Questions for Hillsborough coroner Stefan Popper

By Marcus Dysch, September 20, 2012
Hillsborough coroner Stefan Popper

Hillsborough coroner Stefan Popper

The coroner whose inquests into the deaths of the Hillsborough disaster victims were found to be severely lacking by an independent panel report has refused to comment on his role in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Stefan Popper has been widely criticised after ruling that the 96 Liverpool fans who died at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final had suffered accidental deaths.

The publication of the independent panel’s report last week has intensified the pressure on Dr Popper and brought renewed calls for his verdicts to be quashed and new inquests to be held.

Dr Popper came to Britain in 1938 at the age of six when his family fled Nazi-occupied Austria. The Poppers had owned the Cafe Herrenhof in Vienna.

It was one of the city’s most popular meeting places during the 1920s and 1930s, and was frequented by artists, writers and philosophers such as Sigmund Freud and the director Fritz Lang. After the cafe was appropriated by the Nazis, the family settled in Britain.

The panel scrutinised hundreds of thousands of previously-unseen pages of evidence and found serious problems with Dr Popper’s actions.

Dr Popper had refused to take evidence collected after 3.15pm on the day of the tragedy. The match had been abandoned at 3.06pm as the extent of the crushing in the ground became apparent.

Imposing the 3.15pm cut-off had, the report said, “led to the mistaken belief that an effective emergency services intervention could not have saved lives”. Evidence now uncovered shows that a number of victims had survived beyond that time; half could have been saved.

The report said there was “no rationale” for the coroner’s decision to take blood alcohol level readings from every victim, including children.

Dr Popper had believed checking blood alcohol levels was “a justifiable investigation” and that the age of some victims — the youngest to die was England captain Steven Gerrard’s 10-year-old cousin Jon-Paul Gilhooley — was “no guarantee that alcohol is not ingested”.

The victims’ families are now considering whether to seek criminal charges against those involved in what their lawyers called the “biggest cover-up in British history”.

Dr Popper has not responded to requests from the JC and other media to discuss his post-Hillsborough role. A Sheffield City Council spokeswoman said the former coroner would not be commenting on the issue.

Former Sheffield Tory MP Sir Irvine Patnick, meanwhile, has apologised for the part he played in repeating false allegations about the Liverpool fans, amid calls for him to be stripped of his knighthood.

He was a leading voice behind claims that the fans were to blame for the crush on the terraces and had conspired to arrive late, drunk and without tickets, and had forced entry into the stadium.

The day after the independent panel report was published, Sir Irvine, now 82, said: “I would like to put on the record how appalled and shocked I was to discover the extent of the deceit and cover-up surrounding these events.

“It is now clear that the information I received from some police officers at the time was wholly inaccurate, misleading and plain wrong. However, I totally accept responsibility for passing such information on without asking further questions... I am deeply and sincerely sorry for the part I played in adding to the pain and suffering of the victims’ families.”

Sir Irvine, vice-president of Sheffield’s Kingfield Synagogue, life president of Sheffield Jewish Representative Council, and a former national vice-chairman of Maccabi, has declined to explain his role further.

His wife, Lady Patnick, said she was “disgusted” that the JC had reported criticism of the part he played in the 23-year long cover-up.

Last updated: 8:07am, September 21 2012