Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Doubts on Hillsborough prosecutions

Julian Knowles QC says that prosecuting authorities over Hillsborough might face 'insurmountable' difficulties

A senior barrister has said he "doubts" whether individual police officers involved in investigations into the Hillsborough disaster will be prosecuted for perverting the course of justice.

Julian Knowles QC says - in an article in a legal magazine - that prosecuting authorities might face "insurmountable" difficulties.

Mr Knowles, who has previously advised the Hillsborough Family Support Group, also questions whether new inquests will be possible. He analyses legal issues surrounding the disaster in the latest issue of The Lawyer, following a report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel.

"The report shows how much remained hidden and it is truly shocking. Those responsible for safety at the ground had abjectly failed to recognise the obvious dangers and officers at South Yorkshire Police were obsessed with hooliganism to the exclusion of just about everything else," writes Mr Knowles.

"The report also reveals the extent to which South Yorkshire Police manipulated the evidence of its officers... and how the force's solicitors were intimately involved in the process."

Mr Knowles says for families of victims "nothing less than prosecutions for perverting the course of justice and new inquests will suffice".

But he adds: "I have doubts whether this will be the outcome.

"The passage of time and the complexity of the process by which the statements were altered are likely to present real difficulties for the Director of Public Prosecutions when (his team) reviews the report's findings to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute any individuals.

"The fact the editing process was done on legal advice will also raise difficulties of legal professional privilege which might prove insurmountable."

He goes on: "The Attorney General should certainly consider ordering new inquests but the passage of time may again preclude such a course of action."

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