Squire Sanders’ UK legacy firm Hammond Suddards was involved in the process of “review and alteration” of police officers’ recollections about the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, a report into the tragedy has found.
The Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report, published yesterday (12 September), claims that Peter Metcalf, then a partner at the Yorkshire firm, recommended that a South Yorkshire Police (SYP) chief amend statements taken by officers in the aftermath of the disaster at which 96 Liverpool FC fans died.
The report states: “Prior to the  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’.”
Metcalf, when contacted by The Lawyer, said he had not read yesterday’s 389-page report. He said he had not instructed a lawyer on his behalf and questioned why he would need one.
He said he had not been in practice for around 10 years but still does “audit” consultancy work and is registered as a locum solicitor under the firm name PC Metcalf at his home address in West Yorkshire.
The report claims that 116 of the 164 statements from officers identified for “substantive amendment” were amended to remove “comments unfavourable to SYP”.
The issue was initially raised by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith in his report, published in 1998, in which he recorded that over 400 recollections were processed via Hammond Suddards, with 253 passing without comment, 60 slightly amended and “over 90” recommended for alteration.
Of these, Stuart-Smith reported that 26 of the recollections constituted merely “comment and opinion”, many of which criticised the police operation, and therefore that the solicitors “could not be criticised for recommending their removal”. However, he concluded that “at least in some cases it would have been better” if some of the deletions had not been made.
Richard Wells, who headed SYP in the years following the tragedy, from 1990 to 1998, has said criminal charges against those responsible for the catastrophe were “absolutely essential” following yesterday’s report.
Also identified in the report was former Ropewalk Chambers silk Bill Woodward QC. The barrister, who was called to the Bar in 1964, retired in 2010, but at the time of the disaster, he was South Yorkshire Police’s legal counsel. He went on to become a Recorder and deputy High Court judge.
The report stated: “Later on 26 April  a meeting of senior police officers, including DCC Hayes and Chief Supt Mole, and their legal counsel, Bill Woodward QC, was held at which the process was confirmed.
“DCC Hayes informed Mr Woodward that the ‘main players in this are doing their own accounts’.
“He asked ‘is that OK or would you rather someone take their statement?’.
“Mr Woodward replied, ‘It couldn’t be better. They can put all the things in that they want and we will sort them out’.”
A further extract from the report states: “Mr Brummell [David, Treasury Solicitor’s Department official] wrote that the main difference between the ‘initial and final versions’ of SYP officers’ statements was that ‘expressions of opinion were (as I understand it, on the advice of Mr Woodward) removed from the final version’.”
Meanwhile, lawyers have spoken out about the report, with Michael Mansfield QC of Tooks Chambers describing the aftermath of the 1989 disaster “the biggest cover-up in British history”.
Gibson Dunn & Crutcher London partner and former Lord Chancellor Charlie Falconer told the BBC that criminal proceedings “needs to be looked at”.
Lord Macdonald QC of Matrix Chambers, the former director of public prosecutions, said the Hillsborough affair showed the “absolutely suffocating” culture of secrecy in British public life.
He told BBC Radio 4’sToday programme: “It’s the inability of our state and our society once this terrible operational catastrophe occurred to be truthful about what had happened. We have here a tendency on the part of British public authorities to see themselves as apart from the public and a longstanding disease of secrecy in our public life.”
Squire Sanders declined to comment.