? You don’t want any further police investigation into this, is that right, Mr Hicks?
Trevor Hicks: I think experience has shown that they are not vigorous enough when they are investigating themselves. I don’t want to call it a back-slapping exercise but, "One week we investigate you and the next week you investigate us," and that is not really conducive to a vigorous and thorough investigation.
Q94 Chair: So, what Lord Falconer is suggesting is that the DPP be put in the lead and that the investigation be under his supervision, incorporating what the police want to do and everyone else-just one point of contact. Is that what you would like to see happen?
Jenni Hicks: Exactly, yes.
Trevor Hicks: There is another element we have not mentioned and that is health and safety. There are health and safety legislation matters here as well. So, we could end up with four strands all working side by side, and the suggestion that we discussed with the DPP yesterday was to have an umbrella operation that pulls all those folk together, and Lord Falconer said that the DPP is happy to lead that.
Q95 Chair: At the moment are you doing this all on your own? Are you just going and asking for the meetings, or are people saying, "Come and have a meeting with us we want to tell you what is going on"? Or are you taking the lead and saying to the DPP, "I want to see you," and saying to the Home Secretary, "I want to see you"?
Lord Falconer: We are taking the lead.
Q96 Chair: You are doing it?
Lord Falconer: We are trying to see them and trying to persuade them to see us and agree that there should be this knitted-together investigation. We are not experiencing difficulty; we hope we can see the IPCC to give them another chance to agree to this before Monday. On Monday the Commons are going to debate this issue and I think the families have found that when the Commons have debated things in recent times that has made a real difference. Mr Rotheram getting the debate made a real difference.
Q97 Mark Reckless: Can I clarify, is the suggestion from the DPP that there should be a single investigation and this is going to be led by the Director of Public Prosecutions himself? Is that the proposal?
Lord Falconer: He is saying there should be a knitted-together investigation.
Jenni Hicks: Co-ordinated.
Lord Falconer: Co-ordinated. I don’t know the precise details of it, but what he is saying, in effect, is that he is worried. Before we saw the Director of Public Prosecutions, the families expressed exactly the same worries to me, that he would have an investigation that would then lead to another investigation and one would be referring to the other. You want one lot of people investigating the same things and reaching conclusions.
Q98 Mark Reckless: What, if any, role do you envisage for the DPP in this proposal, or does he envisage for himself?
Lord Falconer: The Director of Public Prosecutions has to make the decision finally as to whether prosecutions are brought, but he can also have a co-ordinating role, making sure that there is no overlap and no unnecessary delay.
Q99 Mark Reckless: From the families’ perspective, what would be the aim of this overarching investigation? What would you like to see come out of it?
Jenni Hicks: The main part of co-ordinating it all together is to prevent it being long and drawn out because what we don’t need is another year. We have already had 23 years of waiting. What we don’t need now is going around in circles with one agency and then another, and you end up with us still waiting another three, four or five years. We have already waited for 23 years, and the idea of co-ordinating it together is to prevent that, to make sure that you are not having one agency coming in with something and then they think, "Oh, no, we should have done it another way," and so on. It just co-ordinates it all together so that we can move forward more quickly.
Q100 Mark Reckless: Is the objective of this investigation to publish a final report as to what happened? Is its objective to prosecute particular individuals?
Lord Falconer: The investigation we are talking about is the consideration of criminal charges. That is what we are talking about, and the IPCC is considering whether or not they should bring criminal charges or whether they should make recommendations in relation to disciplinary matters. The DPP is considering whether to make criminal charges, and that is what the announcement was last week in relation to the IPCC and the DPP. The aim is that there be proper and speedy consideration of whether or not criminal charges should be brought in the light both of the considerations of possible manslaughter charges-which is what happened to cause the disaster-and also whether there are charges such as misfeasance in public office, or conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in relation to what happened after the disaster.
Q101 Mark Reckless: Do you see any scope, particularly in the light of the newly disclosed material for instance, for prosecutions for gross negligence and manslaughter?
Lord Falconer: I do. Yes, that is what needs to be investigated as a matter of urgency, and that is what the DPP has said he is doing.
Q102 Mark Reckless: I can entirely understand your and the families’ desire for a single overarching process and not particularly lengthy and repeated processes, but normally you would have the CPS and a police force co-operating with an investigation with a view to criminal charges. In this case what is the police involvement?
Lord Falconer: The DPP was very impressive yesterday. He said exactly what you have just said; you would normally start with the police force, but he has 450,000 documents pulled together by the Hillsborough Independent Panel and all that has gone before, and he is saying, "Let me get straight on in the Crown Prosecution Service and look at this stuff and see whether it gives the basis of a prosecution." I applaud the DPP for doing that. He is not going back to the beginning; he is recognising that a significant amount of investigation has already been done.
Q103 Mark Reckless: Is there any danger that this innovative type approach in this area might cross over the rights of defendants or lead to procedural issues that could prevent prosecutions that might otherwise occur?
Lord Falconer: The Director of Public Prosecutions was absolutely clear that if it requires further investigation he will do it, and I have complete confidence in the DPP to be on the right side of the line.
Q104 Mr Winnick: I want to ask Lord Falconer one or two questions, but can I say that there is utmost admiration, Mr and Mrs Hicks, Mrs Aspinall, and all those involved, for their long campaigning? Without their campaigning, supported by a number of people, not least Members of Parliament, this would have gone nowhere. We have admiration when we look upon you and the way in which you have conducted for 23 years a campaign against lies and distortions which do no credit to the police.
Lord Falconer, you were asked a number of questions by Mr Reckless and the Chair about procedures. As I said, this has been going on since the tragedy over 23 years ago, and it will soon be a quarter of a century, so how do you see closure, bearing in mind what you have said about criminal charges being brought, or being quite likely to be brought? How long do you think this can carry on until there is closure, with your experience of the law?
Lord Falconer: I don’t know whether or not there can be closure. As far as what can happen now is concerned, the families can get what they should have got 23 years ago, which is a proper investigation, and then wherever that investigation led, for the right consequences to follow. If that meant criminal proceedings then it should mean criminal proceedings now. If that meant a fair inquest then it should mean a fair inquest now. How long will it take to get there? The families have been saying to me that these 23 years have taken a terrible toll. There are many people who at the beginning of those 23 years after the disaster campaigned for justice, and who are now dead. It is absolutely vital that it be dealt with as quickly as possible now, and it does not need to take years because all the material has been collected in one place. It is simply a question of people drawing conclusions from that material that should have been drawn a long time ago.
Q105 Mr Winnick: Lord Falconer, I am sure the community and the residents around those affected obviously appreciate what you are doing. You won’t misunderstand, but can you explain briefly your involvement and how long you are likely to be involved and giving counsel?
Lord Falconer: I and my firm are representing the Hillsborough Family Support Group.
Q106 Mr Winnick: Your firm being?
Lord Falconer: A firm called Gibson Dunn and Crutcher. It is a firm of lawyers.
Mr Winnick: We just need to have that in the minutes.
Lord Falconer: Yes. We are representing the Hillsborough Family Support Group. We have been representing the Hillsborough Family Support Group for some months. We will stay representing the Hillsborough Family Support Group for as long as it takes to resolve all of these issues, and for as long as the Hillsborough Family Support Group want us.
Q107 Chair: Lord Falconer, you were in the last Government, and some of these papers may or may not have crossed your desk. They certainly crossed the desk of Jack Straw. When he was asked to comment on the Independent Panel report he talked about a culture of impunity on the part of the police. Do you share his comments?
Lord Falconer: I think the police told lies repeatedly about what happened and the justice system failed to investigate it adequately and failed to reach the right conclusions. Just as the police continued in their cover-up, the coroner got it horribly wrong. The divisional court refused to set aside what the coroner had done wrong and, as Margaret Aspinall said, Lord Justice Stuart-Smith failed to put right the wrong. They failed to put right the wrong on the basis of material that would have been available to them if they had looked properly.
Q108 Chair: But could this have been done under the last Labour Government?
Lord Falconer: Yes, it could have been done by the previous Government, and it is a failure of the police who told lies, the justice system that failed to identify what had happened, and Governments to intervene with sufficient vigour.
Q109 Chair: Thank you for that. On the question of closure, in answer to Mr Winnick’s point, you want to see somebody prosecuted for this, don’t you, Mr Hicks? Somebody has to be held responsible.
Trevor Hicks: Yes. First of all, if I could answer your question, do we need another report? The answer is no, we don’t. The report is so incomprehensible and so damning that really we don’t see any purpose in another report. What we want now is some action. We have had lots of words, we have had lots of tea and sympathy, but we now need action. Be it a prosecution, be it disciplinary action either by a professional body, by the IPCC or by the coroner, we think that the injustices that have been dealt to all these families need correcting and correcting quickly.
Q110 Chair: In terms of the path now for you and for this Committee, this Committee is not conducting an inquiry, but we want an update as to how the progress has been made following the independent report. What you would like to see is a co-ordinated approach that brings together the IPCC investigation, any other investigations that are going on under the overall superintendence of the DPP so that there is one co-ordinated approach, because your fear is one report will lead to another report and this will take years to complete. Is that right?
Jenni Hicks: Yes, exactly.
Q111 Chair: The Home Secretary has said in a letter to me that she is prepared to use all her powers in order to get the agencies to work together. When do you plan to see the Home Secretary?
Lord Falconer: After we saw the DPP we rang her office yesterday and the current position is that the Home Secretary’s Office is saying, "Could you explain why you want to see me?" so I hope that I will be able to explain to her why she should see us and then hopefully she will see us before Monday.
What she has said in Parliament has been helpful, so I believe that she will be helpful.
Q112 Chair: If it helps, on behalf of the Committee, I will phone the Home Secretary and ask that she meet you all-
Lord Falconer: That would be enormously helpful. We appreciate that.
Q113 Chair: Is there anything else that you would like to say to this Committee, Ms Aspinall, Mr Hicks, Mrs Hicks, about things that you would like to see done? Although the publication of the report, and the eloquent speech by the Prime Minister on this in the House, sets out the feelings of the House and the country, is there anything more that you need to see being done by Parliament?
Margaret Aspinall: I would just like to thank you for listening to us today, but what I have heard over these past few days has been absolutely uplifting for the families, and I was delighted for the fans and survivors to get exonerated on 12 September, after what we have gone through over the past 23 and a half years. I was really delighted with that, and I just hope now this is going to be the end of Hillsborough, when this is all finished that we will get our accountability and the inquest verdicts-the right verdict put on the death certificates. I think that is very important to the families.
Q114 Chair: Is it still your view that there are serving officers in the police force in South Yorkshire who are culpable for some of these acts?
Margaret Aspinall: Yes, I do. That is my belief, yes.
Trevor Hicks: And in other police forces as well.
Margaret Aspinall: Exactly.
Trevor Hicks: Like West Yorkshire, for instance.
Q115 Mark Reckless: Lord Falconer, you said that the previous Government could have taken other courses. In terms of your ministerial office, you now represent the families, but did the Hillsborough issue, broadly or in particular narrow aspects, ever cross your desk? Even with hindsight, was there perhaps any opportunity you might have had to influence the course of events during your ministerial office?
Lord Falconer: No. One other thing: what the current Prime Minister has said has made a huge difference to what has happened, and it is the failure of all previous Governments that went before until the current Prime Minister responded so well in relation to the report that has made the difference. So, now you have a Government led by a Prime Minister saying, "This is a huge injustice. Let us sort it out," and that makes a real difference.
Q116 Chair: But presumably the follow-up is going to be absolutely crucial.
Lord Falconer: Critical; absolutely critical. Yes.
Q117 Chair: Mr Hicks, did you want to say something?
Trevor Hicks: Yes. I was just going to say that Margaret and Jenni met with Jack Straw about a week ago at the end of the Labour conference, and he basically unreservedly apologised for the fact that he and Mr Stuart-Smith completely missed everything which is in that report-well, not completely missed, they picked up some of it, but again the rigour of investigation was not to the level of what the Independent Panel has been and he has apologised for that.
Q118 Chair: This Committee would like to be kept informed as to what is happening. I will certainly contact the Home Secretary’s Office on behalf of the Committee as soon as this session is over, but please keep us informed of what is happening. We do want to know what is happening in respect of the follow-up.
Jenni Hicks: Sorry, could I just say one thing? I would like your assurance that this will be sorted out as quickly as possible for the families’ sakes, because as I say we have already had 23 years of waiting, and the last thing we need is to be looking at years and years for it to be finally sorted.
Chair: Of course.
Q119 Mr Winnick: This is why I asked Lord Falconer of his experience of the law, although obviously he is not in a position to set a time limit, it is impossible because we don’t know what is going to happen. You are quite right, Mrs Hicks, and I am sure the Chair would be the first to agree along with the rest of my colleagues, that nearly a quarter of a century is a very long time.
Jenni Hicks: That is right. It is a long time.
Mr Winnick: This should not go on for another 10 or 12 years.
Jenni Hicks: Yes, thank you.
Chair: Mrs Hicks, we cannot speak for other organisations but we will do our bit to make sure that this is kept on track.
Jenni Hicks: Thank you very much.
Chair: Lord Falconer, Mrs Hicks, Mr Hicks, Mrs Aspinall, thank you very much for coming in.