A detective inspector on duty during the Hillsborough football disaster has agreed that South Yorkshire Police solicitors directed police to “sanitise” evidence.
John James Charles was giving evidence on Monday of this week into fresh inquests into deaths resulting from the disaster. Some 96 Liverpool football fans died as a result of a crush at theSheffield stadium on 15 April 1989.
Charles’ handwritten statement, written days after the disaster, described “unbelievable chaos” in the gym where dead and injured fans were taken.
But a later typed up statement referred to a “somewhat chaotic” and then “disorganised” situation.
When asked why this change occurred Charles said, “Perhaps to play down the chaotic situation.” He agreed that the new version was “watered down” and that timings in his typed statement were “totally incorrect”.
Taken altogether Charles said “I can quite see the whole ethos of the statement has been changed”.
He admitted that, “The first account is my most accurate account”.
Mr Weatherby QC, representing 22 bereaved families, questioned Charles about his statements. He highlighted an action note that had been entered into the HOLMES police computer system.
The note was from June 1990 and appeared to contain an instruction to Norman Bettison from Belinda Norcliffe. Norcliffe “was a lawyer or somebody who worked for Hammond Suddard the lawyers instructed by South Yorkshire Police”.
Bettison was a chief inspector in South Yorkshire Police who was part of a group of officers dealing with Hillsborough evidence.
Charles agreed that the note appeared to be “an instruction resulting from a call from South Yorkshire Police’s lawyers to Mr Bettison”.
The note said that Hammond Suddards was faxing over a statement from Nurse Eccleston, who had helped injured fans in the wake of the crush. It described the statement as “critical of the conditions at the temporary mortuary”.
It went on, “Rebuttal evidence is required. Statements required from officers in charge of the mortuary, for example, Chief Inspector Charles.”
Charles said he was “not aware of this document”. Weatherby said it was “a direction to fit up evidence”. Charles replied, “I would say it’s a direction, as you put it, to sanitise, remove stuff that people don’t want to come out.”
The inquests continue.