Jon Stoddart, one of the key figures in the criminal investigations into Hillsborough, has explained the purpose of Operation Resolve, which was formed in the wake of the Independent Panel's report into the disaster.
Today marks the anniversary of the publishing of the Panel's findings, which laid bare the truths about the April 1989 tragedy.
In an interview with LFC TV, Stoddart was questioned about the set-up of Operation Resolve, its aims and progress.
Below is a full transcript of the interview.
One of the chief objectives of the Hillsborough Independent Panel was to add to public understanding of the disaster and its aftermath. What is the chief objective of Operation Resolve?
We are working very much to the coroner's priorities at the moment, but the underlying principle of the investigation is to either prove or disprove that the 96 fans were unlawfully killed, so it is a huge unlawful killing enquiry. Because it's 24 years on, there's a massive amount of documentation and a lot of enquiry has already been undertaken, so we are pulling that all together but not losing sight of the fact that we are here to service the coroner and to make sure we really probe into whether or not these fans were unlawfully killed.
Can you describe the different stages of the investigation; where you are at now and what the subsequent stages will be?
There are a number of stages and the two main, principle kind of strategic stages are the criminal enquiry, which I'm heading up, and then the other one is the feeding of the coroner's inquest, which is also my responsibility. They are pretty much reliant on the same information. In terms of both coroner and the criminal investigation, we've got stages right back to the early 1980s, where we are looking at the stadium as it was in 1981 and what has been learned in the intervening period between 1981 and 1989. So, the first phase is an historic gathering of information, looking at records and interviews and looking at minutes of meetings. Clearly we need to interview some of these people about engineering, about the design, the licensing and the certification for Hillsborough while looking at some of the decisions that were taken that may have contributed to the disaster. The next stages go up to March 20, 1989, when the decision was taken by the FA to award the semi-final to Hillsborough. Then we've got the actual day in question and clearly that is a massive part of the enquiry, looking at the decision making on the day, the command and control on the day, and the response of the emergency services. After that we go right the way through to other continuing phases and part of that is my responsibility and a significant part of the aftermath is the responsibility of the IPCC.
To what degree does the work and the findings of the Panel inform what you are doing here?
You can't underestimate the significance and the incredible contribution that the Hillsborough Independent Panel has made in terms of adding to the knowledge account. They have uncovered, by scrutinising and having documentation revealed to them, a significantly different picture to what we thought we already knew. It's a fantastic foundation and what they have done is really helping my enquiry to understand and to draw upon some of the new direction that they revealed when they reported last year. They did an amazing job in a pretty short space of time with not a great deal of resource. What they didn't do, was conduct extensive interviews of people. They conducted a very thorough investigation of documentation. They got access to new documentation which has shed new light on the events and our job is to use that documentation to provenance it, to make sure that we understand exactly what its source is, and then look at the statements, at all the changes of documentation and then start investigating new lines of enquiry that will be revealed as a result of that, interview people and making sure that we really, really understand what's gone on.
How long has your investigation been going on for and what would you say has been the headline finding or the breakthrough of your investigation to date?
I was asked to do this in late December last year, so the enquiry has really been going on for about eight months. We are now in Warrington, which is an excellent facility, and we've got something like 154 full-time investigators as of the end of this month. We are at about 130 now, so we've managed to recruit the staff and get going pretty quickly, but we conducted the first phase of the investigation and it had to be done in a police station. What we are looking at is trying to make sure the investigation adds new knowledge to what was already known. It's no good rehashing what was already known. We know there are people out there who want to talk to us. We've had the approaches and we've had confirmed information from both police officers and from other people that we have identified who we need to investigate and we need to interview. Clearly we are working with a lot of talented people and we are not just from the police environment. We've started on the investigation, we've started interviewing police officers and we're moving on quite quickly now. I can't really divulge too much because of the sensitive nature of the state of the inquiry, but it's fair to say we've moved on a long way.
Can you explain how the investigation will support the work of the inquest?
Some people are a little worried that by working for the coroner, the criminal enquiry will be somewhat parked or stopped, that's not true. We will be investigating for the coroner and for his three strategic priorities at the moment and that will also form the bedrock and the information needed on the criminal enquiry as well. It is unusual, it's not unique, but it's unusual to undertake work for the coroner first and then complete the criminal enquiry; usually it's the other way round. But we're working very closely with the coroner's team and we have very pressing deadlines so we're working absolutely flat-out.
Arguably one of the strengths of the panel's report was that it drew on the research of experts and professionals from a very wide variety of backgrounds from health to public records, keeping criminality, law etc. Is there an inherent weakness in an investigation from a policing perspective that those investigators will have an expertise, mind-set and approach formulated almost exclusively through policing?
It's fair to say that the vast majority of the 170 people I will be employing are ex-police or seconded officers so in that respect it may be a concern. But if you want people to investigate a major crime and in particular unlawful killings, then you need people with experience of that kind of investigation. That's what I've got, that's what my deputies have and if you look around here at Warrington, we've got something like 3,000 years of investigating major crime embedded in the staff. So they have a very thorough and professional, investigative mind-set. As regards to the other expertise the panel had, we are drawing on similar and more, so we're working closely with statutory agencies such as the Health & Safety Executive, private contractors, engineers, structural engineers, crowd dynamic experts, pathologists. We are working very, very closely with a lot of people to add to what was known. We need to be able to show to the coroner's court, with his agreement, things in a way that people understand it best. So we're looking at technology as well, we're using technology to its best effect, and we're using analysts and of course we are working very closely with the CPS. We've got two expert CPS lawyers who are dedicated to this enquiry - which is excellent - and we are closely working with the independent police complaints commission. They've got the floor above us here in Warrington and wherever they can, we're working together to save time and to make sure that survivors and witnesses are spoken to in a coordinated manner.
Why are you not able to take on any staff that have any previous involvement with Hillsborough?
We are very aware of the concerns of the families and they don't want any perception of bias. So we are conscious of the fact that there are certain forces, who had a massive involvement on the day, with personnel who may have previous knowledge or contact with those forces. It's not just about individual people, it's just about that perception of bias. We have to make sure we are absolutely independent. We are not answerable to any other police-force. I am answerable to the families, I am answerable to the Home Secretary, I'm answerable to Parliament and to the IPCC.
For years, families have had doubt to the role and conduct of the West Midlands Police in their investigation of the South Yorkshire Police-force. How difficult is it for police to investigate fellow police?
In terms of investigating police officers, it is something we do all the time. We have to investigate our own corrupt police officers if there are any dishonest police officers. It is something that is part and parcel of senior officers' life and senior officers' work and in professional standards departments right through the country, so we're used to it. In terms of this investigation, it will be scrupulously fair. It will be balanced it will be proportionate, I want to reassure everybody that's the whole point - it's about seeking justice. It's not about determining an outcome and then finding it. In terms of finishing it off, I have so many motivated people here who are determined to do the best possible job - it is absolutely refreshing. In terms of them wanting to do this, they have gone through a very demanding interview process and we've rejected an awful lot of people, who were pretty good candidates. These guys are good, some of them are the very best and they are very motivated to do the right job.
What is it that motivates you and your staff to do the best job possible?
When you read about Hillsborough, and when you watch the accounts unfold like they did on the day and you speak to the families and you meet the survivors, you can't help but be moved. And you cannot help but be motivated to do the right thing. And my personal motivation is to do the right thing. Those families have had so many questions over the years that did not get answered and I hope I can provide the answer to as many of those questions as I can.
The Royal Sun Alliance Insurance Company, Sheffield Wednesday's insurer back in 1989, and the law society who represented the Hillsborough solicitor's group steering committee, where two institutions that refused the HIP access to information. What powers do you have to access this documentation that was clearly of interest?
It's the reason I was sworn back in as a police officer. I retired in October and I was sworn back in December, because I need attested powers, warranted powers, to access information and make production orders on various people. Wherever possible, we will, through the coroner, seek voluntary disclosure. If we have to, then we have the powers for those production orders to be made. I'll be approaching all the organisations who so far haven't disclosed.
Given the history of Hillsborough, the families are understandably keen to have some sort of body that might provide an oversight of the investigative process. There was talk at one point of that potentially being a challenge panel - to provide families with a forum to raise any concerned over the investigations as they proceeded. What update can you provide us on that?
I can completely understand the families' positions. Next Friday, we're having a further meeting between the DPP, the IPCC and myself with the families of the two major support groups. It is a complex and difficult position that we're in. And I think it's best to leave it until after that meeting on the Friday.
How would you say your role in leading this investigation is perceived by your colleagues in the wider policing community?
I think every police officer who was around and saw the events of April 15, 1989, recognises that this is something that is critically important for the confidence of the police service and they recognise that it needed somebody to lead it and to command it and direct it. It is a really important event in terms of what we learned from the day as well. We are all mindful when we're policing major events of the tragedy at Hillsborough. It was not only a key date in football history, but also in terms of policing history, and it needs resolution.
The recently appointed Director of Public Prosecutions decreed back in 1996 that it was not in the interests of justice to order a fresh inquest into the death of Kevin Williams at Hillsborough. What was your perception of Hillsborough before the HIP produced this report last year?
I think it's fair to say that, as a police officer at the time and as a detective who worked in this kind of event, I was very well aware of the determination of the families for justice. I followed from afar, but you couldn't help but notice when there were further judicial inquests, inquiries, and reviews and then private prosecutions, that there clearly was a lot to be resolved and a resolution wasn't being provided to the families. Although I didn't understand the detail, I knew that there was a body of work being undertaken, by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, but I didn't understand its entire terms of reference. So, it was both enlightening and fascinating when they reported. Clearly it was a very different moment when I was asked to head-up a fresh criminal investigation.
When announcing the joint investigations back in December, the Home Secretary referred to how the truth had final been revealed. Would you say that we now broadly know the truth of Hillsborough or do you expect there to be further, shocking revelations to come?
It's probably too early to say. The truth is what we want to try and achieve and we want to try and achieve justice. We want to do it in a way that is absolutely, scrupulously, thorough and fair. There may be more revelations to come, but who knows? The fact of the matter is that we will work to make sure that the families are confident that their questions and their concerns are being addressed.
At the end of this whole process, how will you know if you and your team have done the best job possible?
I think we should look at it in three stages. It's about justice, about investigation and about the inquiry. I'm leading the investigation. My investigation has got to be the best quality. So if it's without reproach then I have done my best for the families, for criminal justice and for fairness. There are a lot of people out there who want to help and assist in this inquiry. So I think a really good outcome would be people saying that we've absolutely done everything that can be done. On Monday, we will have 154 investigators live and on the ground, by the end of the month we will be up to the full complement of 171. We've really gained the critical mass that we needed to push on and we're starting to move much more quickly. The Home Office has been terrific in providing the resources that can provide an outcome. I'm quietly confident that we've got the right number of people. If there are any experts or additional bits, then we've got good support from the Home Office to make sure we have those things.