Hillsborough: Smears, Survivors & the Search for Truth
New questions over Hillsborough witness statements and alleged police cover-up raised by ITV doc
A new documentary for ITV uncovers previously unreported specific evidence that raises questions over witness statements given in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster, investigates an alleged police cover-up and how the Liverpool fans were smeared.
The investigation for the Hillsborough: Smears, Survivors & the Search for Truth programme which airs on ITV tonight (Monday) at 10.40pm, reveals new information which asks questions about evidence given to successive inquests and police inquiries.
The documentary airs as the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation into alleged police misconduct relating to the disaster is due to come to a conclusion by January.
In it, reporter Peter Marshall - who was there as a Liverpool fan on the day 96 people died - examines new evidence behind some of the shocking headlines and stories, raising concerns about how survivors, witnesses and their testimony were treated.
The programme examines the claim published in The Sun’s infamous front-page story The Truth that Liverpool fans had shouted a lewd comment at a female casualty being carried by police.
The original source of the claim was Inspector Gordon Sykes, who on the evening of the disaster went to the police social club where he made serious allegations to a local MP about the behaviour of Liverpool fans. Four days later The Sun’s story was published, containing the words: “In one shameful episode a gang of Liverpool fans noticed the blouse of a girl trampled to death in the crush had risen above her breasts. As a policeman struggled in vain to revive her, they jeered: Throw her up her and we will ---- her.”
In court Sykes denied speaking to journalists but admitted the story started with him. The programme uncovers evidence a statement from a local resident which appears to corroborate that claim, was in fact made by the daughter of a South Yorkshire Police Chief Inspector.
The statement, made after the Sun’s story was published and given by a local resident to a witness hotline run by West Midlands Police, who were investigating South Yorkshire Police, was uncovered by an anonymous Hillsborough survivor known as Tenacious Kennedy. It appears to echo The Sun’s words.
It reads: “Two lads who had been at the match said that a young girl had been pulled over the top of the fence and appeared to be dead. They said as she was lifted up some of her clothes came off. One of these lads said he heard another Liverpool supporter shout something to the effect of, ‘Throw her back and we’ll give her one.’ I don’t know who the lads were. They seemed to disappear.”
Tenacious Kennedy says: “So the name in the witness statement was redacted, however what we did find somewhere else amongst the half a million documents was an index so what we could do was we could actually work out that her name was Cherry Daniels.”
Tenacious looked up her birth and marriage certificates - discovering she was born Cherry Sumner, daughter of David Sumner, a Chief Inspector who had been on duty at Hillsborough. Mr Sumner was also the line manager of Inspector Gordon Sykes, the source of the story that ended up in the Sun.
Earlier this year after new inquests cleared Liverpool fans of any blame, and returned a verdict of unlawful killing, David Sumner told ITV: "I’m sorry, I do not accept the verdict of the jury. And the other one I don’t really agree with is that the Liverpool supporters were completely innocent because they weren’t.”
Hillsborough expert Professor Phil Scraton says: “Suddenly, at the eleventh hour, right at the end, 20-odd years on, what do we discover? That a crucial piece of evidence is compromised because of the relationship between the evidence giver and the police. Now, that is a remarkable situation to be in.”
Mr Sumner told the programme he’s cooperated fully with the Hillsborough investigations and he’s been advised to give no further comment while enquiries continue. Cherry Daniels said her only link to Gordon Sykes was that he’d been her father’s colleague, that she did tell West Midlands Police about her relationship to her father - and was told it wasn’t relevant. Mr Sykes didn’t respond to the programme’s request for an interview.
The investigation also uncovers evidence that former Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards made a statement with an account that was similar to the Sun’s.
At the recent inquests the coroner referred to a note prepared by the IPCC in which it, ‘indicated… That other witnesses with no connection to Mr Sykes agree with him.’ The programme examines the note and reveals that one of those witnesses is Sir Dave, who was present at Hillsborough and went on to become Sheffield Wednesday chairman before taking the reins of the Premier League. In his statement made six weeks after the disaster he describes a female casualty and says: “The blouse had come fully opened and the bra lifted above her breasts exposing them. Some lads… Made comments like, ‘Throw her in here, we’ll f---ing fix her up.’”
Sir Dave was on the pitch with a doctor he says told him the woman was dead. But his detailed description of the woman’s clothing doesn’t match any of the seven women who died. When the programme makers wrote to ask about his statement, all their letters were returned unopened.
Another witness, Pc Peter McGuinness, says he carried a young woman through the tunnel with Inspector Sykes, and he says he didn’t hear any lewd comments: “I certainly didn’t hear any and would be surprised not to have registered such comments if made.”
The programme also reveals that referee Ray Lewis says his statement to police following the match was changed - he believes to support the agenda of the police.
He says: “When I received the typed up version it said these spectators were pissed. So they changed the word ‘mixed’ to ‘pissed’. The handwriting I must admit from the police superintendent isn't particularly good but I’m sure thaT anyone would actually look at that would identify the word is definitely not ‘pissed.’ So i just feel it’s been placed in there to give support possibly to police actions.”
In his official inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster, Lord Justice Taylor condemned false press reports, ‘Said to have emanated from police officers,’ about fans’ behaviour. But he accepted as fact the suggestion that, ‘One horse was found afterwards to have cigarette burns on its rump. Clearly that was the despicable work of a hooligan whether in drink or not.’
A report in the Sunday Times on April 23 1989, also headlined The Truth, spoke of the, ‘Ugly, even vicious,’ mood of some fans: “In the midst of the mild-mannered majority were the louts who had drunk the local pubs dry. Some stubbed their cigarettes out on the police horses.”
However the log kept by South Yorkshire Police’s press office on April 19 1989 shows they were denying such an incident had happened. It reads: “Insp. Hand-Davis confirmed that none of the horses used during the operation was injured as far as was possible to confirm. What happened was that one horse ridden by PC231 Scott was subjected to such threats but they were not carried out.”
Mounted officer Dave Scott gave a statement five days after the Sunday Times story, saying: “I have since inspected my horse and have found that there are several lumps on both its rear and off hind quarters. The coat surrounding those lumps appears singed which may be consistent with having lighted cigarettes stubbed out on his body.”
But equine behavioural expert professor Derek Knottenbelt tells Peter he is puzzled by this sequence of events: “If he had seen things on the horse, a) he should have known what to do about it, b) he should have called a veterinary surgeon who would ordinarily have been [called].”
Farrier Philip Webb also gave a statement five weeks after Hillsborough describing injuries to Scott’s horse Silverwood from cigarette burns. In his statement he said:“When I saw Silverwood I was disgusted… Silverwood had numerous burns consistent with cigarettes being put out on his skin, and cigarettes being maliciously twisted into his skin. The burns were predominantly to his backside, round his tail, to the left side of the body. I counted 14 distinct burns I could see numerous other burns, there were burns to the tail itself, a number of burns went beyond the outer skin, and into the flesh.”
But professor Knottenbelt questions the farrier’s description of the injuries. He says: “I don’t know how you could tell that at three days because there would be nothing to see except what we would call an eschar, which is a hard, dead area of skin. It would be very painful I agree, and the coming off of the pain would be three or four days, there would probably be very little pain after that. So I find that, to be honest, I find it implausible.”
When production contacted David Scott, he said he’d spoken to the IPCC and was making no other comment. Philip Webb, the farrier, didn’t respond to their letter.