Hillsborough officers felt they had to 'fight back' against 'unfair' criticism, court told

22 April 2021, 15:47

Retired South Yorkshire Police officer Alan Foster (right) is accused of amending Hillsborough statements
Retired South Yorkshire Police officer Alan Foster (right) is accused of amending Hillsborough statements. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

South Yorkshire Police officers felt they had to "fight back" against "unfair" criticism after the Hillsborough disaster, a former detective has told a court.

Retired officer Graham Dovey, who was part of a team put together to prepare a submission to the public inquiry into safety at sports events, told jurors that colleagues felt criticism of the force was "completely unfair" and were concerned it could lead to the prosecution of senior officers.

Ex-chief superintendent Donald Denton, 83, Alan Foster, 74, a retired detective chief inspector, and Peter Metcalf, 71, a former solicitor for the force, are alleged to have amended police statements to "mask failings" after the tragedy, in which 96 Liverpool fans died.

READ MORE: Shelagh Fogarty and Liverpool bishop reflect on Hillsborough 32 years on

"I think in everybody's mind there was the possibility some senior officers might be prosecuted, the force might be prosecuted and also there could be civil actions," Mr Dovery told the court.

Asked by defence lawyer Jonathan Goldberg QC if there was a feeling police were being criticised "day in, day out", he agreed.

The court that officers were concerned about criticism following the Hillsborough disaster in 1989
The court that officers were concerned about criticism following the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. Picture: PA Images

Mr Dovey also agreed there was a feeling within the force of "we have to fight back, we have to defend ourselves against this criticism".

He agreed they planned to do that by digging out evidence "honestly".

Mr Goldberg asked: "Was there a feeling that Liverpool fans had a lot to answer for in terms of why things had gone wrong that day?"

Mr Dovey said: "There was some of that, yes."

He told the Nightingale court, based at the Lowry Theatre in Salford, that his team had been given photocopies of officers' accounts which were sometimes highlighted.

Asked which parts were highlighted, Mr Dovey said: "I would say mainly areas where individual officers had criticised senior officers."

The case is being heard at a nightingale court in the Lowry Theatre, Salford
The case is being heard at a nightingale court in the Lowry Theatre, Salford. Picture: PA Images

The court heard earlier this week that statements from officers following Hillsborough, reviewed by Metcalf, were amended to remove references to police officers being "like headless chickens" and "light on manpower".

He, along with Denton and Foster, deny two counts of doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of justice.

Asked by Mr Goldberg, Mr Dovey agreed that South Yorkshire Police was a "highly disciplined" force, despite the allegations.

The trial is expected to last up to 16 weeks - one of many official investigations into the incident at the FA Cup semi-final on 15 April, 1989.

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