Top prosecutor ‘sorry’ Hillsborough families have not got closure

The director of public prosecutions said he is “sorry” the families of those who died in the Hillsborough disaster have not had “justice and accountability” through the criminal courts.

Max Hill QC said the legal team had done “everything we could” and “applied all of the vigour that we could” in their work on the “tragic” case.

The trial of two retired police officers and a solicitor accused of perverting the course of justice following the 1989 disaster collapsed last month after the judge ruled there was no case to answer.

Max Hill said a dedicated team in the CPS had given
Max Hill said a dedicated team in the CPS had given “their all” to the case (Crown Prosecution Service/PA)

Mr Hill, director of public prosecutions at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), paid tribute to the 96 Liverpool fans who died in the disaster at the FA Cup semi-final on April 15 1989, and their families and friends who have long since campaigned for justice.

Mr Hill told the Justice Committee on Tuesday: “I have to start by paying tribute to the 96, the friends and the families who have gone through, year after year, decade after decade, a search for justice and accountability.

“I think we have to accept now, in 2021, that criminal proceedings have not provided that justice and accountability.”

A dedicated team set up within the CPS gave “their all to try to generate criminal justice outcomes”, Mr Hill told MPs.

He said: “They – and I speak for them – are first in saying how sorry we all are that this process has not led to the closure which the 96 have sought.”

Mr Hill said “exceptional hard work” was put in by the legal team on the prosecution case.

He added: “I maintain that we did everything we could, and we applied all of the vigour that we could.”

Labour MP Maria Eagle said “old slurs” had been reintroduced during the trial and in public commentary afterwards, claiming “there was no cover up – something for which the prime minister of this country has apologised from the despatch box – and also saying that the Liverpool fans rioted”.

Mr Hill said he dissociates himself and the entire CPS from such claims.

He said: “It’s not for me to regulate what defence representatives say either before, during or after trial. That is simply not within the CPS’s power.

“I will say that I dissociate myself, and I speak for the whole of the Crown Prosecution Service, with anything that was said in that article, or in commentary after the case came to an end.”

Following the end of the trial in May, lawyer Jonathan Goldberg QC spoke to Adrian Chiles on BBC Radio 5 Live after his client Peter Metcalf, who was a solicitor for South Yorkshire Police in 1989, was cleared of perverting the course of justice.

Mr Goldberg was criticised for claiming Liverpool fans caused a “riot” ahead of the disaster, but later said his comments were “taken out of context”.

Chiles apologised for failing to challenge the barrister on “evil nonsense” during the interview.

Mr Hill said: “We have never associated ourselves, nor have we built any case on the basis that someone else was to blame, still less that it was fans themselves who were to blame.”

In 2016, a jury at inquests into the deaths concluded the behaviour of fans did not cause or contribute to the dangerous situation which built up outside the ground.

Mr Hill said he had previously met with many of the bereaved families, and will be doing so again in the next two or three weeks.

He also told the committee that former chief superintendent Donald Denton, retired detective chief inspector Alan Foster and former force solicitor Mr Metcalf were charged with perverting the course of justice in accordance with advice from senior Treasury counsel.

Mr Hill said the CPS had not been able to appeal a decision made by judge Sir Peter Openshaw in 2018 which ruled that the public inquiry into the disaster was not a course of public justice.

The ruling led to the collapse of the case last month as Mr Justice William Davis found there was no evidence that the statements which were amended by the defendants were intended for any proceedings other than the inquiry, led by Lord Justice Taylor.

Mr Hill said: “Of course we considered very carefully whether we should appeal against Mr Justice Davis’s ruling, and there is a technical route to appeal.

“However, as I’ve tried to explain that was not the first, but the second ruling by a very experienced High Court judge, and that meant that to try to dislodge it, we would have had to have demonstrated to the Court of Appeal, that Mr Justice Davis was wrong, that the decision he made was unreasonable.

“And we decided, and I believe we were right in deciding, that that is such a high test that we had no prospect of meeting it, and that is why we didn’t lodge the appeal, which leaves the families where they’ve always been.”