THE HILLSBOROUGH investigation is so important prosecutors have established a unique set of arrangements, England’s most senior lawyer has said.
Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer said it was a “highly significant” case and because families of the 96 who died in the disaster had waited “too long” the Crown Prosecution Service had broken its usual mould for big investigations.
He also said in an exclusive interview, he saw no reason why the new inquest into the 1989 tragedy cannot proceed in tandem with investigations into the disaster and the cover-up.
Last week Lord Justice Goldring was appointed as the coroner for the new inquests – something made possible by the historic quashing of the “accidental death” verdicts in December.
Mr Starmer said: “I met the families and the view, as I understand it, is that they would much rather the inquest and the investigation proceeded in parallel rather than sequentially – and I agree. I think if we all manage this carefully we ought to be able to ensure that the investigation can proceed and the inquest can proceed at the same time. Obviously that is a question for the coroner. But we now know who the coroner is. I have indicated that I want an early meeting with the coroner to discuss this amongst other issues.
“If there does come a point when we have to ask the coroner not to proceed then we will have to deal with that when it arises. But at the moment we are planning to ensure that does not happen.”
Mr Starmer’s role, as the man in charge of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), will be to decide who should face criminal charges.
Jon Stoddart, the former Durham chief constable, is leading the probe into the deaths of the 96 while the Independent Police Complaints Commission is looking at the huge cover-up which laid the blame on Liverpool fans and hid the truth.
Mr Starmer said he could not yet put a timescale on when decisions on prosecutions would be made.
“I can commit to working as swiftly as is appropriate. I can totally understand why the families want a timetable around all this, rather than individuals and organisations saying ‘we’ll proceed as quickly as we can’.
“Both the IPCC and Jon Stoddart intend to draw up investigation plans. So that will set out how they intend to progress their investigations. What we do is in some ways dependent on that.”
But he insisted the CPS was already immersed in the case and had taken special steps to speed up progress.
“My starting point, as I’ve said to the families, is that they have waited far too long for appropriate action to be taken in this case. That is why at an early stage I decided the Crown Prosecution Service would be involved from the outset. Normally we would expect to be involved after an investigation is complete.
“But I could see that we could ensure things happened more quickly if we were involved at the outset and that we could start reviewing some of the available material now rather than waiting for it to emerge at the end of the investigation. I think it has been welcomed by the families as far as I have been able to ascertain.”
He has also told the IPCC and Stoddart that they will have lawyers available whenever they need them.
A team of four lawyers were already looking at available material.
“We will have to review the size of that team as the material emerges. There may come a point where we need more than that. Within that team I have got two lawyers who are accredited lawyers for dealing with cases where people have died as a result of contact with the police – and contact here means any involvement by the police that can be linked to the death of an individual. They are dedicated to this case which, again, is pretty unusual from our point of view. We normally have lawyers carrying a case load.”
Mr Starmer said he believes decisions on prosecutions need not all be made at the same time.