The director of public prosecutions has said he is “sorry” that the families of those who died in the Hillsborough disaster were denied the “justice and accountability” they have sought since 1989.
Max Hill QC also apologised for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)’s inability to provide loved ones with any “closure”.
It comes after the trial of two retired police officers and a solicitor, all accused of covering up key details of the tragedy, which killed 96 people, collapsed last month when a judge ruled there was no case to answer.
Former chief superintendent Donald Denton, retired detective chief inspector Alan Foster, and Peter Metcalf, a lawyer for South Yorkshire Police at the time of the tragedy, applied to have the case against them dismissed after a month of evidence in a trial that had been awaited for decades by the victims’ loved ones.
A judge ultimately found the offence of perverting the course of justice “did not apply” because the statements were changed for a public inquiry.
Mr Hill appeared before MPs on the Justice Committee on Tuesday to discuss various aspects of his workload, including an update on the Harry Dunn case.
He said the legal team responsible for the Hillsborough trial had done “everything we could” and “applied all of the vigour that we could” in their work on the “tragic” case.
“I have to start by paying tribute to the 96, the friends and the families who have gone through, year after year, decade after decade, a search for justice and accountability,” he told the panel.
It was instigated by one of the committee’s members, Labour MP Maria Eagle, reading out an email from one of her constituents – a family member of a man who died while at the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield, on 15 April 1989.
“I think we have to accept now, in 2021, that criminal proceedings have not provided that justice and accountability.”
Mr Hill said he had previously met with many of the families and will be doing so again in the next two or three weeks.
Acknowledging the failures of the team, he told MPs: “They – and I speak for them – are first in saying how sorry we all are that this process has not led to the closure which the 96 have sought.”
But he added: “I maintain that we did everything we could, and we applied all of the vigour that we could.”
Ms Eagle, the MP for Liverpool’s Garston and Halewood constituency, went on to say “old slurs” had been reintroduced during the trial and in public commentary afterwards, claiming “there was no cover up – something for which the prime minister of this country has apologised from the despatch box – and also saying that the Liverpool fans rioted”.
Mr Hill said he dissociates himself and the entire CPS from such claims.
“It’s not for me to regulate what defence representatives say either before, during or after trial. That is simply not within the CPS’s power,” he insisted.
“I will say that I dissociate myself, and I speak for the whole of the Crown Prosecution Service, with anything that was said in that article, or in commentary after the case came to an end.”
Following the end of the trial in May, the lawyer of one of those acquitted – Mr Metcalf – spoke to Adrian Chiles on BBC Radio 5 Live.
Jonathan Goldberg QC was criticised for claiming Liverpool fans caused a “riot” ahead of the disaster, but later said his comments were “taken out of context”.
Meanwhile, Mr Chiles apologised for failing to challenge the barrister on “evil nonsense” during the interview.
In 2016, a jury at inquests into the deaths concluded the behaviour of fans did not cause or contribute to the situation which built up outside the ground.
It was revealed earlier this month that South Yorkshire and West Midlands police forces had agreed to pay damages to more than 600 people over the cover-up, despite nobody ever being convicted of what happened at Hillsborough.
A spokesman for Saunders Law, the lead solicitors for the group litigation, said at the beginning of June the claim was started in 2015 and agreed in April, but could not be reported until the conclusion of the trial involving former police and legal officials.