Hillsborough: Trial of men accused of changing police statements following Hillsborough disaster collapses

The trial of two retired police officers and a solicitor accused of perverting the course of justice after the Hillsborough disaster has collapsed.

Donald Denton, a former South Yorkshire Police Chief Superintendent, retired Detective Chief Inspector Alan Foster and Peter Metcalf all denied doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of justice.

It was alleged they changed police statements following the disaster on 15 April 1989 to minimise blame on South Yorkshire Police.

A total of 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death in pens at the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough Stadium at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.

The charges were dropped following an application to dismiss on behalf of the defendants at the end of the prosecution case at the Nightingale Court sitting at The Lowry, Salford.

Directing the jury to return not guilty verdicts, Mr Justice William Davis said: "I have decided that as a matter of law... there is in fact no case that you properly can consider in relation to these defendants."

The three men were each accused of two counts of doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of justice after it was alleged they were involved in a process of amending officers' statements.

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.

He concluded there was no case fit for consideration by the jury based on any of the six counts on the indictment.

In the ruling, he said: "I repeat my observation about the anxiety and distress being felt by the families of those affected by the Hillsborough disaster.

"These proceedings have been very drawn-out following a lengthy trial process involving the match commander.

"I know the strength of feeling there was after his acquittal. I am aware that these proceedings also have been observed with interest.

"However, whatever the anxiety and distress, I have to determine whether there is evidence to support the particular criminal offence with which these defendants have been charged.

"In concluding that there is not, that is all I do."

Sue Hemming, the Director of Legal Services for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said it was "right to bring the case" but they would not appeal the decision.

She said: "This is the first time that people have appeared in court for actions following the disaster.

"It has been a complex case looking at evidence from three decades ago and whether the defendants deliberately changed police statements in order to mislead future inquiries. "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.

A total of 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives during the Hillsborough disaster.

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.

Mr Denton, Mr Metcalf and Mr Foster were charged in 2017 following an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) into allegations of a cover-up by police following the tragedy.

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.

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.

In May 2019, former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell was fined £6,500 and ordered to pay £5,000 costs after he was convicted of failing to ensure the health and safety of fans arriving at the ground on the day of the disaster.

Liverpool Football Club tweeted a statement saying the club was "disappointed" to note the latest developments in the Hillsborough judicial process.