WITNESS STATEMENTS & HILLSBOROUGH (A REPEAT II): CONFIRMATION BIAS AT ITS WORST
The tragic events of Hillsborough are in the news again. I am here repeating a post first written in 2016. The post is on one small part of the process: the initial gathering of evidence. It was the flawed nature of this process that led to problems for the next three decades. This is one of the important issues in the Hillsborough story, but is also of general importance, particularly for those involved in the legal process. The failure to ask questions objectively, but instead pursue an agenda, meant that crucial evidence was not obtained or overlooked.
“Just a set of questions geared entirely towards the behaviour of people, like myself, whose only fault was that we saw fellow fans die.”
WEBINAR ON HILLSBOROUGH AND WITNESS EVIDENCE
I am presenting a webinar: “Witness Statements and Gathering Witness Evidence: the lessons that lawyers must learn from Hillsborough” on the 19th July 2021. Booking details are available here.
THE OBJECTIVE QUESTIONING OF WITNESSES
Again there were a number of simple objective questions that witnesses could be asked by the police.
- Where were you?
- What happened to you?
- What did you see?
- What did you hear?
- What did you do?
CONFIRMATION BIAS AT ITS VERY WORST
Instead, however, it is clear that the questioning was far from objective. From the outset it appears that the investigation was carried out with a clear agenda in mind.
The best example of this I have seen is Brian Reade, writing in the Mirror, on his experience of having his statement taken by the West Midlands police after the disaster. Brian was a Liverpool fan at the game and was interviewed in a way that appears typical of the post-match approach.
“Virtually all the questions were slanted towards finding out how culpable the fans were: “What time did you arrive at the ground? Did you witness any disorder? Did you witness any consumption of alcohol in the streets? Did you witness alcohol being brought into the ground or consumed inside the ground? Did you witness any act by supporters which obstructed police, stewards or medical persons? Were you subjected to any threats or violence? Did you witness anything you consider to be a criminal act by any person?”
Not a single question about how many police were outside the ground, the state of the stadium, whether any stewards filtered people away from the central Leppings Lane death pens, whether police officers responded to dying fans screaming to be let out of the cages , or if I saw any medics helping casualties.
Just a set of questions geared entirely towards the behaviour of people, like myself, whose only fault was that we saw fellow fans die.”
See the whole article at http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/brian-reade-hillsborough-witness-statement-2301438
THAT IS NOT WHAT I SAID
Brian Reade had suspicions that his witness statement had been subject to changes. An answer to a question about turnstiles had the words “but they, our turnstiles, were operating efficiently” which is the opposite of his recollection.
THEY KEY POINT IS THAT ASKING LOADED QUESTIONS LED THE INVESTIGATION AWAY FROM THE TRUTH
The first priority of the investigation should have been to find out what happened. Accurate conclusions could only be made on the basis of accurate evidence. The enquiries were being made to an agenda and, as it turns out, a false agenda.