Hillsborough statements changed to remove references to police officers, court told
Police statements about the day of the Hillsborough disaster were changed to remove references to officers being “like headless chickens” and “light on manpower”, a court has heard.
Former South Yorkshire Police chief superintendent Donald Denton, 83, Alan Foster, 74, a retired detective chief inspector, and Peter Metcalf, 71, a former solicitor for the force, are accused of amending the accounts to “mask failings” of police after the tragedy on April 15, 1989, in which 96 Liverpool fans died.
On Wednesday (April 21), the second day of their trial at the Lowry theatre in Salford, the jury heard the alleged amendments focused on areas where the force expected to face criticism at an inquiry led by Lord Justice Taylor, which was ordered by the Government to look at safety at sports events.
Sarah Whitehouse QC, prosecuting, said an account by Police Constable Peter Finnerty had originally said no instructions were given to police officers on the day.
She said in the statement he said: “I am sure many of them, like me, felt like headless chickens running about.”
The court was told he went on to say: “I felt ashamed for quite a while that the police did not respond professionally after the deaths were established.”
A note on the original statement, which appeared to be in Mr Foster’s handwriting, instructed a detective inspector to review the account and an amended version was produced without the comments, the court heard.
The jury was told Police Constable William Crawford said in his statement he thought the force was “very light on manpower” and usually a group of officers would be stationed at the tunnel to direct fans away from the central pens, where the fatal crush at the FA Cup semi-final happened.
Mr Metcalf, a partner at solicitors’ firm Hammond Suddards, suggested a review of those comments, Ms Whitehouse said.
She told the court: “The statement was amended by deleting all reference to the shortage of manpower and use of serials in the centre tunnel.”
In an account by Inspector Robert Creaser, references to a request to delay the kick-off and difficulties with police radios were removed, the court heard.
Ms Whitehouse told the court: “It is important to understand that the vetting process was targeted at reducing or removing references to the failings by the South Yorkshire Police.”
The jury was shown a letter sent to William Woodward QC, who was representing the force at the inquiry, in which Mr Metcalf said: “It seems to instructing solicitors that the objective to be pursued at the inquiry is the presentation of South Yorkshire Police in the best possible light, consistent with the facts that are brought out.”
Mr Denton, of Bents Drive, Sheffield, Mr Foster, of Rossett Avenue, Harrogate, and Mr Metcalf, of Cragg Drive, Ilkley, each deny two counts of doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of justice.
The trial is expected to last up to 16 weeks.