The independent report on Hillsborough revealed evidence had been changed by South Yorkshire Police (Reuters)
The independent report on Hillsborough revealed evidence had been changed by South Yorkshire Police (Reuters)

South Yorkshire Police may have been involved in covering up the truth about major incidents for five years before the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster, campaigners and victims family lawyers have claimed.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel's (HIP) report showed how South Yorkshire Police altered witness statements after the disaster, which claimed the lives of 96 people, in "strenuous attempts" to put the blame on Liverpool fans.

Michael Mansfield QC, who represents the families of the victims, said there were "similar misdemeanours" after South Yorkshire Police clashed with striking miners at Orgreave.

Mansfield, along with Maria Eagle, the shadow transport secretary who represents the Liverpool constituency of Garston and Halewood, have previously said that police actions at Orgreave had not been properly scrutinised before they were deployed to Hillsborough stadium in April 1989.

Mansfield, who represented many of the miners during the 1984-85 strike, reiterated the similarities between the two events.

All 90 miners who were arrested following the Battle of Orgreave were acquitted following doubts about the evidence South Yorkshire Police used against them.

Mansfield said: "It's the old familiar story. People in Yorkshire will remember what happened to the miners five years before at Orgreave.

"I was involved in that case and there were similar misdemeanours going on."

Mansfield added that the police had exhibited "a pattern of events which should not be countenanced".

At the time he described the prosecutions of the miners as "the biggest frame-up ever". He said after publication of the HIP report that Hillsborough was the "biggest cover-up in British history".

Jack Straw said Thatcher had created a 'culture of impunity' in the police service (Reuters)
Jack Straw said Thatcher had created a 'culture of impunity' in the police service (Reuters)

The view was echoed by Shelia Coleman, spokesperson for the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, who believes the Hillsborough cover-up was sanctioned by the then Tory government because of how South Yorkshire Police manged the miners' strike.

Coleman told IB Times UK: "Margaret Thatcher got off very lightly [over Hillsborough] and the government of the day got off undoubtedly.

"We are of the firm opinion that the cover-up came from the top, so that's a very disappointing aspect.

"It's always been our argument that it [the cover-up] was payback time, Margaret Thatcher's way of thanking South Yorkshire Police for how they managed the miners' strike."

Former home secretary Jack Straw told BBC Radio 4's Today programme in the 1980s that South Yorkshire Police were "immune from outside influences" after Thatcher's government had "created a culture of impunity in the police service".

The Conservatives dismissed the claim. Lord Tebbit, one of Thatcher's closest political allies, described Straw's remarks as "just very, very silly".

David Mellor, another former cabinet minister, said Straw's comments were wrong" and "disappointing".

"I'm astonished that he should divert attention away from what we should really be talking about, which is how we bring to book those police officers who perverted the course of justice by altering the statements of their colleagues," he said.

The chief constable for West Yorkshire Police, Sir Norman Bettison, has defended his actions during the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.

South Yorkshire Police said they will consider referring itself for investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

Another figure implicated by the HIP report in the cover-up, former hard-right Tory MP for Hallam, Sir Irvine Patnick, was facing calls that he should be stripped of his knighthood for his role in feedcing false information about the disaster to the press.

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