The Hillsborough families have been “let down” by the justice system after two former senior police officers and a solicitor were cleared of perverting the course of justice, campaigners said.
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, were acquitted on Wednesday after judge Mr Justice William Davis ruled there was no case to answer.
The three men were each accused of two counts of doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of justice and it was alleged they amended officers’ statements to minimise the blame on South Yorkshire Police following the disaster at the FA Cup semi-final on April 15 1989, in which 96 Liverpool fans died.
In a ruling handed down at the Nightingale court at the Lowry theatre in Salford, 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.
Christine Burke, whose father Henry, 47, died in the disaster addressed the judge in court after his decision, telling him: “The judiciary is broken.”
She said: “I have got to live the rest of my life knowing my father was buried with a lie.”
Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James died at Hillsborough, said: “Today I just felt that trial, on them three, was a cover-up over a cover-up.
“I am so angry. Until we can do something to change the system in this country to make it a level playing field then unfortunately ordinary people will never get anywhere with the system that we’ve got.”
Metro mayor for the Liverpool city region Steve Rotheram said: “Fans have been let down, the survivors have been let down and of course the families of those who were lost on that day have been let down.
“But so has everybody in this country been let down because it’s proven that we have a stacked deck of a judicial system.”
In a statement, Liverpool Football Club said: “We salute all those who have campaigned for justice. They have been let down yet again.”
The trial had heard statements were amended to remove criticism of the 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 Burnham called for the introduction of a Hillsborough Law, which would include a duty of candour for public officials.
He said: “We’ve seen how the scales of justice are weighed against ordinary people to get justice and accountability.”
The Crown Prosecution Service, which chose not to appeal the judge’s decision, defended the prosecution, 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.
Deputy director general of the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), which investigated the allegations of a cover-up, Claire Bassett said: “For many, not least those most personally affected, serious questions must remain over the public and moral duty of police in helping authorities to understand and prevent a further disaster like Hillsborough.”
Speaking outside court, Jonathan Goldberg QC, who represented Mr Metcalf, said his client was “grateful” for the ruling, adding that accusations of a cover up were “false” and labelled the trial a “witch-hunt”.
Paul Harris, solicitor for Mr Foster, added: “This case, at the hands of the IOPC and CPS, has been a shameful waste of public resources at a time when money can not and should not be wasted.”
Investigations into the disaster and its aftermath were carried out by the IOPC and Operation Resolve, a criminal investigation which cost almost £60 million.
The only person to be convicted as a result of the probes is former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell, who was fined £6,500 and ordered to pay £5,000 costs after he was found guilty of failing to ensure the health and safety of fans arriving at the ground.
The match commander on the day, David Duckenfield, was charged with gross negligence manslaughter in 2017 but he was cleared in 2019 at a retrial, after the jury in his first trial was unable to reach a verdict.
Sir Norman Bettison, a chief inspector in 1989 who went on to become chief constable of Merseyside and West Yorkshire, was charged with misconduct in a public office as part of the investigation but the charges against were dropped in August 2018.