The mayors of Greater Manchester and the Liverpool city region have formally complained to the Bar Standards Board about comments by a QC appearing to blame misbehaviour by Liverpool supporters for the Hillsborough disaster.
Jonathan Goldberg QC, a veteran barrister, defended South Yorkshire police’s former solicitor, Peter Metcalf, against a charge of perverting the course of justice, in a trial that collapsed on Wednesday. He later told the BBC that the behaviour of Liverpool fans on the day of the tragedy was “perfectly appalling … causing a riot”.
In their letter, sent to Mark Neale, the director general of the Bar Standards Board, Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram, the mayors of Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region respectively, accused Goldberg of repeating “the lies that were briefed by police to media outlets in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy and against which the families and survivors have spent 32 years fighting”.
The complaint calls on Goldberg to make “a full and unequivocal public retraction” of his comments, and “to apologise unreservedly to the families and fans who have suffered enough during the past 32 years.”
They also asked Neale to consider whether Goldberg’s comments “are consistent with him being a member of the Bar”.
In his interview with the presenter Adrian Chiles within hours of Metcalf’s formal acquittal, Goldberg said Metcalf had cut out from police statements criticism of Liverpool supporters at Hillsborough, “whose behaviour was perfectly appalling on the day, causing a riot that led to the [exit] gate having to be opened, that unfortunately let the people in, and crushed to death the innocents … who were at the front of the pens, who had arrived early and were not drunk and were behaving perfectly well. But as always, it’s the innocents who suffer unfortunately.”
Burnham and Rotheram pointed out in their letter that the 2016 verdicts of the inquests into the deaths at Hillsborough found that the 96 had been unlawfully killed due to gross negligence by the police officer in command, Ch Supt David Duckenfield. The verdicts also rejected the lurid police allegations of misbehaviour by Liverpool supporters, finding that no behaviour of theirs contributed to the disaster.
The inquests also established that 30 of the 96 people who died had been outside the Hillsborough ground at 2:52pm when the exit gate was opened, yet were crushed at the front within minutes.
“Because it is inconceivable that Mr Goldberg QC did not know that the inquest had found that the behaviour of fans in no way contributed to the tragedy,” Burnham and Rotheram wrote, “and that therefore it was wholly unacceptable for him to repeat such lies, we ask you to consider whether his actions are consistent with him being a member of the Bar.”
Chiles apologised on air shortly after the comments were made, describing them as “evil nonsense” and saying he was “mortified” that he had not challenged Goldberg.
Goldberg has declined to retract his remarks or apologise, instead issuing a “clarification” on his website, saying his comments had been “taken out of context and badly misunderstood”. He said he had only been referring to the evidence that was given in the case, relating to the “acute controversy” in 1989 en 1990 “between the fans and the police over the true causes of the disaster”.
Of the letter by Burnham and Rotheram, Goldberg said: “I regret a false complaint should be advanced.”
Several bereaved families have also made complaints to the Bar Standards Board.
In a separate development, the Independent Office for Polisie Conduct said it had carried out an investigation into the discovery in 2018 of more than 2,800 officers’ pocket notebooks in the basement of a South Yorkshire police station. Many of them covered the period immediately before the disaster, and they included notebooks of the former Hillsborough match commander, Ch Supt Brian Mole. The IOPC had ordered the force to carry out a “rigorous search” for notebooks in 2013.