Hillsborough disaster: trial of three men collapses after judge rules there is no case

The trial collapsed after a judge ruled there was no case fit for consideration by jury

Retired South Yorkshire Police officer Alan Foster leaves the Lowry Theatre in Greater Manchester after the ruling (Photo: Getty Images)

The trial of three men accused of perverting the course of justice following the Hillsborough disaster has collapsed, after the judge ruled there was no case to answer.

Two retired police officers and a solicitor were each accused of two counts of doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of justice following the disaster at the FA Cup semi-final on 15 April 1989, which saw 96 Liverpool fans die.

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It was also alleged they were involved in a process of amending officers’ statements to minimise the blame on South Yorkshire Police.

Case dismissed

After four weeks of evidence, lawyers for former chief superintendent Donald Denton, 83, retired detective chief inspector Alan Foster, 74, and Peter Metcalf 71, who was solicitor for the force in 1989, applied to have the case against them dismissed.

In a ruling handed down at the Nightingale court at the Lowry theatre in Salford on Wednesday (26 April), judge Mr Justice William Davis said the amended statements were intended for a public inquiry into safety at sports grounds led by Lord Justice Taylor, but that was not a course of public justice.

Mr Willaims concluded that based on the six counts on the indictment, there was no case fit for consideration by the jury.

In the ruling, he said: “I repeat my observation about the anxiety and distress being felt by the families of those affected by the Hillsborough disaster.

“These proceedings have been very drawn-out following a lengthy trial process involving the match commander.

“I know the strength of feeling there was after his acquittal. I am aware that these proceedings also have been observed with interest.

“However, whatever the anxiety and distress, I have to determine whether there is evidence to support the particular criminal offence with which these defendants have been charged.

“In concluding that there is not, that is all I do.”

The trial had heard statements were amended to remove criticism of the South Yorkshire Police force, but expert witness Sir Robert Francis QC told the jury there was no legal duty of candour for police at a public inquiry.

The trial had heard statements were amended to remove criticism of the South Yorkshire Police force, but expert witness Sir Robert Francis QC told the jury there was no legal duty of candour for police at a public inquiry.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burham described the collapse of the trial as a “disgrace” and “disrespectful to the families” affected by the disaster. He also called for the introduction of what he called a “Hillsborough Law”.

The Crown Prosecution Service defended its decision to prosecute, saying it was “right to bring this case and for a court to hear the evidence of what happened in the aftermath” of the disaster.

Sue Hemming, CPS director of legal services, said: “What has been heard here in this court will have been surprising to many.

“That a publicly-funded authority can lawfully withhold information from a public inquiry charged with finding out why 96 people died at a football match, in order to ensure that it never happened again – or that a solicitor can advise such a withholding, without sanction of any sort, may be a matter which should be subject to scrutiny.”

However, she noted that the decision not to appeal the judge’s ruling was taken after “long and incredibly careful consideration”, including for the families of the victims.

Charges dropped

Mr Denton, Mr Metcalf and Mr Foster were charged in 2017 following an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) into allegations of a cover-up by police following the tragedy.

Sir Norman Bettison, a chief inspector in 1989 who later went on to become chief constable of Merseyside and West Yorkshire, was charged with misconduct in a public office as part of the investigation.

However, these charges against him were later dropped in August 2018.

The match commander on the day, David Duckenfield, was charged with gross negligence manslaughter in 2017, although he went on to be cleared of the charge at a retrial in 2019 after the jury in his first trial was unable to reach a verdict.

In May 2019, former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell was fined £6,500 and ordered to pay £5,000 costs after he was convicted of failing to ensure the health and safety of fans arriving at the ground on the day of the disaster.

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