Socialist Worker

Hillsborough relatives say court case collapse is ‘mockery’ and ‘farce’

by Isabel Ringrose
Issue No. 2757

The Hillsborough disaster happened at the Sheffield Wednesday stadium in 1989

The Hillsborough disaster happened at the Sheffield Wednesday stadium in 1989 (Pic: Flickr/Gareth Simpson)


The trial of two retired South Yorkshire Police (SYP) officers and a former solicitor, who amended officers' statements after the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster, has collapsed.

This means that, despite a previous verdict of unlawful killing, not one police officer has been held to account. The disaster resulted in the deaths of 96 Liverpool Football Club fans after a crush at Sheffield Wednesday’s football ground on 15 April 1989

Former chief superintendent Donald Denton, ex detective chief inspector Alan Foster and former solicitor Peter Metcalf were each charged in 2017. They faced two counts of perverting the course of justice for amending official police statements to the 1990 Taylor inquiry into the disaster.

They all denied the charges.

Mr Justice William Davis said there was “no case to answer” as the inquiry was not a statutory public inquiry where evidence is given on oath. He added there was no “course of public justice” that could be perverted by amending statements, and stopped the trial before it went to a jury.

There will be no appeal.

Margaret Aspinall previously chaired the Hillsborough Family Support Group and lost her 18-year-old son James in the disaster. She slammed the trial as a “mockery” and a “farce”.

“Our loved ones went to a football match and were killed, then they and the survivors were branded hooligans,” Margaret said. “We’ve been put through a 32-year legal nightmare looking for the truth and accountability.”

Inquest says fans were unlawfully killed at Hillsborough
Inquest says fans were unlawfully killed at Hillsborough
  Read More

Mary Corrigan, whose 17-year-old son Keith also died, said she was “so angry”. “It’s the lies, the lies that they’ve come out with,” she said. “It’s unbelievable.

“For 96 people to be in a football stadium and not come home and thousands more injured—I’m so angry and so hurt.”

Prosecutors at the trial in Salford accused Denton, Foster and Metcalf of attempting to “mask the failings” of SYP after 164 police statements were “significantly amended”.

Metcalf’s barrister Jonathan Goldberg QC argued last Friday that Metcalf was able to remove whole areas of evidence in statements. Goldberg said this was because he had no legal duty to tell the truth to the Taylor inquiry.

“This court is not a court of morals. This court is not a court of common decency,” he said.

He also claimed, “There was no cover-up at Hillsborough”.

Culpability

In his ruling Davis said, “Whatever the effect of [Metcalf’s] acts in relation to that process and whatever element of culpability there may have been on his part, it could not constitute the criminal offence with which he is charged.

“So it is that I have concluded that there is no case fit for the jury’s consideration on any count on the indictment.”

Over the last three decades there have been four trials, two sets of inquests, a public inquiry and other reviews into the fight for justice.

In 2016 inquests into the disaster found the 96 were unlawfully killed due to gross negligence by SYP officer in command David Duckenfield.

Here the SYP’s primary defence, that the disaster was caused by Liverpool supporters themselves, was rejected. But this is something the defence still referred to in the latest trial.

Amending and changing the statements was used in the 2016 inquests to show the police wanted to avoid responsibility and blame the victims. As a result, six men were charged in 2017.

Duckenfield was acquitted of manslaughter in 2019. Former chief constable of West Yorkshire Police Sir Norman Bettison had charges of misconduct in a public office dropped in 2018.

No justice for Hillsborough families
No justice for Hillsborough families
  Read More

And Metcalf, Denton and Foster have now had their trial stopped.

The only conviction was against Graham Mackrell, former secretary of Sheffield Wednesday football club. He was only found guilty of an offence relating to the turnstiles at the club’s stadium in Hillsborough, and fined £6,500.

Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman said, “No surprise at today’s Hillsborough decision. It was always on the cards.”

She added that they “silenced us for all these years with threats of court action if we spoke and prejudiced legal proceedings. Some of us saw their game.”

Margaret added, “Ninety-six were unlawfully killed and yet not one person has been held accountable.

“Why did we have the inquest first before the trial—is that because you can’t bring evidence from the inquests up to the trial? For me it’s a cover-up over a cover-up and I’ve felt that for a very long time

“I felt at the very beginning that this was going to be another stitch up and that’s exactly what it is.

“For me that says a lot about the state of the law in this country.”


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