LONDON: The Independent Police Complaints Commission is launching what is described as its “largest-ever inquiry” after last month’s publication of a damning report into all police reaction to the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.

Some 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives at the Sheffield Wednesday ground in a crowd crush at the start of an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest and Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, has said that criminal charges against individuals or groups will be considered.

Last month the Hillsborough Independent Panel – which reviewed previously classified documents relating to the disaster  – claimed to have uncovered a police cover-up to shift blame on to those who died. The panel reported 164 police statements altered, 116 of them to remove or change negative comments about policing that day.

Deborah Glass, deputy chair of the IPCC,  said: “I can confidently say this will be the largest independent inquiry that has been launched into the actions of the police in the United Kingdom,.”

“The potential criminal and misconduct offences disclosed by the panel’s report fall into two broad categories.

“They are the allegations that go to the heart of what happened at Hillsborough in April 1989 and individuals and institutions may be culpable for the deaths, and there are allegations about what happened after the disaster, that evidence was fabricated and misinformation was spread in an attempt to shift blame.’

The actions of South Yorkshire police, the force that dealt with the tragedy, and West Midlands police, which investigated how the disaster was handled, will be scrutinised.

Current and former officers will also come under investigation, including Sir Norman Bettison, the former chief inspector in South Yorkshire and the current chief constable of West Yorkshirepolice, who has been referred to the IPCC over allegations he provided misleading information over the disaster.

Sir Norman, who has said he will retire next spring, is also under investigation for allegedly attempting to influence the decision-making process that led to the same referral.

A spokesman for the force said: ‘Sir Norman Bettison has consistently made the point since September 15, three days after the report was published, that these were matters that needed to be investigated formally and fairly by the IPCC. At the time, he immediately welcomed the police authority’s decision to refer this matter.

‘He is on record as saying he is keen to co-operate with the IPCC inquiry, but now that has been launched, he has nothing further to add.’

Margaret Aspinall, the chairwoman of the Hillsborough Families Support Group and whose 18-year-old son James died, said: “I can only repeat again what we said four weeks ago, the truth is out there. I think the time is now for accountability.”

The Liverpool club’s managing director Ian Ayre said the latest development represented a ‘significant step’ towards achieving justice for the Hillsborough families and survivors.

He added: “We will follow the progress of this investigation and remain resolute in our support of the families and survivors as they continue with their battle to bring those responsible for the tragedy to justice.”

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