Hillsborough files: Lawyer casts doubts over prosecutions

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A SENIOR barrister has expressed doubt that individual police officers involved in investigations into the Hillsborough disaster will be prosecuted for perverting the course of justice.

Julian Knowles, QC, who has previously advised the Hillsborough Family Support Group, said the prosecuting authorities might face “insurmountable” difficulties and 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,” he wrote.

“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.

“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 said that for the families of the victims “nothing less than prosecutions for perverting the course of justice and new inquests will suffice”. But he added: “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.

“The Attorney General should consider ordering new inquests, but the passage of time may preclude such a course of action.”