Hillsborough Inquests: Senior officer defends statement changes
A retired senior police officer has defended reviewing and altering police officers' statements about the Hillsborough disaster.
Ch Insp David Beal, who helped draw up the police's match orders, told the Hillsborough inquests he believed it was "legal and above board".
He denied being a "key part of a cover-up".
Mr Beal helped amend an officer's statement who has said he had known "absolutely nothing" of the changes.
Mr Beal gave evidence at the new inquests into the deaths of 96 fans who died as a result of a crush at the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989.
The court heard that in the aftermath of the tragedy he worked with Ch Supt Brian Mole in preparing chapters of a report that South Yorkshire Police was to send to the public inquiry.
Mr Mole was an experienced match commander at Hillsborough and had been in charge of policing the 1988 FA Cup semi-final there.
But Mr Beal told the court he could not remember having a conversation with him about what may have caused the disaster, despite working closely with him.
The jury has previously heard how two police officers claimed Mr Beal was involved in asking them to change their statements.
The court was shown the changes he made to statement by Sgt Michael Goddard who operated the radio and telephone in the police control box after the disaster.
In his original statement, Mr Goddard described interference problems with the police radios at the 1988 semi-final.
But the inquests heard that the lawyers for South Yorkshire Police - Hammond Suddards - suggested the paragraph should be reviewed.
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Mr Beal wrote out paragraphs to be inserted into the statement to replace those which mentioned the radio problems in 1988 but he insisted he was not acting alone and the paragraphs were drafted by someone else.
Asked by Jonathan Hough QC, on behalf of the coroner, if he was troubled by removing the section referring to radio interference, he replied: "No, because it was in the solicitor's instruction, legal advice."
Mr Hough said: "The solicitors were saying review that, not delete it. Were you in any way troubled by the fact that this was being deleted?"
"No, I wouldn't have done it otherwise," he said.
The jury heard that in a recent police statement Mr Goddard has said he knew "absolutely nothing" about how his 1989 statement was changed.
Mr Beal said he "can't get my head around" that because it was "not the way I operate".
Asked if he thought it was unprofessional to change an officer's statement without getting their acceptance of the changes, Mr Beal replied: "Yes."
Mr Beal later agreed that changing a witness' statement without their knowledge was "criminal".
When asked by Mr Hough if he thought it "odd" lawyers were suggesting reviews or changes to statements he said: "No. I'm sure the lawyers know the law far better than I do.
"I assumed everything was being done legally and above board."
The court also heard an extract from a recent statement by Michael Walpole, a constable on duty at the stadium.
He recalled being summoned by Mr Beal who told him to report to another chief inspector and explain his "refusal to sign an altered statement".
Mr Beal told the jury it was routine for him to pass a message on to one of his officers.
Part of another statement made by Anthony Holmes in March this year was also read to the court.
In it Mr Holmes, who was a PC at the time of the disaster, recalled how Mr Beal asked him to make changes to his statement.
Mr Holmes recalled Mr Beal saying to him: "Come on, what's the problem? Why won't you amend these accounts?"
The officer said Mr Beal became "agitated" although "at no stage did he order me to alter my statement".
After reading Mr Holmes' recent statement, Patrick Roche QC, who represents a group of bereaved families, said: "I suggest it's another instance of your being involved fully up to the hilt in the process of altering statements as part of a team, which was organising the cover-up."
Mr Beal replied: "That's totally untrue."
The inquests in Warrington continue.