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Hillsborough police face trial accused of perverting course of justice

The Guardian logo The Guardian 18/04/2021 David Conn

Two former South Yorkshire police officers and the force’s lawyer at the time of the Hillsborough stadium disaster in 1989 face trial on Monday charged with perverting the course of justice over the amendment of police statements about the tragedy.

Peter Metcalf, who was a partner at the firm of solicitors that acted for the force, Hammond Suddards; Donald Denton, a South Yorkshire police chief superintendent at the time; and Alan Foster, a detective chief inspector, were charged with the offences in 2017, after the conclusion of the new inquests into how 96 people died at the football ground.

Last Thursday, 15 April, marked 32 years since the 96 were killed at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough ground, due to a crush in the “pens” of the Leppings Lane terrace, which had been allocated to Liverpool supporters. Of the men, women and children killed, the youngest, Jon-Paul Gilhooley, was 10; the oldest, Gerard Baron, was 67.

Metcalf, Denton and Foster are each charged with two counts of the criminal offence that with the intention of perverting the course of justice, they did “acts tending and intended to pervert the course of justice”. The charges relate to the alleged process after the disaster in which the accounts given by police officers who had been on duty at Hillsborough were amended or altered before being sent out by the force.

The charges against Metcalf allege that he gave advice to South Yorkshire police on the alteration of the officers’ accounts, and that he knew these amended accounts would then be given to West Midlands police. The West Midlands force had been appointed to investigate the circumstances of the disaster and provide support to the subsequent public inquiry held by Lord Justice Taylor, and the first inquest, which began in Sheffield in November 1990.

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The second charge against Metcalf alleges that he gave advice relating to the accounts of four South Yorkshire police officers in particular, concerning the monitoring of the Leppings Lane pens, and that he sent that advice to South Yorkshire police’s then deputy chief constable, Peter Hayes.

The two counts against Denton allege that he ordered the amendment or alteration of South Yorkshire police officers’ accounts, and that he provided altered accounts to West Midlands police.

Foster is also charged with ordering the accounts of officers about what happened at Hillsborough to be amended or altered, knowing that the amended accounts would then be provided to West Midlands police, and with amending or altering some accounts himself.

Lawyers representing Metcalf, Denton and Foster gave indications at a first court hearing in 2017 that they intend to plead not guilty to the charges.

The trial, in front of Mr Justice William Davis, has been moved because of coronavirus protocols from Preston crown court, where it was planned to be held, to the Lowry theatre in Salford, which has been used as a court during the pandemic.

The proceedings will also be broadcast live to St George’s Hall in Liverpool, closer to home for many of the families whose relatives were killed at Hillsborough, to allow them and other people affected by the disaster the choice of attending the trial there.

The trial is scheduled to last for 16 weeks.


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