Hillsborough trial: Forget 'cover-ups' and focus on evidence, jurors told

The trial is expected to last 16 weeks; two ex-police officers and a solicitor are accused of perverting the course of justice; 96 Liverpool fans were killed at Hillsborough during an FA Cup semi-final on April 15, 1989

PA - Hillsborough memorial
Image: Hillsborough jurors have been told to forget 'cover-ups' and be led by the evidence

Jurors were told to forget "cover-ups" and focus on the evidence as two ex-police officers and a force solicitor went on trial accused of "minimising" blame over the Hillsborough disaster.

Former South Yorkshire Police (SYP) chief superintendent Donald Denton, 83, Alan Foster, 74, a retired detective chief inspector, and Peter Metcalf, 71, a former solicitor for the force, are alleged to have perverted the course of justice following the tragedy at the FA Cup semi-final on April 15, 1989 in which 96 Liverpool fans died.

On Tuesday, a trial at the Nightingale Court at the Lowry Theatre in Salford heard the defendants were involved in amending statements about the day of the disaster.

Around a dozen people, including loved ones of the deceased, watched proceedings by video link from St George's Hall in Liverpool.

Sarah Whitehouse QC, prosecuting, told the court: "This is important: the name of Hillsborough is known throughout the land as the scene of a terrible disaster.

PA - Lowry Theatre, Salford
Image: The trial is taking place at the Nightingale Court within the Lowry Theatre, Salford

"The name has also, however, become connected in the minds of many, mainly through media coverage, as linked with a cover-up and attempts to hide the real facts.

"You should forget everything that you may have heard and concentrate only on the evidence that you hear in this court.

"By the end of this trial, you 12 will be the only people in the country who have heard all the evidence about this aspect of the Hillsborough disaster."

Ms Whitehouse, opening the case for the prosecution, said the three defendants had tried to minimise blame "that might be heaped upon South Yorkshire Police" following the disaster.

"They did this by altering accounts given by police officers who were present on the day," she said.

"They knew that those accounts were inevitably going to end up being sent to a number of inquiries that would follow the disaster."

The jury was told lawyers had warned senior SYP officers they should regard themselves as "the accused" and to "prepare accordingly".

PA - Liverpool and Real Madrid stand in memory of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster
Image: Liverpool and Real Madrid stand in memory of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster

Inquiries were to be made by police including "observations or complaints" from local residents, pub landlords and shopkeepers about football matches at Hillsborough in general, and specifically matches involving Liverpool fans, the court heard.

Metcalf was a partner in solicitors' firm Hammond Suddards, which was asked to act for Municipal Mutual Insurance, the insurers of South Yorkshire Police, after the disaster. The firm handled "substantial claims" for damages.

Following the tragedy, West Midlands Police took charge of investigations and asked for written accounts by officers who were present on the day, Ms Whitehouse said.

Before the accounts were handed over, Metcalf advised on what alterations should be made to them, Denton led an inquiry team to collect and review statements, and Foster was the "action man", Ms Whitehouse said.

Harvey Eliott 0:44
Harvey Elliott pays tribute to Hillsborough victims after scoring the winner for Blackburn in a 2-1 victory over Derby

She added: "A number of accounts were altered by them, or at their direction.

"The effect of the alterations was to mask the failings on the part of South Yorkshire Police in their planning and execution of the policing of the football match."

Denton, of Sheffield, Foster, of Harrogate, and Metcalf, of Ilkley, each deny two counts of doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of justice.

The trial, which is expected to last up to 16 weeks, will continue on Wednesday.

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