Deputy Chief Constable Paul Leighton.
Deputy Chief Constable Paul Leighton.
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COLERAINE man Paul Leighton CBE QPM, was one of the nine distinguished members of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, the Coleraine Times can reveal.

The former Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI was tasked with providing maximum possible disclosure of material relating to the tragedy, which saw 96 Liverpool FC fans lose their lives at the FA Cup semi final on April 15th, 1989.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel was appointed by the previous Labour government in January 2010.

Last Wednesday it released a damning report into the disaster laying bare a shocking cover-up which attempted to shift the blame for the tragedy on to its victims.

The panel was made up of nine members. Each brought a specific area of expertise to the body to assist it in providing maximum possible disclosure of material relating to the Hillsborough tragedy.

The other members were the Right Reverend James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool (Chairman); Raju Bhatt, a specialist in private and public law claims and inquests into deaths in custody; Christine Gifford, an expert in the field of access to information; Katy Jones, an investigative journalist and television executive producer; Dr Bill Kirkup, an authority on public health; Professor Phil Scraton, professor of criminology; Peter Sissons, television broadcaster and Sarah Tyacke, CB archivist.

Introducing the report to the Hillsborough families at the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool, Bishop James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool and chairman of the panel, said: “The documents disclosed to and analysed by the panel show that the tragedy should never have happened.

“There were clear operational failures in response to the disaster and in its aftermath there were strenuous attempts to deflect the blame onto the fans.”

The panel’s report found:

- There were clear operational failures in response to the disaster and up to 41 fans could potentially have survived;

- The then chief constable of South Yorkshire Peter Wright and his officers, with the help of local Tory MP Irvine Patnick, sought to cover up the failings, briefing media that drunken, ticketless fans and violence were to blame;

- There was “no evidence that fans had conspired to arrive late at the stadium” and “no evidence that they stole from the dead and dying”;

- Police “doctored” 116 official statements “to remove or alter comments unfavourable to SYP”;

- South Yorkshire Ambulance Service documents were “subject to the same process”;

- An attempt was made to “impugn the reputations of the deceased by carrying out Police National Computer checks on those with a non-zero alcohol level”;

- Blood alcohol levels were tested in some survivors as well as in all those who died. In some there was “no apparent medical reason for the test” and no record was kept;

- Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher voiced concern that a 1990 report into the Hillsborough disaster constituted a “devastating criticism” of police.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel spent 18 months looking through more than 450,000 documents relating to the fatal crush on 15 April 1989, which resulted in the deaths of 96 people.

The documents included cabinet minutes as well as evidence from public bodies such as the South Yorkshire Police, Sheffield City Council, the South Yorkshire coroner and the fire and ambulance services.

Hillsborough Families Support Group chairman Trevor Hicks, who lost two daughters at Hillsborough, said they would now press for criminal action against those involved in the disaster, adding: “The truth is out today, justice starts tomorrow.”

Mr Hicks said the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report revealed shocking “depths of depravity” in the way the police tried to blame the fans after the disaster.

He said the report showed that “possibly as many as 41 people might have survived” if the disaster had been better handled.

Margaret Aspinall, chairman of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, whose son James died, said the families had trusted the panel all along and thanked the members for their work and for “exonerating” the fans.

She added: “They have made our city proud today, but most importantly they have made the 96 rest in peace for the first time in all those years.”

Mr Hicks said the families gave the panel a standing ovation when it finished reporting its findings to them and that three people even fainted as the information came out.

Paul Leighton retired as Deputy Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland in May 2009.

He worked in policing in Northern Ireland and the North East of England and dealt with the aftermath of the Chinook helicopter crash on the Mull of Kintyre in 1994 when 25 police and service personnel lost their lives. From late 1994 to early 1996 he was seconded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), where he assisted in the inspection of a number of English police forces.

He is a law graduate and was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal in 2005 and the CBE in the New Year’s Honours List 2010. Leighton is currently involved in a review of the Northern Ireland prison system for the Department of Justice.