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Friday, 28 November 2014

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Public health chief speaks out about Hillsborough concerns

A PUBLIC health chief who witnessed the horrific Hillsborough tragedy in 1989 believes the police might have considered prosecuting him for leaving his teenage sons to help victims.

Prof John Ashton, Cumbria’s most senior public health chief, spoke about his treatment by the police just weeks after the Government approved a fresh criminal investigation into the disaster, which claimed 96 lives.

That decision followed a fresh review of the events surrounding the tragedy, which found shocking evidence of police attempts to shift the blame on to fans.

The Hillsborough independent panel stressed that fans were in no way at fault and for the first time laid bare the extent of the alleged establishment cover-up designed to smear their names.

This included police arranging blood alcohol tests on the bodies of dead fans, one of them just 10 years old.

It is also said that 141 statements were “substantially altered” after being taken to remove negative comments about the policing operation.

At the time of the disaster, Prof Ashton was a doctor working as a public health official in Liverpool. He went to the ill-fated match with his sons, then 14 and 16, and a nephew aged 24.

They were in the Hillsborough Stadium’s upper stand as the tragedy unfolded.

Responding to a public appeal over the loudspeakers for doctors to help, Prof Ashton left his sons with his nephew and went to the Leppings Lane stand. Feeling that there was no organised response, he then set about assessing casualties, and certified six fans dead.

What later happened to the professor’s typed police statement about his experience at the stadium – in which he openly criticised the emergency response to the disaster – has left him staggered.

On the second page, in the margin, there is a hand written annotation, believed to have been added by a police officer.

It appears to refer to his decision to leave his sons to help dead and injured fans.

The note says: “In view of fact that the two juveniles were in west stand and under the care of [the nephew], I suggest NFA.”

In police terms, the capital letters are generally used to mean “no further action” in cases where a prosecution is under consideration.

Prof Ashton, who feels that his clinical judgements about the disaster were “trashed” in the subsequent public inquiry, said: “The annotation on my statement raised the question of whether they should do something about me having ‘abandoned’ my children, which is something I didn’t do.

“It looks like they were considering it as a child protection issue. They were obviously looking for things.”

Prof Ashton suggested that what happened to him may have been part of a wider attempt to discredit witnesses critical of the police.

At the later public inquiry, Prof Ashton criticised the lack of emergency medical equipment and the slow response of ambulances, saying a better response could have saved more lives.

The later Taylor inquiry dismissed his comments as “irresponsible”, though the latest Hillsborough panel ruling backs the doctor’s view, saying that 41 lives could have been saved had the operational response on the day not been so inadequate.

A spokesman for South Yorkshire Police said: “The Independent Police Complaints Commission are investigating the actions of the police in the aftermath of the tragedy and this claim would therefore appear to fall within their remit.

“Therefore, it is not appropriate for South Yorkshire Police to comment.”

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