Two former police officers and a solicitor have been acquitted of perverting the course of justice in a result that been described as ‘ludicrous’ by the families of the victims. The four-week trial, the result of a 32-year pursuit of a prosecution by the bereaved families, centred around allegations of amended statements made after the Hillsborough disaster.
Donald Denton, 83, Alan Foster, 74, and Peter Melcalf, 72, were alleged to have changed 68 statements to hide police failings . The statements, made after 96 people died at the football ground in April 1989, had been prepared for ‘an administrative exercise’ and ‘not a course of public justice’, Mr Justice William Davis ruled.
Margaret Aspinall, the last chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group (interviewed on the Justice Gap here), described the outcome as a ‘cover-up of the cover-up’. The survivors of the tragedy were ‘branded hooligans’, according to Mrs Aspinall. ‘The legal system in this country really has to change.’
The three were charged with perverting the course of public justice by amending the statements of police officers to ‘minimise’ the blame that might be heaped upon the South Yorkshire Police (SYP) . Metcalf was a solicitor instructed by SYP’s insurers and advised on the content of accounts provided by officers on duty at Hillsborough. Denton and Foster were senior officers in the force in 1989 who were involved in dealing with those accounts.
Metcalf sent a total of 28 faxes advising amendments to officers’ accounts. ‘Although the accounts were amended for the (1990) Taylor Inquiry, it is clear that the process was put into place with wider considerations in mind. Everyone knew that there would be inquests, civil claims, police disciplinary proceedings and a criminal investigation.’ You can read Mark George QC on SYP’s approach to amending officers’ statement here and the parallels between Hillsborough and Orgreave.
In the ruling, Mr Justice Davis said: ‘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.’
It was established 27 years after the tragedy, at the 2016 inquests, that the Liverpool fans were unlawfully killed. Denton, Foster and Metcalf were charged in 2017 as a result of an Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation into a possible police cover-up, and in 2019 the match commander, former Ch Supt David Duckenfield, was cleared of gross negligence manslaughter.