Lawyer’s comments about Liverpool fans at Hillsborough condemned

Comments made by a lawyer about fans causing a “riot” outside the ground at Hillsborough have been condemned.

Jonathan Goldberg QC spoke on BBC Radio 5 Live on Wednesday after his client Peter Metcalf, who was solicitor for South Yorkshire Police in 1989, was cleared of perverting the course of justice following the 1989 disaster.

He said: “My client was accused of covering up criticism of the police. What he in fact did was cut out criticism of the Liverpool fans, whose behaviour was perfectly appalling on the day, causing a riot that led to the gate having to be opened, that unfortunately let the people in and crushed to death the innocents as they were – complete innocents – who were at the front of the pens, who had arrived early and were not drunk and were behaving perfectly well.”

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham, who has campaigned with the Hillsborough families, said: “There is no evidence of any riot outside that ground and the fact somebody who is a Queen’s Counsel should go on the media and make those statements, they are inaccurate statements.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham (Peter Byrne/PA)

“They are intended to smear the supporters of this football club all over again, they are intended to smear the people of this city all over again. “We will not stand for it, it is inaccurate.”

He said he would consider whether further action could be taken with professional regulatory bodies.

The jury in the trial of Metcalf and retired police officers Donald Denton and Alan Foster were told by the prosecution the case was not about the causes of the disaster or “whose fault it was”.

But, comments alleging behaviour on the part of fans were quoted, unchallenged, from officers’ statements. During the trial, Mr Goldberg asked witness Belinda Norcliffe, a former colleague of Metcalf, if the force felt the disaster had been caused by “drunk, ticketless, rioting fans” outside the ground.

She agreed there were concerns they were relevant matters.

Campaigner Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James died in the disaster, said: “They tried to bring our fans into it again at this trial when we have already cleared their names and to me that is so sad.”

Solicitor Peter Metcalf, who acted for South Yorkshire Police following the Hillsborough disaster
Solicitor Peter Metcalf, who acted for South Yorkshire Police following the Hillsborough disaster (Peter Byrne/PA)

Fans were exonerated of causing any part in the disaster following the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report in 2012.

Then prime minister David Cameron told the House of Commons: “A narrative about hooliganism on that day was created that led many in the country to accept that somehow it was a grey area.

“Today’s report is black and white: the Liverpool fans ‘were not the cause of the disaster’.”

However, less than two years later, at a preliminary hearing for the new inquests in 2014, lawyers representing police officers said they would make the suggestion that drunken fans contributed to the disaster.

In 2016, the inquests jury concluded the behaviour of supporters did not cause or contribute to the dangerous situation which built up outside the ground on April 15 1989.