Trial of Hillsborough accused should be in Preston, judge rules

Any trial of the men charged with criminal offences relating to the Hillsborough disaster should be held in Preston, a judge ruled today.

The ruling by Mr Justice William Davis came as five men charged following an investigation into the tragedy and its aftermath today appeared in a crown court for the first time in relation to the events of.April 15,1989.Former West Yorkshire and Merseyside chief constable Sir Norman Bettison, 61, appeared at Preston Crown Court today along with fellow retired police officers Donald Denton, 79, and Alan Foster, 70, former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell, 67, and solicitor Peter Metcalf, 67, who acted for South Yorkshire Police following the 1989 disaster.Match commander David Duckenfield, 72, also faces 95 counts of gross negligence manslaughter but will not be formally charged and appear in court with the other five until an application to lift a stay on prosecution at the High Court has been heard.

The case of the five current defendants was heard at Preston Crown Court today after they made their first court appearance at Warrington Magistrates' Court last month.

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At that hearing no formal pleas were entered but during proceedings the court was told through lawyers for the defendants all five indicate they will be pleading not guilty when the charges are put to them.Today's hearing for the other five dealt largely with administrative and procedural matters. The five men, all wearing dark suits, sat in a row in the glass-panelled dock and at first spoke only to confirm their names.

More than 20 bereaved family members sat in the public seating area during the hearing in front of Mr Justice Davis. The press area of the court was full, and footage of the proceedings was relayed to another part of the court for those who did not have a seat,

There were so many legal representatives in Court 1 of that a dozen had to sit in the area normally reserved for a trial jury.

Mr Justice Davis ruled that a single judge should be appointed to oversee the case initially and deal with any applications. That judge will then make a decision over whether there ought to be trials running in parallel or one after the other.Bettison, who was a chief inspector in South Yorkshire Police at the time of the tragedy, is charged with four offences of misconduct in a public office over alleged lies in accounts of his involvement in the disaster.Mackrell, who was the safety officer for the football club, is charged with two offences involving the stadium safety certificate and a health and safety offence.Denton, Foster and Metcalf are each charged with two offences of doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of justice relating to amendments made to police officers' statements following the tragedy.Ninety-six Liverpool fans were crushed to death in pens at the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough Stadium on April 15 1989, as their FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest began.All the defendants are on bail. The hearing is due to continue this afternoon.