Hillsborough officers face trial

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TWO FORMER senior police officers at the centre of the Hillsborough football stadium disaster failed in the High Court yesterday to block private prosecutions in which they stand accused of manslaughter.

In a decision warmly welcomed by many families of the 96 victims who died in the football stadium tragedy 10 years ago, three judges rejected accusations that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) acted "unreasonably and perversely" when he refused to halt the prosecutions launched by the Hillsborough Family Support Group.

Former Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, 54, who had been in charge of crowd control, and former Superintendent Bernard Murray, 56, face accusations of manslaughter and wilful neglect of public duty at the time of the tragedy in April 1989.

Lord Justice Laws, sitting in London with Mr Justice Cresswell and Mr Justice Latham, spoke of the "terrible disaster" at the FA Cup semi-final game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, played at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground.

He ruled that arguments for blocking the private prosecutions were "misconceived" and the DPP, David Calvert-Smith QC, had taken "a perfectly proper approach" in deciding last December that it was in the public interest that they should go ahead.

In a written judgment, Lord Justice Laws said: "The decision not to discontinue is no more unlawful than is the policy which the DPP applied."

Trevor Hicks, chairman of the Hillsborough support group, welcomed the decision.

The judges ruled that the local police authority could pay for Mr Duckenfield's and Mr Murray's defence. "Police authorities "have power to provide financial assistance to officers and ex-officers in the defence of private prosecutions". South Yorkshire police authority withdrew its assistance to the former officers on 5 February.