In 2012, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), then the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), launched an independent investigation into police actions following the Hillsborough disaster. The disaster resulted in the deaths of 97 Liverpool supporters, and remains to this day the worst disaster in British sporting history.
This is the largest independent investigation into alleged police misconduct and criminality ever carried out in England and Wales.
Ninety-seven Liverpool fans died as a result of the events that unfolded at the FA Cup Semi-Final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989. Hundreds more fans were injured and countless people who survived have been left traumatised by the disaster.
More than 50,000 men, women and children travelled to the match at Hillsborough Stadium, the home ground of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. Just minutes after kick-off, a fatal crush occurred in the Leppings Lane end terraces, where the Liverpool fans were located.
Some media reporting focused on unfounded allegations that Liverpool fans’ drunken behaviour was the cause of the disaster and hindered the emergency response. This has been disproved many times.
The initial inquests in March 1991 returned verdicts of accidental death into the 95 deaths – as was at that date. The 96th victim, Tony Bland, died almost four years after the disaster and, again, the Coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death. The 97th victim, Andrew Devine, died on 27 July 2021, after a long illness of 32 years from aspiration pneumonia, and the Coroner ruled he died as a result of his injuries sustained at Hillsborough Stadium.
Guide to the investigation
After more than 20 years of advocacy by the families and campaign groups, in 2010 the Hillsborough Independent Panel was formed under instruction from Parliament and was led by The Right Reverend James Jones KBE (Bishop of Liverpool until 2013). Its purpose was to assist in the full public disclosure of information relating to the disaster.
The Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel was published in September 2012 and concluded that no Liverpool fans were responsible in any way for the disaster, among other findings including the main cause of the disaster being a “lack of police control".
Following publication of the report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, the Attorney General successfully applied to the High Court to quash the verdicts of the original inquests that returned verdicts of accidental death in March 1991.
New inquests took place from March 2014 until April 2016, running alongside our investigation and the Operation Resolve investigation. The jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing for the then 96 Liverpool fans who lost their lives and concluded that the fans played no role in causing the disaster.
Following the death of Andrew Devine on 27 July 2021, as a direct result of the injuries he sustained at Hillsborough Stadium, at an inquest hearing the Coroner found that it was “more likely than not that Andrew Devine was unlawfully killed, making him the 97th fatality from the events of 15th April 1989.”
Information cited in the Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP) report resulted in referrals to the IOPC (then the IPCC) from South Yorkshire Police (SYP), the force responsible for policing the game, and West Midlands Police (WMP), who carried out the original investigation into the disaster.
In October 2012, one month after the HIP released its findings, we launched an independent investigation into police actions in the aftermath of the disaster.
The areas our investigation covers include:
- amendments to the accounts of SYP officers who were present at Hillsborough Stadium
- allegations that misleading information was passed by the police to the media, MPs, Parliament and the inquiries set up immediately after the disaster
- the actions of police officers after the disaster, including the taking of blood alcohol levels and the undertaking of police national computer checks on the dead and injured
- the role of WMP and those who led its investigation
- allegations that family members and campaigners were subject to surveillance by the police after the disaster
Throughout the investigation we have prioritised working with the bereaved Hillsborough families and survivors, keeping them and other key stakeholders informed and engaged.
Please read the full Terms of Reference for the IOPC independent investigation.
As a result of our investigation, a criminal trial started on 19 April 2021 and concluded on 26 May 2021. It was centred around the amendment of witness accounts, and was the first time anyone faced a criminal trial in relation to actions that took place in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster.
Three defendants were charged with perverting the course of justice:
- former South Yorkshire Police Chief Superintendent Donald Denton
- former South Yorkshire Police Detective Chief Inspector Alan Foster
- Peter Metcalf, the solicitor acting for South Yorkshire Police in 1989
After the conclusion of the prosecution’s case, the judge heard submissions by the defence teams. After considering these, on 26 May 2021, the judge ruled that the case against all three defendants was to be dismissed.
A second investigation was ordered by the Home Secretary as a result of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report.
Operation Resolve was responsible for investigating the actions of all those organisations involved in the disaster. To ensure its independence, the elements of the Operation Resolve investigation relating to the police have been managed by us to provide independent oversight and scrutiny.
Operation Resolve’s terms of reference include:
- police involvement in the planning and preparation for the game
- police management of fans outside the Leppings Lane terrace and their entry into the stadium
- the early response of the police to the disaster
- police liaison with families of the deceased and the injured in the immediate aftermath of the disaster
Operation Resolve also looked at the actions of other organisations such as the ambulance service, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club (who hosted the game) and the local authority.
Please read the full Terms of Reference for Operation Resolve. Please note, these were updated in March 2022.
As a result of Operation Resolve’s investigation, criminal charges were brought against Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, the match commander on the day of the Hillsborough disaster. Following a re-trial in 2019, he was found not guilty of 95 counts of gross negligence manslaughter.
No charge was brought in relation to the death of Tony Bland, the 96th person to die. According to the law in 1989, no criminal charge relating to a death could be brought if the victim died longer than a year and a day after the acts alleged to have caused it. The “year and a day rule” was abolished by legislation in 1996, but David Duckenfield was being prosecuted under the law as it applied at the time of the disaster.
The former Sheffield Wednesday Football Club secretary, Graham Mackrell, was found guilty of an offence contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act.
We will publish a comprehensive report once all processes surrounding the investigation have been completed.
The report will provide a detailed account of the events surrounding the disaster and will cover both the IOPC and Operation Resolve investigations. It will include the findings of around 150 individual complaint and conduct investigations.
The report will also aim to answer the many questions families, complainants, survivors, and other key stakeholders have asked about what happened before, during and after the disaster.
The Salmon process takes its name from Lord Justice Salmon who first set out the Salmon principles in 1966. It is a procedure that public inquiries apply to the publication of reports where individuals or organisations are criticised.
In the Hillsborough investigations' report, there is information that amounts to criticism of some individuals and organisations – the principles of the Salmon process dictate that each person or body facing proposed criticism should be given the opportunity to respond prior to publication.
We have put together some frequently asked questions about this process, to help understand why we are applying it to the Hillsborough investigation, what it involves and how it affects the Hillsborough investigations' report. You can also read our stakeholder update about the Salmon process.