The trial of two retired police officers and a solicitor accused of perverting the course of justice following the Hillsborough disaster has collapsed after the judge ruled there was no case to answer.
The jury at the Nightingale court at the Lowry Theatre in Salford was directed to return not guilty verdicts for each of the six counts on the indictment.
After four weeks of evidence, lawyers for former chief superintendent Donald Denton, 83, retired detective chief inspector Alan Foster, 74, and Peter Metcalf, 71, who was solicitor for the force in 1989, applied to have the case against them dismissed.
The three men were each accused of two counts of doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of justice and it was alleged they were involved in a process of amending officers’ statements to minimise the blame on South Yorkshire Police following the disaster at the FA Cup semi-final on April 15 1989, in which 96 Liverpool fans died.
In a ruling handed down at the Nightingale court at the Lowry theatre in Salford on Wednesday, judge 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.”
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.