LONDON: Manslaughter charges could be brought against organisations over the deaths of 96 fans in the Hillsborough tragedy.
Former senior detective Jon Stoddart, who is leading the Operation Resolve investigation into the official cover-up and wider responsibility for the 1989 tragedy in which 89 fans died, has said he is studying the actions of South Yorkshire Police, Sheffield Wednesday FC, Sheffield City Council and the Football Association.
He has said all are being investigated for possible gross negligence manslaughter under the law in force at the time.
Stoddart’s comments were made after concerns expressed by relatives of the dead and injured that a year had passed since the independent inquiry team exposed the full extent of the cover-up.
His team have found new evidence while going through thousands of documents.
The first priority for Operation Resolve is to provide evidence for the new inquest, which is set to start under Lord Justice Goldring and a jury on or before next March 31.
Once the inquest concludes Stoddart and his 170-strong team will concentrate on the criminal side of the investigation and eventually hand their findings to the Director of Public Prosecutions for consideration.
Stoddart, a former Durham Police Chief Constable, said: “We are here to try and prove or disprove the unlawful killing of 96 people and clearly the DPP will have to make a very important series of decisions on this.”
The original accidental death verdicts were quashed in December at the High Court after the Hillsborough Independent Panel found that 41 of the 96 who died had the “potential to survive”.
The IPCC is carrying out the largest investigation into alleged police misconduct in UK history, focusing on whether there was a criminal cover-up by South Yorkshire Police of the force’s failings.
It is also examining the role of West Midland Police, which first investigated how the South Yorkshire force dealt with the tragedy.
The police section of the investigation is being managed by the IPCC.
Stooddart said the coroner had given his team three issues to consider as a priority: the safety of the stadium, the movements of the deceased and the response of the emergency services.
Forensic scientists, pathologists, structural engineers and the Health and Safety Executive were among experts being consulted, he added.
He said: “We have definitely identified a significant number of people who we know have got a story to tell but who haven’t provided us with a statement or an interview so clearly they are part of the priority, that we make sure that we are going to find these people.
“We have to go through all of the investigation and interview them and if necessary we’ll take statements as well, but clearly we have got [to consider] the families, the police officers on the day, the work beforehand in the stadium, the design, the engineering, the changes that were made to the stadium, they’re all part of the inquiry.
“The Football Association, why they decided to award the match, the semi-final, to Sheffield Wednesday, and the club, have got a certain responsibility as well so it’s a very wide inquiry.”
Stoddart said the team was nine months into an inquiry which could take up to three years.
“It’s a massive, massive investigation, it’s the biggest criminal inquiry in the history of the English and Welsh police services. Some people have criticised the pace of the inquiry but we can’t afford to rush anything here.
“This is so important. It’s so important for the families, we have got to get this right.”