Hillsborough: Five charged over disaster appear in court for first time

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Five men charged following an investigation into the Hillsborough disaster and its aftermath appeared in court for the first time this afternoon.

Former West Yorkshire and Merseyside chief constable Sir Norman Bettison appeared at Warrington Magistrates' Court today along with fellow retired police officers Donald Denton and Alan Foster, former Sheffield Wednesday secretary Graham Mackrell and solicitor Peter Metcalf, who acted for South Yorkshire Police following the disaster.

Mackrell indicated he would plead not guilty to the three offences he was charged with, while representatives for the other four men all indicated they will plead not guilty.

Match commander David Duckenfield faces 95 counts of gross negligence manslaughter but will not be formally charged until an application to lift a stay imposed after a prosecution in 2000 has been approved by a High Court judge.

Before the hearing started, family members of those who died in the tragedy waited outside the court while photographers and camera crews took up positions behind a metal barrier.

Denton arrived at court at around 12.20pm, flanked by four associates, and passed a group of victims' families before walking through the revolving doors. A few minutes later Metcalf, wearing a dark suit, approached the building at the back of a group of four men.

At around 12.50pm, Alan Foster walked along the tree-lined side-street from the main road to the building, passing a group of family members on his way inside.

Bettison was the last of the defendants to arrive at the court. entering around 35 minutes before the hearing was due to start.

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.

The 22-minute hearing started at 2pm in front of Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot. The five defendants, who sat in a row in the glass-panelled dock, each stood and gave their name, date of birth and address.

Forty bereaved family members filled a seating area on one side of the court, while the rest of the room was filled with press and representatives of the defence and prosecution.

The district judge adjourned the case until the next hearing at Preston Crown Court on September 6. The court was told the three trials will be held separately. All five defendants received unconditional bail.

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.

Last month the Crown Prosecution Service said there would be no manslaughter prosecution over the death of the 96th casualty, Anthony Bland, as he died almost four years later, and under the law in 1989 his death is now "out of time" to be prosecuted.