Hillsborough inquests: Paul Middup denies being police chief's 'mouthpiece'

Hillsborough disaster Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Paul Middup said he accepted what officers told him of the tragedy as "being correct"

A Police Federation secretary who said fans were partly to blame for the Hillsborough disaster has denied being his chief constable's "mouthpiece".

Paul Middup, who is giving evidence at the new inquests, was also accused of being "completely ignorant" about what happened at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final.

He "partially" accepted his "theory" on the tragedy "goes out the window".

Officers were "shouldered with an unfair portion of blame", the then home secretary was told after the disaster.

'Dancing to his tune'

Mr Middup was a serving police constable on 15 April 1989 - the day of the disaster which resulted in the death of 96 Liverpool fans - but he served as the full-time secretary of the South Yorkshire Police Federation.

In his Police Federation role he represented officers up to the rank of chief inspector and looked after their welfare.

After the disaster he was quoted in newspapers and appeared on television, saying a minority of fans, who had been drinking and were late to arrive at the stadium, had contributed to the tragedy.

The jury heard how South Yorkshire's then Chief Constable Peter Wright - who died in 2011 - attended a Police Federation meeting four days after the disaster.

The minutes recorded: "Mr Wright stated he had to say on Saturday night we opened a gate in order to save lives outside.

"He said he had received all sorts of horrendous stories and he had shown a complete lack of response from them.

"Mr Wright stated he had made a conscious decision not to talk about those things, the behaviour of the fans.

"The mass of the crowd was the reason for opening the gate. He added he did not think there was any purpose or merit to respond in this way.

"Although Mr Wright admitted he would have liked to have been able to make the comments which Mr Middup had made."

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After reading the passage, Mark George QC, who represents 22 bereaved families, said: "You are the Chief Constable's mouthpiece aren't you Mr Middup?"

Mr Middup said: "No, I certainly am not and I resent that remark."

He also denied he was "dancing to his tune".

Mr George said: "Mr Wright got to you, didn't he, and he appealed to your vanity? You liked the idea of your 15 minutes of fame, didn't you?"

Mr Middup said that suggestion was "just stupid".

The court heard Mr Middup believed the disaster was partially caused by late-arriving, "tanked up" Liverpool fans and that those who died were not to blame because they were already on the terraces.

'Out of the window'

Mr Middup said when he gave interviews to the media he was basing what he said on what officers had told him after the disaster.

Mr George accused him of being "completely ignorant... of whether what you were being told was correct".

The witness said he "accepted it as being correct".

The court heard that about 30 of the 96 victims entered the ground through an exit gate that was opened to relieve a crush that had built up outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles.

Mr George said: "So your theory of this human chain rushing in there and killing those people who had been there for ages, the nice respectable people who have not been drinking and so on, goes completely out the window, doesn't it?"

Mr Middup replied: "It certainly partially does, because there were a lot more people in there. There were thousands in there."

The court also heard how, on 6 September 1989, the Police Federation's parliamentary liaison, Conservative MP Michael Shersby, had briefed the then Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd.

The meeting took place after Lord Justice Taylor had published an interim report into the disaster.

Minutes from the meeting recorded that Mr Shersby had "heard morale in South Yorkshire took a great knock as a result of the Lord Justice Taylor interim report".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ninety-six fans died as a result of a crush at the FA Cup semi-final

They continued: "Police on duty inside Hillsborough on the day of the disaster had had no idea what was happening and believed that they were experiencing a conventional pitch invasion.

"They felt that they had been shouldered with an unfair portion of the blame.

"The [Police] Federation in South Yorkshire was also concerned at the decision of the force solicitor to eliminate some material from the police evidence to the inquiry.

"The evidence in question turned on emotional matters such as the alleged theft of items which had fallen from the victims' pockets and instances in the ground of pouring urine on the police."

Michael Mansfield QC, who represents another 75 families, said that after the interim report came out Mr Middup and others "went on the offensive" and "hit back at the report".

Mr Middup replied: "We did want to rebalance the report, yes, because the people... were complaining that they weren't able to get over their views."

During questioning, Mr Middup maintained he had done nothing wrong by telling the media fans were partly to blame for the disaster.

Paul Greaney QC, representing the Police Federation, asked him: "Did you ever tell any member of the press anything that you knew or believed at the time to be untrue or exaggerated?"

Mr Middup replied: "No, I didn't."

He was asked if he could understand why the distress suffered by the bereaved families had been added to by what they had read in the press.

Mr Middup said: "There was never any intention on our part to add to the bereaved families' distress. But what we did have to do, and what I had to do, I had to put forward the views of the people who elected me."

Caoilfhionn Gallagher, a lawyer representing the family of John McBrien, who died in the tragedy, pointed out that he had gone through gate C which was opened at 14:52 to relieve the crush outside.

"He was not drunk, Mr Middup," she said, "not ticketless, not part of a marauding mob and not a late arrival."

She continued: "Can you understand why the families whose children, siblings or partners died, having gone through gate C, may take a different view and think in fact you did do something wrong by not checking the accuracy of accounts which you repeated and repeated and repeated?"

Mr Middup replied: "I repeated only what my people told me."

The inquests, being held in Warrington, Cheshire will resume on 23 February.

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