Burnham admits mixed emotions over Hillsborough charges

The victims of the Hillsborough disaster
The victims of the Hillsborough disaster

Six prosecutions relating to 96 deaths following the Hillsborough tragedy - including two senior police officers - have been welcomed by a survivor and former Leigh MP Andy Burnham.

Les Lloyd hopes the court proceedings against David Duckenfield, the match commander for the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, and Norman Bettison, then a senior officer with South Yorkshire Police, might eventually lead to closure for victims’ families.

Andy Burnham

Andy Burnham

The 67-year-old from Ashton, who lost his friend Martin Wild in the Leppings Lane crush at the Sheffield Wednesday ground, is still affected by what he witnessed that day.

Duckenfield has been charged with 95 offences of gross negligence manslaughter, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has confirmed, over his alleged failure to prevent overcrowding on the terracing and avoid the subsequent crush. For legal reasons, he has not been charged over the 96th death, of Anthony Bland, who died four years later.

Bettison, who went on to become Merseyside’s Chief Constable, is accused of four charges of misconduct in a public office, over alleged “lies” relating to the disaster, issued in public statements released in 1998 and 2012.

Mr Burnham, who has campaigned continually on behalf of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign (HJC), said: “When it takes 28 years to bring charges in respect of 96 unlawful killings, it’s hard to feel any sense of fairness or justice.

The fact that these charges have been brought today is down to the determination of the Hillsborough families. It has been a privilege to work with them

Andy Burnham

“However, the fact that these charges have been brought today is down to the determination of the Hillsborough families. It has been a privilege to work with them.

“All I have done is help them achieve what they should have had many years before. It’s a moment of mixed emotions.

“It should never ever happen again, that accountability should take as long as it has. Obviously we can’t comment on the charges in particular, but the fact that it’s taken so long to get to this point should make us all ask questions about whether we have true justice in this country.”

The former borough MP also drew up the “Hillsborough Law”, to make lying at public inquests an imprisonable offence, before he left the Commons to become Greater Manchester’s mayor.

For father-of-three Mr Lloyd, the CPS ruling has brought a small degree of satisfaction.

He said: “I think it’s quite right, what’s going on now. The police on the ground were fine but the question marks have been over those in command.

“I was surprised to see that someone from Sheffield Wednesday was being prosecuted but then I believe parts of their safety certificate were incorrect.

“It’s been a long time coming but, maybe once the court proceedings are finalised, this might finally provide some closure for a number of people.”

The Liverpool fan was called to give evidence at the first Hillsborough inquest at Leeds but was not involved in the reconvened hearings at Warrington last year, which saw 96 unlawful killing verdicts returned by jurors.

Prosecutors say they have also lodged health and safety charges against Graham Mackrell, Sheffield Wednesday’s then-company secretary and safety officer and Peter Metcalfe, the solicitor who acted for South Yorkshire Police at the Taylor Inquiry into the tragedy. He is accused of perverting the course of justice, amid claims he helped to retrospectively amend police statements.

Donald Denton and Alan Foster, respectively a former chief superintendent and detective chief inspector with the South Yorkshire force, have been charged with similar offences, relating to the same alleged conduct.

Sue Hemming, the CPS special crimes head, said before any prosecution could proceed lawyers must seek to overturn a legal hurdle first, after a gross negligence private prosecution, brought by victims, was halted in 1999.

She said: “We will be applying to a High Court judge to lift the stay and order that the case can proceed on a voluntary bill of indictment.”

Campaigning by Mr Burnham and Steve Rotheram, the former Liverpool Walton MP and now Merseyside Metro Mayor, and the HJC was also praised in Parliament by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The Opposition leader said: “I think we should pay tribute to all of those that spent a great deal of time trying to ensure there was justice for those that died at Hillsborough.”

Further consideration was given to the charging of the former South Yorkshire Ambulance Service, Sheffield Wednesday FC and the Football Association, but the CPS felt there was either insufficient evidence for a satisfactory prosecution or that the actions were not in the public interest.

Lawyers representing Duckenfield and Bettison declined to comment as criminal proceedings were now underway.

All six, except Duckenfield, are expected to appear before Warrington magistrates on August 9.

Margaret Aspinall, Hillsborough Family Support Group chairman, said the charging decision was the “beginning of the end”.

Trevor Hicks, whose daughters Sarah and Vicki died in the disaster, added: “This is a success for society at large, not just for us.”