Police sought to place Hillsborough blame on fans, jury told

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South Yorkshire Police wanted to "fight their corner" and place blame for the Hillsborough tragedy on Liverpool FC supporters, a court heard.

Force chiefs sought to argue in the following inquiry and inquests that 'drunk' and 'ticketless' fans were "very much part of the bigger picture".

The evidence was heard as the trial continued of two ex-South Yorkshire Police officers and a solicitor who face allegations linked to the aftermath of the disaster.

Ex-Chief Superintendent Donald Denton, former Detective Chief Inspector Alan Foster and Peter Metcalf, who worked with the force, each deny two counts of perverting the course of justice.

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Prosecutors have accused them of amending dozens of officer witness accounts to "mask the failings" of South Yorkshire Police at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on April 15, 1989.

The accounts were being collected by West Midlands Police ahead of the Taylor Inquiry into the tragedy, which unfolded at the Leppings Lane end allocated to Liverpool supporters. Ninety six men, women and children died as a result.

Jurors today heard from Belinda Norcliffe, then a junior solicitor who was seconded to support Metcalf's work with the force in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Miss Norcliffe agreed she neither saw nor heard anything that concerned her about Metcalf's work in relation to Hillsborough when asked by his barrister, Jonathan Goldberg QC.

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Peter Metcalf (left), a solicitor who worked with South Yorkshire police, along with retired former Detective Inspector Alan Foster (centre) and retired former Chief Superintendent Donald Denton

When asked about the amendment of statements, which she played no part in, Miss Norcliffe said: "I understood that the vetting process was to comply with the instructions Lord Justice Taylor gave at the preliminary hearing, which was very clear, that statements should be factual, not comment, not expert evidence, and that was clearly set out.

"There was obviously an expectation that West Midlands, whose job it was to provide the evidence for the inquiry and the coroner, would prepare any material with those statements, those factual statements, but they chose not to do so."

The court also saw notes of a telephone call Miss Norcliffe had with then SYP deputy chief constable Peter Hayes on October 30 1990, in which he said officer Norman Bettison had prepared a list of witnesses who would be able to give evidence about fan behaviour at the inquests.

Mr Goldberg 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."

The QC suggested it was a "constant theme" 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."

Media gathered outside the Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays, Greater Manchester, where two retired police officers and a former force solicitor are on trial accused of doing acts tending or intended to pervert the course of justice following the Hillsborough disaster. Image: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

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."

The court was also shown minutes of a meeting between senior police officers and lawyers on April, 26 1989.

During the meeting, senior officers discussed allegations about fans drinking and arriving without tickets.

The court heard William Woodward QC, who has since died but represented South Yorkshire Police at the Taylor Inquiry, said "It may help if we look upon ourselves as the accused ".

He added: "I ask you to cast your net as wide as you can, gather what you think myself or Mr Metcalf in our most perverse mood may require of you…"

Miss Norcliffe agreed when Mr Goldberg put it to her that this was a case of Mr Woodward "setting the course".

Denton, 83, Foster, 74, and Metcalf, 71 each deny doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of public justice.

Their trial, presided over by judge Mr Justice William Davis, follows an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct and is scheduled to last up to 16 weeks.

It is being held in a converted court at the Lowry theatre in Salford.