Sheffield in the dock: Â£90m criminal investigations into Hillsborough disaster target city organisations
South Yorkshire Police, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield Council, Yorkshire Ambulance Service and the Football Association are all under criminal investigation as part of Â£90 million probes into the Hillsborough disaster.
Operation Resolve is investigating ‘individuals and organisations’ for potential offences including gross negligence manslaughter, misconduct in a public office, perverting the course of justice and breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Safety at Sports Ground Act.
Among those under investigation include former high-ranking officers at South Yorkshire Police, but not all the individual suspects are police officers.
Match commander David Duckenfield is among those potentially facing criminal charges after the inquests jury ruled the 96 supporters who died were ‘unlawfully killed’ - a verdict they could only reach if they were sure his breach of duty of care to the fans had caused the deaths and amounted to ‘gross negligence’.
A criminal investigation examining the full circumstances surrounding the planning and preparation for the match and the day of the disaster is running parallel to an Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation into police actions in the aftermath of the disaster, which is also examining potential offences including perverting the course of justice, perjury and misconduct in public office.
The dual investigations - together with the ordering of new inquests into the deaths of the 96 Liverpool supporters - were launched in the wake of the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report in September 2012.
The key areas of focus for the criminal investigation have been the decisions and actions undertaken by agencies and organisations who had responsibility for organising the FA Cup semi-final; the planning and decision-making that went into the ground’s design, engineering, alterations and final layout, including the condition and adequacy of the turnstiles, the siting of barriers and the ‘pen’ design of the terraces; and the response of the emergency services to the unfolding disaster.
The jury in the inquests found both the police and the ambulance service caused or contributed to the loss of lives in the disaster by an error or omission after the crush on the terraces had begun to develop.
They found unanimously that policing of the match caused or contributed to a dangerous situation developing at the Leppings Lane turnstiles, while commanding officers caused or contributed to the crush on the terrace as did those senior officers in the police control box when the order was given to open the exit gates at the Leppings Lane end.
The jury also ruled that features of the design, construction and layout of the stadium considered to be dangerous or defective caused or contributed to the disaster, while the safety certification and oversight of the stadium also played a part
The jury also ruled Sheffield Wednesday’s then consultant engineers, Eastwood & Partners, should have done more to detect and advise on any unsafe or unsatisfactory features of the stadium which caused or contributed to the disaster.
Jon Stoddart, who is leading Operation Resolve, said while the findings of the jury in the inquests will be noted, it was ‘important to stress’ they would not influence the progress of the criminal investigation.
He said: “The remit of my investigation is to prove or disprove whether 96 people were unlawfully killed.
“Furthermore, my inquiry is to establish whether any individual or organisation is criminally culpable for their role in the disaster.”
It is anticipated both the criminal and IPCC investigations will be completed by the end of the year, with the CPS hoping to make decisions on pursuing charges by mid-2017.
Investigators need to speak to expert witnesses who gave evidence at the inquest, along with re-interviewing ‘a number of significant people again’.
Details have not been revealed on the number of suspects under investigation or their ranks, in the case of those involved in the police force.
Mr Stoddart said: “It would be wrong to go into details of who these people are.
“This is work that has to be done to the very highest standard of the criminal threshold.
“After 27 years, it is vital the families of the 96 have the true facts of what happened on that day and why their loved ones died.”
Mr Stoddart has confirmed the role of the Football Association has been ‘thoroughly investigated’ and are ‘still subject to investigation’.
The role of South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service - now part of Yorkshire Ambulance Service - is also understood to be under investigation, along with South Yorkshire Police, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield Council.
To date, £36.7m has been spent on Operation Resolve, with a further £11.5m budgeted for the 2016/17 financial year.
The IPCC has spent £34.7m so far, with another £10.8m earmarked for its investigation up to the end of March 2017.
Across the two investigations, it is currently forecast that £93.7m will have been spent by the end of 2016/17.
Officers from 16 forces from across the UK have been part of the criminal investigation, but none from South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Merseyside or West Midlands Police have participated.
More than 9,000 witness statements have been taken and over 16,000 lines of enquiry examined as part of the operation.
Mr Stoddart said: “Now the inquest has closed, my priority is to complete the criminal investigation.
“Some of the work we couldn’t complete until the end of the inquest.
“We have noted the determination of the jury but it is a totally independent process of the criminal inquiry.”
Sue Hemming, Head of the Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division at the CPS, said: “Following the inquests determinations the CPS team will continue to work closely with Operation Resolve and the IPCC as in due course, the CPS will formally consider whether any criminal charges should be brought against any individual or corporate body based upon all the available evidence, in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.
“We would ask that everyone is mindful of the continuing investigations and the potential for future criminal proceedings when reporting or publicly commenting on the inquests conclusions.”