Hillsborough trial: Police 'wanted to blame Liverpool fans'

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image captionAlan Foster, Donald Denton and Peter Metcalf each deny perverting the course of justice

South Yorkshire Police wanted to "fight their corner" and blame Liverpool fans following the Hillsborough disaster, a court has heard.

Two retired officers and an ex-police solicitor are on trial accused of amending statements to "mask failings".

A former junior solicitor told the court she agreed the force was anxious to bring out evidence alleging fans were drunk and ticketless.

Ninety-six Liverpool fans died as a result of the 1989 stadium crush.

Retired Ch Supt Donald Denton, 83, retired Det Ch Insp Alan Foster, 74, and former solicitor Peter Metcalf, 71, are accused of amending police statements to minimise the blame on South Yorkshire Police.

Belinda Norcliffe worked with Mr Metcalf at law firm Hammonds Suddards, which was instructed by Municipal Mutual Insurance to represent the force at subsequent inquiries and inquests, the court heard.

image captionNinety-six Liverpool fans died as a result of the disaster on 15 April 1989.

The jury sitting at the Lowry Theatre in Salford saw notes of a telephone call Miss Norcliffe had with then deputy chief constable Pete Hayes on 30 October, 1990.

The court heard he said officer Norman Bettison had prepared a list of witnesses who would be able to give evidence about fan behaviour at the inquests.

Jonathan Goldberg, QC, defending Mr Metcalf, said: "Mr Hayes was determined the coroner should have evidence before him at the inquests to show that they were drunk and had behaved unsocially and violently and matters of that kind."

Mr Goldberg suggested it was a "constant theme" that the force felt the disaster had been caused by the actions of "drunk, ticketless, rioting fans" outside.

Miss Norcliffe said: "I think at the outset there were concerns those were relevant matters but they were very much part of a bigger picture as well."

Mr Goldberg added: "The police wanted to fight their corner that fans were to blame to some extent?"

Miss Norcliffe said: "Yes, I think so, yes."

'Damage limitation'

The court also heard from retired South Yorkshire Police officer Michael Walpole who had originally refused to sign a new version of his statement after opinions and a reference to an officer requesting to delay the match kick-off were removed.

He said he was later sent to the force headquarters to see Mr Foster, who ordered him to sign it.

Mr Walpole said he eventually signed an amended copy, but was allowed to keep in the paragraph about the request for a delay to kick-off.

"Fearing I would again be called to senior officers at HQ and possibly suffer the consequences, I signed," he said.

The jury also heard a statement from retired police constable Peter Finnerty, who said he was told by a detective sergeant his account should not include opinion, and a reference about not having personal radios should be taken out "due to damage limitation".

Mr Finnerty said he was later seen by Mr Foster, who told him the account had to be changed.

"Nobody said I'd get the sack if I didn't sign but it was obvious from all the meetings I had to have... I just had to sign it.

"It seemed my wishes of not wanting to amend my original account were making their way up the chain of command," he said.

Mr Denton, of Bents Drive, Sheffield, Mr Foster, of Rossett Avenue, Harrogate, and Mr Metcalf, of Cragg Drive, Ilkley, each deny two counts of perverting the course of justice.

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