PC feared account of Hillsborough would be ‘magicked away’

A retired PC said he assumed his statement about the Hillsborough tragedy would be “magicked away” if he refused to sign an amended copy, a court heard.

Maxwell Groome claimed he was taken through his account and told “you can’t say that because it is criticising the chain of command ”.

He added he felt “pressured” into changes and only agreed because he was “fed up of being badgered”.

Mr Groome’s statement was read to jurors at the trial of two ex-South Yorkshire Police officers and a solicitor who face allegations linked to the aftermath of the disaster.

Ex-Chief Superintendent Donald Denton, former Detective Chief Inspector Foster and Peter Metcalf, who worked with the force, each deny two counts of perverting the course of justice.

Prosecutors have accused them of amending dozens of officer witness accounts to “mask the failings” of South Yorkshire Police at the FA Cup semi-final.

The accounts were being collected by West Midlands Police ahead of the Taylor Inquiry into the tragedy, which unfolded at the Leppings Lane end allocated to Liverpool supporters. Ninety six men, women and children died as a result.

Mr Groome was a police constable in South Yorkshire Police in 1989, but has since died.

In a statement given to investigators in 2014, after he had retired from the force, he said he was asked to write an account of what had happened on plain paper after the disaster.

His account prompted a number of visits from sergeants who asked him to sign an amended version of his statement but he refused, he said.

Mr Groome said on May 30, 1989 he was called to South Yorkshire Police’s headquarters to see Foster, who went through his statement crossing parts out and making comments such as “you can’t say that because it is criticising the chain of command”.

He said the senior officer told him that if he did not change the statement it would not be used by the coroner’s court or the public inquiry, and added: “I assumed my account would be magicked away or disappear in a box never to see the light of day again if I hadn’t changed it.”

Mr Groome said he was “fed up of being badgered” so he agreed to sign the new statement.

He said: “I wasn’t threatened personally by Detective Chief Inspector Foster but I did feel pressured. I wanted to make sure my account was heard.”

The court heard Metcalf, a partner in law firm Hammond Suddards, which acted for the force, drafted a template statement for four officers.

Sarah Whitehouse QC, prosecuting, said Metcalf asked if the three inspectors and a chief inspector could be asked to review evidence they gave to the Taylor Inquiry, in which they all conceded police had a duty to monitor numbers on the Leppings Lane terrace.

In a letter to Deputy Chief Constable Peter Hayes, sent ahead of contribution hearings held in 1990 to determine what damages should be paid, Metcalf asked for officers to give new statements if they believed they could explain what had previously been said.

Media gathered outside the Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays, Greater Manchester, where two retired police officers and a former force solicitor are on trial accused of doing acts tending or intended to pervert the course of justice following the Hillsborough disaster. Image: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Media gathered outside the Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays, Greater Manchester, where two retired police officers and a former force solicitor are on trial accused of doing acts tending or intended to pervert the course of justice following the Hillsborough disaster. Image: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
(Image: PA)

The court heard the solicitor drafted a template which said: “The transcript gives a misleading impression of what I understand to have been the position in relation to the control of numbers entering individual pens on the Leppings Lane terraces on April 15, 1989.”

It went on to say they did not expect any police officer to be making assessments of numbers in the pens.

Ms Whitehouse said all the officers stood by the evidence they had given to the inquiry so no new statements were prepared.

The prosecution allege Metcalf was seeking to put words into the mouths of the officers.

Denton, 83, Foster, 74, and Metcalf, 71 each deny doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of public justice.

Their trial, presided over by judge Mr Justice William Davis, follows an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct and is scheduled to last up to 16 weeks.

It is being held in a converted court at the Lowry theatre in Salford.

Proceeding

Liverpool Echo – Liverpool News