SALFORD, England (AP) — A judge ended the trial of two retired police officers and a lawyer accused of altering police statements following the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium disaster, ruling Wednesday that there was no case to answer.
Lawyers for the two former officers — Donald Denton and Alan Foster — and Peter Metcalf, who was an attorney for the force in 1989, applied to have the case against them dismissed after four weeks of evidence.
It had been alleged the three people were involved in a process of amending officers’ statements to minimize the blame on South Yorkshire Police following the disaster at the FA Cup semifinal match that left 96 Liverpool fans dead. They were each accused of two counts of doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of justice.
The trial judge, Justice William Davis, said the amended statements were intended for a public inquiry into safety at sports grounds that began in 1990 and that was not a course of public justice which could be perverted.
The judge said there was no case fit for consideration by the jury based on any of the six counts in the indictment.
Prosecutors said they would not be appealing against the ruling.
“What has been heard here in this court will have been surprising to many,” said Sue Hemming, director of legal services at the Crown Prosecution Service. “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.”
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, who has been heavily involved in the campaign for justice for Hillsborough victims, posted on Twitter: “To have a case of this magnitude ruled out on a technicality beggars belief.”
Metcalf, a police attorney, was charged with allegedly suggesting changes to officers’ statements. Denton, a former chief superintendent, was accused of overseeing the changes to the statements and Foster, a former detective chief inspector, was accused of being central to the process.
Sir Norman Bettison, a chief inspector in 1989 who went on to become chief constable of two other police forces, was charged with misconduct in a public office as part of the investigation into the disaster but the charges against him were dropped in 2018.
The match commander on the day of the disaster, David Duckenfield, was charged with gross negligence manslaughter in 2017. He was cleared in 2019 at a retrial after the jury in his first trial was unable to reach a verdict.
The tragedy at the stadium in Sheffield unfolded when more than 2,000 Liverpool soccer fans flooded into a standing-room section behind a goal, when the 54,000-capacity stadium was nearly full for the match against Nottingham Forest. The victims were smashed against metal anti-riot fences or trampled underfoot. Many suffocated in the crush.
The original inquest recorded verdicts of accidental death. But the families challenged that ruling and pressed for a new inquiry. They succeeded in getting the verdicts overturned by the High Court in 2012 after the far-reaching probe that examined previously secret documents found wrongdoing and mistakes by authorities.
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The Associated Press