Former chief constable Sir Norman Bettison has appeared in court for the first time as a suspect today almost 30 years on from the deaths of 96 men, women and children in the Hillsborough disaster.
Bettison, a former chief constable of West Yorkshire and Merseyside, stood in the dock flanked by four other men also charged in connection with the 1989 football tragedy and its aftermath.
The 61-year-old, a chief inspector for South Yorkshire Police at the time of the disaster, is charged with four offences of misconduct in a public office relating to alleged lies he told in accounts of his involvement in the disaster afterwards.
Graham Mackrell, 67, who was Sheffield Wednesday Football Club’s company secretary and safety officer, is accused of two offences involving the stadium safety certificate and a health and safety offence.
Peter Metcalf, 67, the solicitor acting for South Yorkshire Police after the disaster, Donald Denton, 79, a former chief superintendent, and Alan Foster, 70, a former detective chief inspector, all face charges of perverting the course of justice relating to changes made to police officers’ witness statements taken after the tragedy.
All the defendants faced a media scrum as they arrived at Warrington Magistrates’ Court and inside reporters packed the press benches while more than 30 relatives of the 96 Liverpool fans who died sat in the public gallery.
All five defendants were bailed to appear at Preston Crown Court on September 6, following a 25-minute hearing.
No formal pleas were entered today but during proceedings the court was told through lawyers for the defendants all five indicate they will be pleading not guilty to the charges when they appear in crown court.
The defendants had walked past family members of the 96 victims of the disaster who had gathered at the entrance of the court before the case began.
Speaking outside court Evelyn Mills, whose brother Peter McDonnell, 21, died in the 1989 tragedy, said: “This is the beginning of another milestone in the history of Hillsborough.”
Christine Burke, whose father Henry, 47, was among the 96 victims, said: “There is still a long journey but we will see it through.”
During the hearing the five defendants spoke only to confirm their names, addresses and dates of birth, at the start of the proceedings and otherwise sat listening intently.
Prosecutor Sarah Whitehouse QC told Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot, chair of the bench, the charges for Bettison, Denton, Foster and Metcalf can only be dealt with at the crown court.
Ms Whitehouse said Metcalf is accused of altering witness statement of police officers, while Denton oversaw the process to which Foster was also “central”.
She said Bettison allegedly told lies after the disaster while holding the rank of both an assistant and chief constable of police.
Christine Agnew QC, acting prosecutor for Mackrell, said he had failed in his responsibilities as safety officer at the club and he faces health and safety charges and charges to do with safety at sports grounds.
Match commander David Duckenfield faces 95 counts of gross negligence manslaughter but will not be formally charged and appear in court until an application to lift a stay imposed after a prosecution in 2000 has been approved by a High Court judge.
The 96 fans were crushed to death in pens at the Leppings Lane end of Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough Stadium on April 15 1989 as their FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest began.
There will be no manslaughter prosecution over the death of Anthony Bland, as he died almost four years later, and under the law in 1989 his death is now “out of time” to be prosecuted.
All the defendants were given unconditional bail until their next court hearing next month.