IPCC Chief Makes Pledge To Hillsborough Families

The head of the police watchdog has written to Hillsborough survivors and relatives to reassure them it well get to the bottom of allegations of a cover up.

It follows a scathing report by the Home Affairs Select Committee, which described the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) as  "woefully under-equipped and hamstrung", and lacking the public's confidence.

The IPCC is investigating claims there was a coordinated cover up by South Yorkshire police to blame the Liverpool supporters for the tragedy in 1989, which left 96 people dead.

The IPCC has described the probe as its biggest test, yet questions are already being asked about whether it is up to the job.

The report by MPs found the body does not have the power or resources to get to the truth, has a backlog of appeals and often fails to take immediate control of a potential crime scene during the crucial "golden hours" of an investigation.

The MPs also found it may not be independent enough as it has so many former police officers working for it.

IPCC chair Dame Anne Owers admits it is stretched. "We do not have the resources and the powers to do all the things that the public expect of us, and and in some cases that the public needs us to be able to do. And I think this report reinforces that," she said.

One family that feels let down by the IPCC is that of Olaseni Lewis, 23.

The post-graduate student returned home to Croydon from a night out feeling agitated and unwell in August 2010.

His parents persuaded him to go to A and E to get checked out. Within hours he was on life support having been restrained by up to 11 police officers, but the circumstances are still unclear.

His father, Conrad Lewis, says the memory haunts him: "You wake up in the morning, it hits you, you read the news item about another kid or you talk to somebody.

"You wonder where did you go wrong, what did I do wrong, shouldn't I have taken him to the hospital? You know, you beat up yourself."

The IPCC admitted "confusion" and "oversights" in its initial investigation, which it is now reviewing. It has meant the inquest into his death has been delayed, which distresses Olaseni's mother, Ajibola.

"He was a gentle giant. He stood up for people. He hated injustice. He didn't like bullies, and I don't know.. we just don't know until we have the inquest the exact facts, so we're just waiting," she said.

For the relatives of the Hillsborough victims, and the survivors, there is also an anxious wait. Ms Owers has emailed them to tell them extra funding has been promised by the Home Office for its inquiry.

Lord Falconer, who is acting as an adviser to the Hillsborough Families Support Group, says it is crucial the IPCC gets the investigation right.

"To see a state body mess up again would be absolutely appalling," he said. "And to entrust an investigation of this difficulty and this intenstiy to an organisation that has performed so badly in the past seems to us to be a big mistake."