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Hillsborough Thursday, 15 April, 1999, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
The legal battle
Those who lost loved ones want someone to be held accountable (Liverpool Echo)
By BBC News's Mike McKay

Of all people, Trevor Hicks would be entitled to pass the 10th anniversary of Hillsborough preoccupied with a sense of aching loss and mourning.

Hillsborough
Two beautiful daughters, huge Liverpool supporters, perished on the Leppings Lane terrace.Only three families suffered this kind of double tragedy.

Then there was the break-up of his marriage - an acknowledged casualty of the seismic after-effect of that awful day.

Responsibility for failure

But Trevor Hicks is not, and never was, a man to wallow in futile self-pity.

The bustling energy and thoroughness he brought to his own small engineering business has, for 10 years, also been applied to his fight on behalf of the Hillsborough families.

Convinced that true responsibility for the failures at that fateful match has never been accepted, the Hillsborough Family Support Group is pursuing a private prosecution of the two most senior police officers on duty at the ground.

Shortly before the current anniversary events, the High Court made a number of important decisions about the families' legal fight.

Firstly, they declined to quash the allegations of wilful negligence by former officers David Duckenfield and Bernard Murray, the two men in charge of controlling the Liverpool-Nottingham Forest semi-final of 1989.

They did however rule against the charge of perverting the course of justice against former Chief Superintendant David Duckenfield.

This charge, levelled in the preliminary hearing last year, accused Mr Duckenfield of lying about the circumstances in which a key gate was opened shortly before the tragedy.

Trevor Hicks
Another important decision was to overturn the decision of the South Yorkshire Police Authority to shut down its funding of Mr Duckenfield's and Mr Murray's defence costs.

In a meeting with the authority, Trevor Hicks had argued that the authority had no obligation effectively to guarantee a blank cheque for two officers facing criminal charges; that the original decision to do so had been rapidly overtaken by the escalating legal twists and turns.

There is certainly an echo of the families' argument in the Home Office circular sent out to chief officers and their police authorities early last year.

"It is," says the circular,"for individual police authorities to decide in the particular circumstances of a case, and on the basis of legal advice, whether to make financial assistance available to officers in criminal proceedings."

Veil of uncertainty

The net result of the recent High Court rulings is this: the private prosecution continues and awaits a commital date, probably in early June, with the possibility then of a full trial next year.

The Crown Prosecution Service has shown no signs of taking over the case, as it has the power to do.

South Yorkshire councillors must now decide whether the High Court has made their original decision - to withdraw further defence funding - untenable.

And, incidentally, as a result of the hearings, the Hillsborough Family Support Group must find money to meet the costs of their Hight Court battle.

Given the support they can muster, particularly on Merseyside, this is unlikely to bankrupt them. But it has left them with a further sense of injustice.

The present Chief Constable of South Yorkshire, Mike Hedges - a relatively recent appointment - has welcomed the decision about funding officers accused of crimes.

He says it removes a huge cloud of uncertainty which had hung over police forces everywhere.

No one at this point appears to be to sure whether the case against Mr Duckenfield and Mr Murray will reach trial

But it is clear that no one doubts that there are plenty more twists and turns in the judicial road to a final reckoning on Hillsborough.

Links to more Hillsborough stories are at the foot of the page.


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