RECENTLY-RETIRED Durham chief constable Jon Stoddart is to lead a new inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster.
Mr Stoddart formally retired as boss of the Durham force in October, but Home Secretary Theresa May announced yesterday that he would lead the fresh police investigation into the deaths of the 96 Liverpool fans at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final at the home of Sheffield Wednesday.
Newcastle-born Mr Stoddart, 53, a former pupil at the city’s Royal Grammar School and student of Newcastle Polytechnic – now Northumbria University – said: “My first priority is to meet with as many of the families as possible and to establish a working, open relationship with them throughout the investigation.
“I have held a number of meetings already and have been struck by the families’ humility and steadfast determination to see justice delivered for their loved ones.”
Families welcomed the move as the “first step towards accountability“ but urged all authorities to work together to ensure justice. The announcement came as High Court judges quashed the original accidental death verdicts on the disaster which occurred 23 years ago and ordered a fresh inquest.
Both decisions follow a damning report from the Hillsborough Independent Panel in September, which laid bare the attempts to shift blame for the tragedy onto its victims.
Commenting on the new police investigation, Jenni Hicks, who lost her teenage daughters Sarah and Victoria at Hillsborough, said: “After the truth we had in September it has to be followed up with accountability, and I think today is the first step of that, which is brilliant.”
Mr Stoddart will work closely with the previously announced Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation into police conduct in the aftermath of the disaster.
Both investigations will be conducted from the same office in Warrington, Cheshire.
The Stoddart investigation will be into a range of agencies outside the IPCC’s remit but in order to maintain independence, the IPCC will look at the actions of police officers in relation to the deaths.
In addition to announcing a new investigation, a Liaison Board will be established to bring together all organisations working on behalf of the Hillsborough families. Ms Hicks’s ex-husband Trevor, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, said he is encouraging all sections of the investigation to work together.
“We’ve said all along that we wanted joined-up writing, if you like. We want them all to work together. There’s a common cause and that’s justice for the families and how we get that,” he said.
Mr Stoddart will be able to recruit investigators and staff to his team but will not be allowed to employ officers or former officers who have prior connection to the Hillsborough disaster.
He is also unable to recruit any officers or former officers who worked in West Midlands, South Yorkshire or Merseyside police forces.
The investigation may trigger criminal prosecutions, the Home Secretary said, which will be the responsibility of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service.
Mr Stoddart has been appointed to Metropolitan Police as assistant commissioner to carry out the investigation.
Days before retiring as Chief Constable of Durham he told The Journal that he planned to carry on working “in some capacity”.