Top prosecutor Max Hill has apologised to Hillsborough disaster families after a criminal trial collapsed over a legal technicality.
Mr Hill, director of public prosecutions at the Crown Prosecutions Service, has admitted campaigners did not get “justice and accountability” through the courts, after retired police officers Donald Denton and Alan Foster and solicitor Peter Metcalf were acquitted of perverting the course of justice last month.
The trio denied altering statements to mask failings made by bosses at 1989 FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield, where a crush killed 96 Liverpool fans, and were due to face a criminal trial but a judge last month threw the case out.
Mr Justice William Davis ruled there was no case to answer as the statements were intended for a public inquiry on sport ground safety, rather than criminal proceedings, and therefore were not made in the course of justice.
The move sparked widespread anger among campaigners and families, who have been fighting for prosecutions for more than 30 years.
Hill said the legal team had done “everything we could” and “applied all of the vigour that we could” in their work on the “tragic” case.
Appearing before the Commons’ justice committee on Tuesday, he said: “I have to start by paying tribute to the 96, the friends and the families who have gone through, year after year, decade after decade, a search for justice and accountability.
“I think we have to accept now, in 2021, that criminal proceedings have not provided that justice and accountability.”
A dedicated team set up within the CPS gave “their all to try to generate criminal justice outcomes”, Mr Hill told MPs.
He said: “They – and I speak for them – are first in saying how sorry we all are that this process has not led to the closure which the 96 have sought.”
Mr Hill said “exceptional hard work” was put in by the legal team on the prosecution case, adding: “I maintain that we did everything we could, and we applied all of the vigour that we could.”
Labour MP Maria Eagle said “old slurs” had been reintroduced during the trial and in public commentary afterwards, claiming “there was no cover up – something for which the prime minister of this country has apologised from the despatch box – and also saying that the Liverpool fans rioted”.
Mr Hill distanced the CPS from those claims, adding: “We have never associated ourselves, nor have we built any case on the basis that someone else was to blame, still less that it was fans themselves who were to blame.”
Lawyer Jonathan Goldberg QC, who represented Metcalf, who as a solicitor for South Yorkshire Police in 1989, was criticised for claiming Liverpool fans caused a “riot” ahead of the disaster, but he later told the BBC his comments were “taken out of context”.
In 2012 after the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report, the then chief constable of South Yorkshire police David Crompton apologised for a cover-up. New inquests ruled in 2016 the 96 fans were unlawfully killed and that supporters played no part in causing the disaster.
Before the recent trial collapsed, the court heard dozens of police statements were changed before being sent to Lord Justice Taylor’s inquiry into the disaster.
Only one person has been convicted over the tragedy at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground. In 2019, ex-club secretary Graham Mackrell, 71, was fined £6,500 after being convicted of failing to ensure the health and safety of fans.
Responding to the apology, Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region said: “And so he should apologise.
“The Crown Prosecution Service has serious questions to answer about the charges brought and the collapse of the most recent trials.
“This episode is yet another example of the criminal justice system failing the families and survivors of the Hillsborough Disaster, which means that, 32 years on, nobody has been brought to justice for the unlawful killing of 96 innocent people.”