• Hillsborough inquests

Hillsborough footage 'possibly altered'

ESPN staff
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Video footage taken by police on the day of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 Liverpool fans died, may have been edited, a barrister has told a pre-inquest hearing.

Pete Weatherby QC, representing the families of 21 of the victims, said that an expert witness had looked at handheld camera footage taken by officers and raised concerns that it had been altered.

The hearing was also told that an additional 74 police statements given as evidence following the tragedy were allegedly amended, in addition to the 168 already known about. Weatherby told the London hearing that it was important that the footage considered at fresh inquests into the deaths of the victims - to be held in Warrington next year - was reliable.

He also raised concerns over the quality of the recordings, after it emerged that one family member's copy of some footage had been significantly better than that initially presented to investigators ahead of the inquests.

Weatherby said: "I would submit an expert should look at this to ensure they are the best possible copies which are put forward."

Michael Mansfield QC, who is representing a further 74 families, also suggested there were concerns regarding footage that had been in the hands of police. Both barristers raised their concerns at a hearing at the Thistle Hotel in Marble Arch on Monday.

The hearing took place ahead of fresh inquests to determine how 96 Liverpool supporters were crushed to death on an overcrowded section of terracing when attending an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground on April 15 1989.

Original inquests, conducted by Dr Stefan Popper, returned verdicts of accidental death in March 1991.

Campaigners have maintained that those verdicts, and the manner in which the inquests were conducted, prevented a proper investigation into the role of the police and emergency services on the day of the tragedy.

Those views were supported by an independent report, published in September 2012, which cleared fans of any blame for the disaster and highlighted the extent to which the police and emergency services had attempted to cover up their own culpability.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel's report found that 164 police statements had been altered, and 116 of those had negative comments about the policing of the match removed. That report has prompted a series of legal moves designed to bring those to blame for the tragedy to justice.

The original inquest verdicts were quashed in December, two months after the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), the UK's police watchdog, announced that it would carry out a two-year investigation into both the role played by officers on the day and the subsequent cover-up.

A second investigation, focusing on possible criminal behaviour by any people or bodies with responsibility for fan safety at Hillsborough, was set up in December and is being headed up by former Durham chief constable Jon Stoddart.

Since then, Lord Justice John Goldring has set about putting together plans for the fresh inquests - at which he will act as coroner - with a series of three pre-inquest hearings in London.

At the first of those, in April, the coroner confirmed that the inquests would be held in the North West of England, closer to Liverpool, rather than in London, although an exact venue was not specified at the time.

At the second, in June, he confirmed that the new inquests would begin by March 31 2014. Ahead of Monday's third hearing, he announced that the inquests would take place in Warrington.

At the hearing, Lord Justice Goldring stressed that he intends to stick to the start date, despite the fact that there is a vast amount of evidence for investigators to examine.

He said: "I am absolutely determined that we will start when I've said we will start. I certainly remain committed to that date and it is partly for that reason that I have sought, obviously through those who are helping me, to drive those investigations forward as much as I can.

"I shall not cease, so that it is absolutely clear, to seek to drive these investigations onwards as much as I conceivably can."

Some of the families present at the hearing could be heard thanking the coroner as he made that comment.

The new inquests - which are expected to last between six and nine months - will be heard before a jury, which is likely to be taken to Hillsborough when the hearings begin in an effort to give them a better knowledge of how the disaster unfolded.

Christina Lambert QC, the lead counsel to the inquests, said that next year's fresh hearings would examine how many of the victims could have been saved had the emergency services acted differently.

At the original inquests, held during 1990 and 1991, Dr Popper ruled that none of the victims could have been saved after 3.15pm. But the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report concluded that as many as 41 of those who died could have been saved had the emergency response been better.

Meanwhile, the BBC is to release previously unseen footage of the disaster at next year's inquests. The corporation had a full outside broadcast unit at Hillsborough on the day of the tragedy, as it had intended to film the match for a highlights programme.

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