Hillsborough: Relatives welcome CPS decision to pursue charges against six including David Duckenfield

'This is the beginning of the end,' say relatives who have fought 28-year campaign

Lizzie Dearden
Wednesday 28 June 2017 18:28
Margaret Aspinall on Hillsborough charges: This is the beginning of the end

After a 28-year battle for justice, the families of the 96 men, women and children killed in the Hillsborough disaster have hailed the “beginning of the end” of their long struggle.

Relatives of the victims broke into applause as the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced its decision to charge six people, including South Yorkshire Police’s match commander David Duckenfield.

Margaret Aspinall, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, told reporters gathered outside Warrington’s Parr Hall the announcement was the “beginning of the end”.

“No-one should have to go through what the families have gone through for 28 years to try and get to the truth and to get accountability,” she said.

“I think now what has been achieved today will change things for the good of this nation and I think that’s the legacy of our 96.”

Mrs Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son, James, died in the tragedy, added: “Every time we have been knocked down we have been determined to come back stronger.”

Mr Duckenfield is one of six people to be charged, including three other police officers, a solicitor who acted for South Yorkshire Police and Sheffield Wednesday’s safety officer.

Barry Devonside pumped his fist as he emerged from the meeting with the lawyers and other relatives.

“Everybody applauded when it was announced that the most senior police officer on that particular day will have charges presented to him,” said the campaigner, whose son Christopher, 18, was among the 96 killed.

After undergoing gruelling rounds of inquests, investigations, reports and reviews, relatives are cautious expressing trust in the institutions that have failed them so many times in the past.

The legal process is far from over, with the CPS having to apply to a High Court judge to be able to prosecute Mr Duckenfield, and the five other suspects not scheduled to appear before magistrates until August.

Trevor Hicks, whose daughters Sarah and Vicki died in the disaster, said families needed time to “go away and think” about whether to take further action against individuals and actions the CPS decided not to prosecute.

“It’s a mixed bag,” he added. “There are a couple of names that we didn’t expect and a few that we think have been omitted.

“We move another step forward. There will be six people facing criminal charges who might not have done if we hadn’t have been resilient and all stuck together and fought this long fight.”

The CPS said it was unable to press charges against six other police officers, Sheffield Wednesday PLC and its architects and safety consultants, the Football Association (FA), the South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service or three specific ambulance service employees, either because there was “no realistic prospect of conviction”, insufficient evidence or the move was “not in the public interest”.

Mr Duckenfield, 72, has been charged with the manslaughter of 95 people because the 96th victim of the disaster, Anthony Bland, died almost four years later.

Sue Hemming, head of the CPS’s special crime division, said: “We will allege that David Duckenfield’s failures to discharge his personal responsibility were extraordinarily bad and contributed substantially to the deaths of each of those 96 people who so tragically and unnecessarily lost their lives.

He ordered a gate into the Hillsborough football stadium to be opened to ease overcrowding outside, causing a rush of thousands of Liverpool fans through a narrow tunnel into central pens.

The move allegedly directly led to the fatal crush on the Leppings Lane terrace, as spectators were trapped against metal fences behind the goal.

In order to prosecute Mr Duckenfield, prosecutors will apply to have a stay imposed by a judge after a private prosecution over the Hillsborough disaster in 1999 removed.

Sheffield Wednesday’s secretary and safety officer Graham Henry Mackrell, is accused of safety contraventions, while solicitor Peter Metcalf is accused of attempting to pervert the course of public justice, as are former Chief Superintendent Donald Denton and former Detective Chief Inspector Alan Foster.

Metcalf is accused of recommending alterations to witness statements “for which there appear to be no justification” while defending South Yorkshire Police at the first inquiry in 1999. Denton and Foster are accused of carrying out the changes.

Barry Devonside leaves Parr Hall, Warrington, where the Crown Prosecution Service announced the charges

A lawyer representing Mr Duckenfield and Mr Denton said it would be “inappropriate to make any comment” amid continuing criminal investigations.

Former Chief Constable Sir Norman Bettison, 61, is charged with four offences of misconduct in public office relating to “telling alleged lies about his involvement in the aftermath of Hillsborough and the culpability of fans”, the CPS said.

In a statement, he said: “I am disappointed to be charged with misconduct in a public office. The charge is not in relation to my actions around the time of the disaster but in relation to comments I made years afterwards.

“I will vigorously defend my innocence as I have been doing for nearly five years.”

All defendants apart from Mr Duckenfield will appear at Warrington Magistrates’ Court on 9 August.

Theresa May called Wednesday a “day of really mixed emotions” for the families of the Liverpool fans who died, but said that justice is moving forward “after so many years of waiting”.

Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the charges in the House of Commons, paying tribute to the “incredible work by the Hillsborough Justice Campaign” and local politicians.

In a joint statement, Liverpool mayor Steve Rotheram and the mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham paid tribute to the “extraordinary determination and dignity” of the families.

An injured Liverpool fan at Hillsborough stadium

“Without seeking to prejudge what will now happen, it is surely right that there will now be accountability for what happened on the day and for the cover-up that followed,” they said.

“It is all the families have ever wanted and it is what we have all campaigned for. Justice will now at long last take its course.

“It has been our privilege to have played a small part in supporting the families and survivors on this journey and belatedly trying to put right the many failings of the past.

“All the credit and all our admiration goes to those who refused to be silent, refused to go away and who never stopped fighting for their loved ones when those in power simply did not want to listen.”

But many of those who lost their loved ones in the disaster did not live to see the prosecutions.

“There are a lot of mixed emotions because it’s another event where my parents haven’t been alive to see it or to hear it,” said Louise Brookes, whose brother Andrew died at Hillsborough.

“It’s not just my parents, other Hillsborough family members have gone to their graves never seeing today.”

Speaking on behalf of some of the families, lawyer Marcia Willis-Stewart commended the Hillsborough Independent Panel and inquest jury for “exposing the truth”.

She confirmed some of her clients were still exploring “various legal options” regarding parties not being prosecuted, through victim and judicial review processes.

“Now we await the results from the long overdue process of accountability – accountability being key and at the heart,” Ms Willis-Stewart said.

“[After] 28 years for justice, now is the time for accountability.”

Additional reporting by PA

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