Hillsborough disaster survivors 'threatened by police'
- 3 February 2014
- From the section UK
Survivors of Hillsborough have said they were intimidated and threatened by police from the independent force asked to investigate the football disaster.
BBC Newsnight has heard that witness criticisms of police who had been at the scene were not properly recorded.
This is the first time fans have come forward to question how West Midlands police took their statements.
The force declined to comment pending ongoing inquiries and the forthcoming inquests into the deaths of 96 fans.
The Liverpool fans died when a crush developed on an overcrowded terrace at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground, during an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest in April 1989.
The Hillsborough Independent Panel reported 18 months ago that 164 accounts from South Yorkshire police - the local force - had been changed, apparently to shift the blame for the disaster from the police on to the fans.
Nick Braley, who was a teenage student at the time, said that when he told West Midlands officers three weeks later that South Yorkshire police failings had caused the disaster, he was told he could face prosecution.
He says he was "scared and intimidated" by a West Midlands officer.
"I'm a 19-year-old boy, three weeks out of Hillsborough, traumatised, and he's threatening me that he's going to put together a case for wasting police time because he didn't like my evidence," he says.
Newsnight has found that his experience is typical of those cited by a number of Hillsborough survivors.
Some of the West Midlands officers seemed to regard them not as vulnerable and invaluable witnesses keen to make truthful statements, but more like suspects.
"John" - not his real name - was 17 when he went to the match.
He struggled to survive in pen three, behind the goal on the Leppings Lane terrace.
At one point he lost consciousness and came to among the dead and dying.
"I remember standing next to a guy with dark, greasy hair, obviously from the sweat. We were totally pushed against each other in such a way that it's impossible to describe," he says.
"It was just me and him fighting for our lives. And I don't know if he was one of the 96 [who died], but I know that I had to stand on him to get out."
'I was broken'
Once on the pitch, John helped carry bodies to the gymnasium before collapsing. "I was broken," he says.
He tells how when two West Midlands officers arrived to take his statement at his home in Huyton, Merseyside, they sent his parents out.
John told them of police mismanagement at Hillsborough and how he planned to join the police to help prevent anything like it recurring.
According to John, the officers refused to let him read his own statement, saying, "I've written what you told me. All you need to do is sign this now."
He says he felt physically intimidated and powerless as the pair stood around him. He signed.
Nick Braley went to the semi-final as a neutral, excited to have been given a ticket by a friend.
He says the officer taking his statement was not impressed.
"I'd been wearing a Free Mandela T-shirt," he says.
This prompted aggressive questions. "Was I a student agitator? Was I a member of the Socialist Workers Party? I'm just a fan at a game of football. He then turned on me and said I was a criminal with a grudge against the police."
At one point, he says, the police suggested he had not even been at the game. When he produced his ticket, he was told he could have found it.
Professor Phil Scraton, of Queens University, Belfast, who was the main author of the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report, which led to the scrapping of the 1990 inquest verdicts and the setting up of two fresh investigations, believes many witnesses were subjected to what were effectively interrogations.
He sees a clear parallel between the way South Yorkshire police questioned the bereaved on the night of the disaster - asking whether they or those they had lost had been drinking and checking for criminal records - and the statement-taking of the West Midlands force.
He says both forces shared the same mindset and this has deepened the trauma for survivors.
For John, what he calls "survivor guilt" reached a peak 15 years after Hillsborough.
He was a detective in the Metropolitan Police's murder squad, frequently blotting out his feelings about Hillsborough with drink.
By 2004, overwhelmed, he attempted suicide by driving his car into a tree. He resigned from the force after a disciplinary hearing.
Following the independent panel report, he finally got to see the statement he was refused sight of 25 years ago. He says there were no surprises: "It's as I thought. It's not my account." He says it even places him in the wrong part of the ground.
Nick Braley also feels his statement does not reflect the truth. He's also now got access to internal West Midlands police memos and notes referring to his case. And there, handwritten, are the lines "came across as totally anti-police... at first doubted had been at the match".
And then there's his Nelson Mandela T-shirt. "Was wearing a 'left wing' type 'T' shirt, actual motif not known."