Controlling The Aftermath Of Hillsborough - The West Midlands police
The West Midlands police became the major investigating force for all inquiries into the Hillsborough Disaster. They:
- Investigated the role of South Yorkshire Police in the Hillsborough Disaster.
- Provided the evidence that went to the Director of Public Prosecutions which led to the decision that there was 'insufficient evidence' to bring about a prosecution.
- Provided the evidence that went to the Coroner's Court and acted as Officers to the Coroner when a verdict of 'Accidental Death' was recorded against all the dead of Hillsborough.
The true role of the West Midlands Police in the Hillsborough Disaster is crucial to any serious history of events. They were brought in 'to do a job' and they utilised all their well honed 'skills' in the process. The 'First Tuesday' documentary gives some idea of the scale of the operation and the vast amount of evidence that had to be gathered and collated. However, there is another version of the work of the WMP which is far more sinister.
Shortly after the disaster the WMP set up offices on Merseyside in order to be close to those they had to interview. They entered Merseyside with a brief - to restore confidence in the police. These were professionals brought in to do a professional job. One of the reasons they stood out was that they were extremely well dressed. This was commented on by a number of people interviewed by them. Their sartorial elegance was no accident however. As one senior officer confided: 'Our boss said get in there and do a good job - we were given a clothing allowance and unlimited overtime'. Sadly, in many cases it worked. They operated a personal touch and many families were on first name terms with their officer. Others however, saw beyond the Armani suits and smelt the sows' ear beneath the silk purse. They realised that they were having a job done on them.
People were visited and revisited in attempts to create the appropriate picture of events. Survivors were pressured and browbeaten until some doubted their own experiences. Whilst there are numerous examples that could be given, the two which follow highlight the sinister role of this force and serve as justification for calls for an inquiry into their role.
a) Detective Superintendent Stanley Beechey
Detective Superintendent Stan Beechey played a crucial role in the Hillsborough Disaster. He was constantly by the side of the South Yorkshire Coroner, Dr Stefan Popper throughout the course of the inquests. Although Mervyn Jones, the Assistant Chief Constable of West Midlands was officially the Coroners officer, Beecheys' role became increasingly significant.
Serious questions have to asked as to why Stan Beechey was still even in the police force let alone playing a crucial role in such a mjor investigation. Stan Beechey was a former head of the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad. Under his leadership there were numerous cases unsuccessfully prosecuted where there was clearly evidence of fabrication of evidence, confessions obtained under duress and the planting of forensic evidence to name just three examples - there are plenty more. The fact that anyone connected with the Serious Crime Squad should be allowed to be involved in any investigation seriously calls into questions the motives of those charged with employing them.
In January 1989, some three months before the Hillsborough Disaster, , Clare Short MP was calling in the House of Commons for an inquiry into the alleged malpractices of the West Midlands Police. She stated:
No solicitor in Birmingham would say anything other than that the [West Midlands Police] serious crime squad is fundamentally dishonest. The men in the squad decide who are guilty and frame them.
Eventually the situation became untenable, even for the police and in August 1989, the Chief Constable of West Midlands, Geoffrey Dear was forced to disband the squad, in the face of mounting evidence of corruption. Officers were either suspended or transferred to 'non-operational' duties. Stan Beechey was transferred to study the 'technical aspects of Hillsborough'. The average person might question what skills could Beechey possibly bring to investigating Hillsborough when his own force was so discredited. Their suspicions would later be confirmed when Beechey was subsequently charged with falsifying documents and perverting the course of justice.
George Tomkins was someone who suffered at the hands of Stan Beechey. He spent eighteen months in Winson Green prison before being acquitted of an armed robbery charge. Beechey was not only instrumental in framing George Tomkins but also colluded with a known criminal by offering inducements and inciting him to commit robbery.
From the time of his release George Tomkins set about gathering evidence to prove that he had been framed. What he found was remarkable. Beechey operated with a 'tout' who he assisted in setting up an armed robbery. He was instrumental in securing a car for the tout and was also aware that the robbers would have guns. It was Beechey who suggested to the tout that he would have to put a name in the hat as a suspect. The tout named George. The robbery took place in Leamington Spa at a time when George Tomkins was in Liverpool and could prove he was in Liverpool. It made no difference. He was arrested and spent eighteen months on remand. George spent ten years fighting to get Beechey and fellow officers into court.
b) Kevin Williams
Kevin Williams was a fifteen year old boy who died in the Hillsborough Disaster. When his parents attended his mini - inquest, one police officer indicated to them in private that there was evidence of a woman police officer which stated that Kevin had said a word before he died. Anne Williams, Kevins' mother was so distressed by this information that when she went into court the procedure went by her in a haze. What she did not know at the time was that the West Midlands Police and the Coroner had the statements of two police officers which clearly indicated that Kevin was alive well after the time that he was allegedly dead.
An off duty Merseyside police officer who was attending the game as a supporter had made a statement stating that he had seen Kevin convulsing on the pitch and went onto the pitch to administer first aid to him. He was disgusted that he had to break through a cordon of police who were doing nothing in order to get to Kevin. He attempted to give first aid and also stated that he had tried to stop an ambulance that drove past. He stated that Kevin had a pulse.
A Special WPC of the South Yorkshire Police had made a statement in which she stated that she had come across Kevin on the pitch (this after the other officer had assisted him and left him with what he thought were medical personnel). The WPC stated that she had carried Kevin to the gymnasium and in there he opened his eyes and said 'Mum' before dying in her arms. The time was 4 p.m. The Coroner was saying that everyone was dead by 3.15 p.m.
Kevins' mini inquest was on a Wednesday. On the following Friday, the last day of this part of the inquests, the coroner returned to Kevins' case. As well as the pathologist involved reaffirming Kevin's death, there was also an 'expert' to say that Kevin would have died very quickly. The evidence of the WPC was more or less dismissed out of hand and it was strongly inferred that she was not to be relied upon as she was very traumatised by the events of the day. In respect of the off - duty Merseyside Officer, a West Midlands Police Officer gave evidence stating that he and a colleague had visited the officer in his home on the Thursday and the officer had now made a further statement in which he said that he could have been mistaken about the pulse and that the convulsion was probably a twitch. He was still insistent however that an ambulance had driven past.
On the last day of the mini - inquests therefore the case of Kevin Williams,( the awkward boy who didn't fit into the picture) was neatly altered to fit the broader picture. The jury left the court having being told that the WPC was unreliable and that the Merseyside Officer had changed his statement indicating that Kevin was dead and he must have been mistaken about the ambulance because video evidence did not reveal it. So there it was. Any discrepancies in the case of Kevin Williams had now been clarified.
What the West Midlands Police and the authorities in general had seriously miscalculated was the tenacity of Anne Williams. Although she spent the first two years following Kevin's death in a haze of trauma she was later to become a driving force in challenging the official version of events. She effectively undertook her own investigation.
Anne Williams tracked down both of the officers who had tried to help Kevin. What they told her clearly implicates the West Midlands Police in a cover up.
The Merseyside Officer told Anne that the West Midlands Police had visited him on the Thursday (the day after the first inquest into Kevin). It was his view that 'they came with a brief - to get me to change my story'. Whilst they were at his home, the pathologist who had carried out the post mortem on Kevin rang him up and also questioned him. The WMP challenged him as to his statement. They 'suggested' that maybe he had felt for a pulse with his thumb and would therefore have felt his own thumb pulse. Such suggestions cast sufficient doubt in the traumatised officers' mind that he agreed to make a further statement in which he said that he 'could have been mistaken about the pulse and the convulsion. However when Anne met this officer ( in the presence of witnesses), he maintained that he had felt a pulse and that he had definitely seen an ambulance drive past. He was very surprised that he was never called to give evidence at the inquests. Anne Williams would subsequently find not only the ambulance on video but also the ambulance officer who sadly confirmed that the officer was correct - it had passed him.
Anne Williams also located the South Yorkshire Special WPC. Her story was even more shocking and revealing. It was a story of bullying and harassment. She told how she had been made to give her original police notebook back to the police. She also told of how the West Midlands Police had visited her both at work and at her home constantly telling her she was wrong in what she had written and trying to get her to change her statement. She remained strong and refused. However, eventually she broke down in her home. She could no longer stand the pressure being placed on her family as well as herself. As she put it she 'would have signed anything to get them out of the house and to put Hillsborough behind her'. Her second statement was written by a West Midlands Officer and she signed it without even reading it. In fact the first time it was read to her was in Anne Williams house some several years later when Anne had managed to obtain a copy of the statements. The differences between the first and second statements was marked both in terms of content and style. The second statement of the special constable refuted the contents of the first - just as in the case of the Merseyside police officers' statements. Clearly when the facts relating to Kevin Williams failed to fit into the main picture (as drawn by the West Midlands Police ) then they were altered to fit. It was after all what this force had a reputation for being good at.