Hillsborough trial: PC’s ‘headless chickens comment removed’on April 21, 2021 at 11:43 am

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Two retired police officers and a solicitor are accused of altering accounts to “mask failings”.

Alan Foster, Donald Denton and Peter Metcalf

image copyrightPA Media

Police statements about the Hillsborough disaster were changed to remove references to officers being “like headless chickens”, a court has heard.

Retired Ch Supt Donald Denton, 83, retired Det Ch Insp Alan Foster, 74, and former solicitor Peter Metcalf, 71, deny perverting the course of justice.

Ninety-six Liverpool fans died as a result of the tragedy on 15 April 1989.

The trial is about the aftermath of a crush at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium during the semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

The jury at a Nightingale court in Salford heard the alleged amendments focused on areas where South Yorkshire Police (SYP) expected to face criticism at an inquiry which was ordered by the government to look at safety at sports events.

Sarah Whitehouse QC, prosecuting, said an account by PC Peter Finnerty originally said no instructions were given to police officers on the day.

She told the court in his statement he said: “I am sure many of them, like me, felt like headless chickens running about.”

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.

Hillsborough victims
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The jury was told PC 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 happened.

Mr Metcalf, a solicitor acting for SYP, suggested a review of those comments, Ms Whitehouse said.

She told jurors: “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 Insp Robert Creaser, references to a request to delay the kick-off and difficulties with police radios were removed, the court heard.

Ms Whitehouse said: “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 Sheffield, Mr Foster, of Harrogate, and Mr 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, continues.

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