Serious questions for CPS over Hillsborough prosecution – lawyers

Lawyers for the three men cleared over allegations of amending police officers’ statements relating to the Hillsborough disaster have criticised the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for pursuing what one labelled a “witch-hunt”.

Former South Yorkshire Police 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 a judge ruled they had no case to answer.

Speaking outside court, lawyers for the men questioned the amount of public money spent on the case and said the end of the trial would bring an end to allegations of a cover up.

Retired South Yorkshire Police officer Donald Denton l
Retired South Yorkshire Police officer Donald Denton leaves the Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays, Greater Manchester (Peter Byrne/PA)

Mike Rainford, solicitor for Mr Denton, said: “The Hillsborough stadium disaster was one of the darkest days in recent British history.

“The pain and suffering of the injured and the families of the deceased is unimaginable and we express our deepest sympathy for everything they have endured.

“However, the trial which came to an end just now with not guilty verdicts for all defendants should never have taken place at all.

“Three men, including our 83-year-old client, have finally been cleared after years of lies, half-truths, myths, rumours, often repeated in the media, with no critical analysis or research.

“Sadly the IOPC (Independent Office for Police Conduct) and the CPS failed in their duties to apply a higher standard of analysis of the evidence in making the decision to bring these charges over three years ago.

“There are serious questions to be asked about how at least £70 million of public money could be spent on an investigation which uncovered no evidence of criminal conduct of any kind, but which somehow took so long to come to the conclusion in a court of law.”

He said the trial brought to an end the “myth of the Hillsborough cover-up once and for all”.

Paul Harris, solicitor for Mr Foster, said: “The sympathy today remains and always has with the families of those who lost their lives on April 15 1989.

“Such sympathy, though, cannot be extended to the IPCC, now the IOPC, who pursued a man, now aged 75, with weak evidence designed to fit a pre-determined narrative.

“This narrative of an alleged cover-up, when every document was meticulously preserved and maintained, was not borne out by the evidence.”

He said it was unfortunate Mr Foster’s wife Patricia, who died last year, did not live to see her husband of 50 years acquitted but added “she always knew that he was innocent”.

Mr Harris 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.”

Retired solicitor Peter Metcalf
Retired solicitor Peter Metcalf outside the Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays, Greater Manchester (Peter Byrne/PA)

And Jonathan Goldberg QC, who represented Mr Metcalf, said his client was “doing his job” in 1989 and had been acting on the advice of a QC.

He said: “My client is grateful that a high court judge has held he does not even have a case to answer at the end of what is said to be the longest and most expensive series of criminal investigations ever mounted in Britain, apparently costing into the hundreds of millions of pounds.

“Hillsborough is probably one of the most investigated disasters in British history. That money would have been better spent on building new hospitals or schools, perhaps in Liverpool.

“My client is acutely sad about the suffering of the bereaved families. Hillsborough blighted many lives and careers.

“False accusations of a cover-up have dogged him ever since and also the two high-ranking police officers who were acquitted alongside him today.

“This false accusation of cover-up has been whipped up continually over the years. The facts were investigated here yet again by a judge and jury. There was no cover-up at Hillsborough.”

He said the men were exonerated by the Lord Justice Stuart-Smith inquiry in 1998 but added: “Despite this, the witch-hunt has continued to resurrect the same tired accusations by prosecuting three old men.”

Sue Hemming, CPS director of legal services, said: “It is crucial that we presented the evidence gathered by the IOPC investigation teams to a court and we have worked tirelessly to prepare the case for the jury to understand this evidence and any implications resulting from the amended statements.

“After long and incredibly careful consideration, especially for the families involved, we decided not to appeal the ruling.

“The CPS was right to bring this case and for a court to hear the evidence of what happened in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster.”