SRA launches investigation into “role and conduct” of Hillsborough lawyers

The SRA has launched an investigation into the conduct of solicitors involved in the aftermath of Hillsborough.

After considering the reports of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which was published last week (13 September 2012), the SRA has pre-empted any formal complaint by announcing its own probe.

It is expected that the role of former Hammond Suddards partner Peter Metcalf – now a semi-retired self-employed consultant – will be high on the agenda.

He was identified by the report as recommending South Yorkshire Police to review and alter 116 officer statements relating to the policing operation following the 1989 disaster which killed 96 Liverpool FC fans.

The role of Douglas Fraser, a partner with North West firm Silverman Livermore, is also expected to be scrutinised after the panel discovered he made critical comments about the families of Hillsborough victims – who he was representing – wanting “15 minutes of fame” from the inquests.

Fraser, who is now Liverpool’s deputy coroner, was criticised by the panel for his “surprisingly critical, if not contemptuous, view of some of the bereaved families whose interests he represented”.

He was unavailable for comment.

Earlier this week Hillsborough Families Support Group solicitor James Saunders, a managing director with Saunders Law, said he was pursuing further action and that a complaint to the SRA was imminent (17 September 2012).

However, the SRA has not yet received an official referral.

But Samantha Barrass, SRA executive director, said: “We have considered the material in the public domain, including the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report, and have decided to begin an investigation. The issues arising from the report impact on the public’s confidence in the legal profession and we will undertake a thorough investigation of those issues.

“The first step is to begin a detailed review of all relevant evidence arising from the report and from the various proceedings.”

Metcalf told The Lawyer last week that he had not read the 389-page report and did not have a solicitor. Today his wife put the phone down when this magazine contacted him for comment.

Under SRA legislation, all solicitors are under an obligation to uphold the law and work in the interests of justice.

The report, published on Wednesday, claims that Metcalf, recommended that a South Yorkshire Police (SYP) chief amend statements taken by officers in the aftermath of the disaster and that 116 of the 164 statements from officers identified for “substantive amendment” were amended to remove “comments unfavourable to SYP”.

The report states: “Prior to the [1998] Stuart-Smith Scrutiny, an SYP officer had revealed that in the immediate aftermath of the disaster officers had been instructed not to make entries in pocket-books but to submit handwritten recollections for word-processing. The recollections had been sent to Peter Metcalf, a senior partner in Hammond Suddards, the solicitors representing SYP, who returned them to Chief Superintendent Donald Denton, with recommendations for ‘review and alteration’.”

Read Richard Moorhead’s blog on the role of South Yorkshire Police’s lawyers.