1,600 Hillsborough notepads found in police basement on eve of disaster trials

96 Hillsborough victims
96 Liverpool fans died

More than 1,500 police pocket notebooks relevant to the Hillsborough disaster were discovered just weeks before the trial of David Duckenfield was due to start.Envelopes filled with the pads were found in the basement of Snig Hill station - South Yorkshire Police’s headquarters at the time of the tragedy.

The development could not be reported until now due to reporting restrictions that ended with the collapse of a trial centred on allegations South Yorkshire Police sought to cover up force failings over the disaster.Discussed at Preston Crown Court shortly after they were found, trial judge Sir Peter Openshaw heard around 1,900 previously undiscovered notebooks had been revealed.They included a notebook belonging to the chief superintendent Duckenfield replaced as head of South Yorkshire Police's F Division - and match commander of the 1987 and 1988 Hillsborough FA Cup semi-finals - Brian Mole.

Match Commander David Duckenfield

Also among the batch were notes from superintendent Bernard Murray - Duckenfield’s number two at the tragedy - and then inspector Robbie McRobbie, who was with both men in the stadium police control box as the tragedy unfolded.Mr McRobbie’s notebook pre-dated the day of the disaster and was not deemed relevant to the prosecution.A 10 day assessment undertaken by 23 officers from Operation Resolve, the criminal investigation into the tragedy, deemed 1,602 of those notepads were potentially relevant to the probe into Duckenfield and then Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell.At the time Benjamin Myers, QC, who was defending Duckenfield, questioned how thorough the analysis could have been, telling the court:

Preston Crown Court heard the notebooks belonged to officers who attended Hillsborough for the FA Cup semi-finals in 1987, 1988 or 1989; planning meetings ahead of those games; mentioned contact with Duckenfield; or belonged to officers who had been involved in disaster debriefing sessions; the Taylor Inquiry or the now discredited firstinquests.

Preston Crown Court

Further work identified 165 relevant extracts, though most were found to be consistent with statements previously given by the officers who had written them.In the end, seven were disclosed to parties in the case after being found to refer to meetings in 1988 or 1989 for which no statement had referred to.They included a note by Supt Murray relating to a 1988 meeting with Mackrell.Natalia Cornwall, who was part of the prosecution team, said:

The pocket notebook of Brian Mole was said to be largely indecipherable due to his handwriting, though details that could be understood included some dates and the name Duckenfield.The court heard that entry referred to a meeting as Duckenfield was in the process of replacing Ch Supt Mole in late March, 1989.The extent of any handover between the two senior officers was a source of contention at the following trials.At Duckenfield's retrial, Mr Myers argued notebook entries of Ch Supt Mole showed a meeting between the pair after his client's promotion was announced could have covered no more than one hour and 15 minutes.He argued that one of the “unhappy facts” of the case was an apparent lack of assistance given to Duckenfield.The discovery of the notepads came years after Mrs May had called on police to hand over all previously undisclosed documents to investigators working on criminal probes into Hillsborough and its aftermath.Those inquiries were prompted by the findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel in 2012 and subsequent quashing of inquest verdicts that ruled the 96 disaster victims died “accidental deaths”.Fresh inquests in Warrington led to a jury finding those innocent men, women and children were unlawfully killed.Speaking in Parliament in February 2014 - after the discovery of a batch of 2,500 previously undisclosed police notebooks - Mrs May said:

Following the discovery of 1,900 notebooks, further inquiries led to another 904 being found at Snig Hill.An IOPC spokesman said:

They continued: “We investigated the police’s actions during the original search conducted by SYP at Snig Hill police station in September 2013.“We looked specifically at the planning of the search including the process of establishing and agreeing the search parameters.“Now that the criminal proceedings have concluded we will consider publishing our findings.”A spokeswoman for South Yorkshire Police said envelopes containing the notepads were found in a “disused server room” in the station’s basement while maintenance work was being carried out.She added:

In the trials that followed the preparation hearing in which the notebooks were discussed, Duckenfield, then 74, was cleared of the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 of the 96 Liverpool fans who died following the tragic crush in Sheffield on April 15, 1989.He was not charged over the death of the 96th person to die as a result of injuries sustained on the Leppings Lane terrace, Tony Bland.This was because Mr Bland’s death was too long after the disaster to fall within the scope of the prosecution.Mackrell, then 69, was found guilty of a health and safety breach linked to turnstile arrangements on the day.Of six men charged with offences linked to the tragedy and its aftermath, he is the only defendant to have been convicted.He was handed a £6,500 fine by Sir Peter, who upon sentencing him said Mackrell’s failings did not cause or contribute to the tragic crush.On Wednesday, judge Mr Justice William Davis ruled two former South Yorkshire Police officers and a solicitor who worked with the force had no case to answer to allegations they perverted the course of justice.Ex-Chief Superintendent Donald Denton, former Detective ChiefInspector Alan Foster and retired solicitor Peter Metcalf had been accused of “masking the failings” of South Yorkshire Police by amending dozens of disaster witness accounts made by officers.Those statements were then submitted to the Taylor Inquiry, set up to establish what happened and how future deaths at sports stadia could be prevented.