Police officers' accounts of the Hillsborough disaster were amended to remove comments criticising police leadership or abusive remarks about fans, the inquest jury was told today.
Jurors sitting on the inquest into the deaths of 96 football fans at the FA Cup semi-final on April 15, 1989, will have to consider whether the changes were part of a policy to blame fans and deflect criticism from the police, coroner Lord Justice Goldring said.
Senior ranks and lawyers at South Yorkshire Police reviewed all self-taken statements by officers present at the disaster and amended some of them before forwarding them on to West Midlands Police, who were investigating the tragic events, the inquest jury was told.
The coroner said: "Over the years between 1989 and today it has become known that a large number of statements were amended in the review. The amendments vary in type and significance.
"Some simply involve corrections of language and factual error. Others involve removing expletives.
"A number involved the removal of comments criticising the police leadership on the day of the disaster.
"Others were of deletions of passages denouncing poor and defective radio communications.
"A small number were amended to remove comments which were critical or even abusive of the fans at the match."
Lord Justice Goldring said the jurors would have to consider whether the amendments affect their view of the "reliability" of early written statements given by the officers.
He added they would have to ask why the were amended, if it was an "innocent" alteration or "part of a policy of blaming fans in order to deflect criticism from the police".
The jury was told that many of the bereaved remain distressed and angry to this day about the way in which they and the bodies of their loved ones were treated.
Lord Justice Goldring said that the identification process of the victims was “agonising.”
The coroner said phone lines to police in Sheffield were jammed.
Many people arrived at the local police station and a decision was taken to open a building opposite, which usually served as a boys’ club, and to use that as a reception centre for relatives.
Despite local clergy and counsellors arriving to offer help, those who went there to wait for news of their loved ones “generally found the experience a dreadful one,” said Lord Justice Goldring.
“The building has been described as a bare and dismal place.
“The identification process was agonising. For many, there was a long wait before seeing the photographs.”
This was followed by a further wait before they were shown the body.
“Naturally, when people identified a deceased family member, they often wanted to have some human contact, to hold or touch.
“These requests were often refused. It was inevitably very upsetting,” said the coroner.
After identification had been completed, friends and family members were taken to another part of the gymnasium to make police statements.
In some cases they were asked questions about the behaviour of the person who had died on the day of the match - and about alcohol consumption.
Lord Justice Goldring said: “Because family members felt that those who died were somehow being investigated or blamed, the questions caused deep offence.”