After 30 years of pain, Hillsborough cops to be charged over death of Liverpool fans

By Mark Baber

June 29 – The UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is to charge six people in relation to the Hillsborough Stadium disaster that left 96 Liverpool fans dead. David Duckenfield, the police officer who was the match commander on the day of the tragedy is to be charged with 95 cases of manslaughter by gross negligence.

That it has taken nearly 30 years to reach this point is clearly a shame on the UK, its legal system and on a country in which the innocent victims of such an event can be demonised in the interests of those who had failed to fulfil their responsibilities. However, it is also a day of pride, for the Hillsborough families, survivors and campaigners who have overcome massive odds in fighting for truth, justice and accountability.

The charges were announced by Sue Hemming, Head of the CPS Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division at a private meeting in Warrington where she told the families of the deceased: “Following our careful review of the evidence, in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors, I have decided that there is sufficient evidence to charge six individuals with criminal offences.”

Charges have been authorised against:

  • David Duckenfield, who was the Match Commander for South Yorkshire Police on the day of the disaster
  • Graham Henry Mackrell, who was Sheffield Wednesday Football Club’s company secretary and safety officer at the time of the disaster in 1989
  • Peter Metcalf, the solicitor acting for the South Yorkshire Police during the Taylor Inquiry and the first inquests
  • Former Chief Superintendent Donald Denton of South Yorkshire Police
  • Former Detective Chief Inspector Alan Foster of South Yorkshire Police
  • Norman Bettison, a former officer with South Yorkshire Police and subsequently Chief Constable of Merseyside and West Yorkshire Police.

The CPS charges follow consideration of files of evidence from Operation Resolve and the Independent Police Complaints Commission in respect of 15 and six suspects respectively. Operation Resolve investigated the events of the 15th April 1989 when 96 Liverpool fans were tragically killed as the result of overcrowding in the central pens at the Leppings Lane end of the Hillsborough football stadium. The IPCC investigated the aftermath and in particular the conduct of South Yorkshire Police.

According to Hemming: “I have found that there is sufficient evidence to charge former Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, who was the Match Commander on the day of the disaster, with the manslaughter by gross negligence of 95 men, women and children. We will allege that David Duckenfield’s failures to discharge his personal responsibility were extraordinarily bad and contributed substantially to the deaths of each of those 96 people who so tragically and unnecessarily lost their lives. The offence clearly sets out the basis of those allegations.

“We are unable to charge the manslaughter of Anthony Bland, the 96th casualty, as he died almost four years later. The law as it applied then provided that no person could be guilty of homicide where the death occurred more than a year and a day later than the date when the injuries were caused. In order to prosecute this matter, the CPS will need to successfully apply to remove the stay imposed by a senior judge (now retired) at the end of the 1999 private prosecution when David Duckenfield was prosecuted for two counts of manslaughter by gross negligence previously. We will be applying to a High Court Judge to lift the stay and order that the case can proceed on a voluntary bill of indictment.”

“Graham Henry Mackrell, who was Sheffield Wednesday Football Club’s company secretary and safety officer at the time, is charged with two offences of contravening a term of condition of a safety certificate contrary to the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 and one offence of failing to take reasonable care for the health and safety of other persons who may have been affected by his acts or omissions at work under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. These offences relate to alleged failures to carry out his duties as required.”

“Peter Metcalf, who was the solicitor acting for the South Yorkshire Police during the Taylor Inquiry and the first inquests, is charged with doing acts with intent to pervert the course of public justice relating to material changes made to witness statements. Mr Metcalf, an experienced solicitor, was instructed by Municipal Mutual Insurance to represent the interests of the force at the Taylor Inquiry and in any civil litigation that might result from the Hillsborough Disaster. He reviewed the accounts provided by the officers and made suggestions for alterations, deletions and amendments which we allege were directly relevant to the Salmon letter issued by the Taylor Inquiry and for which there appears to be no justification.”

“Former Chief Superintendent Donald Denton and former Detective Chief Inspector Alan Foster are similarly charged for their involvement in the same matter. It is alleged that Donald Denton oversaw the process of amending the statements and in doing so, he did acts that had a tendency to pervert the course of public justice and we will say that Alan Foster was central to the process of changing the statements and took action to do so.”

“Former Chief Constable Norman Bettison is charged with four offences of misconduct in public office relating to telling alleged lies about his involvement in the aftermath of Hillsborough and the culpability of fans. Given his role as a senior police officer, we will ask the jury to find that this was misconduct of such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in the office holder.”

Hemming went on to explain why charges were not being laid in other cases, including in relation to other police officers who were referred as suspects in respect of their conduct in planning for the match or on the day for which she argued there is insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction on the grounds of gross negligence manslaughter or misconduct in public office.

She also explained that the legal entity which was Sheffield Wednesday Football Club at the time now only now exists on paper, has no directors (and hence no one to answer a criminal charge) and has no assets so would be unable any fine imposed. She also found insufficient evidence to merit a prosecution against South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service or its more senior employees and only sufficient evidence of a health and safety breach by a junior ambulance employee which she decided it was not in the public interest to pursue after this significant period of time when the likely outcome would be a nominal penalty.

With regards to The Football Association, the CPS has decided that while “it was a ‘responsible person’ for the purposes of the Safety of Sports Grounds Act, there was insufficient evidence to establish that any breach of the safety certificate could be placed within the responsibility of that organisation.”

The common law offence of manslaughter by gross negligence faced by David Duckenfield carries a maximum sentence of imprisonment for life. The offences of which Graham Mackrell is accused carry maximum sentences of two years and an unlimited fine. The offence of doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of public justice carries with it a maximum sentence of life imprisonment as does the offence of misconduct in public office.

Trevor Hicks, president of the Hillsborough Family Support Group whose teenage daughters Sarah and Vicki were killed in the tragedy responded by saying that families had wanted more people to be charged but said: “If I’m honest I didn’t think we would get to this day, no. We didn’t think we would. This is a success for society at large. There are no winners but it sends a message out that nobody is above the law. After Grenfell Tower and others, the message is ‘watch out, families will come after you.’”

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