Retired police officers may be discouraged from giving evidence to ongoing investigations into the Hillsborough disaster because premature comments from senior politicians and others may have given the impression "that the result is a foregone conclusion", a group representing them has said.
The chairman of the Sheffield branch of the National Association of Retired Police Officers said his members are being encouraged to co-operate with the various ongoing inquiries into the disaster that claimed the lives of 96 Liverpool fans in 1989.
But Mick Brookfield said there were concerns that advance media coverage and statements from leading politicians "who should know better" would discourage his members.
In a letter to the Yorkshire Post, he said:
– Mick Brookfield, National Association of Retired Police Officers
We hold the view that it is in the interests of South Yorkshire Police and the families of the deceased that the investigation has access to all available evidence.
"Our concern, however, is that media coverage of events since the Hillsborough Independent Report was published will not have helped to encourage their desire to become involved.
"Some of the publicity regarding, in particular, statements by senior politicians and others who should know better, has been disgraceful and entirely inappropriate, especially in the light of the forthcoming inquiries.
"Far wiser to withhold such unjustified and speculative comment until the result of the inquiry is known rather than acting in a manner which frankly gives the impression that the result is a foregone conclusion."
I have never once heard a police officer, or a retired police officer, blame the deceased for their own deaths."
He said: "Some of those who were involved in the disaster, and subsequent events, have now been retired for over 20 years.
"Some are ill and infirm, many are elderly and all are concerned by events during the last nine months since publication of the Hillsborough Independent Report."
And Mr Brookfield said: "Against this background, during a period when some unfortunate individuals have been identified and 'hounded', our members now face the prospect of being called to give evidence at the inquests and attend interviews in connection with the inquiry into events which took place over 24 years ago.
"We are following developments closely with a view to doing whatever possible to support our members throughout this difficult period.
"Retired officers from South Yorkshire were devastated when this awful tragedy occurred in Sheffield. Those involved are honourable men and women who gave their working life to policing South Yorkshire."
The role of South Yorkshire Police officers in the tragedy and the subsequent investigation into what happened at the stadium has come under intense scrutiny since the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Report last year.
New inquests into the deaths are expected next year.
There is also a huge ongoing investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) into the disaster. South Yorkshire Police have supplied the IPCC with the names of hundreds of officers who were on duty at the time. Most of these officers are now retired.
Unlike serving officers, retired officers cannot be compelled to comply with IPCC inquiries.