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Men charged over Hillsborough disaster to go on trial

London (AFP) – Five men charged over the Hillsborough football stadium disaster, in which 96 Liverpool fans died, will go on trial next year, a British judge ruled on Wednesday.

A sixth man, who has not yet been formally charged, could join the other five defendants in the dock.

The trial — the first since the 1989 disaster — is expected to start on September 10, 2018 in Preston, northwest England.

Lawyers for the defendants argued against holding the trial in the region, saying that relocation would ensure the men receive a fair hearing.

But Judge William Davis ruled against a change of location.

“In my judgement, material and facts I am aware of do not make Preston a venue at which a jury would be biased,” he said.

Former police chief constable Norman Bettison appeared in court along with fellow retired officers Donald Denton and Alan Foster, former Sheffield Wednesday Football Club secretary Graham Mackrell, and lawyer Peter Metcalf, who acted for the local South Yorkshire Police force following the disaster.

The 1989 fatal crush took place at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground in Yorkshire, northern England, at an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Bettison is charged with four offences of misconduct in public office, relating to telling alleged lies in accounts of his involvement in the disaster afterwards.

Metcalf, Denton and Foster are charged with acting with intent to pervert the course of  justice, relating to material changes made to witness statements.

Mackrell, who was Sheffield Wednesday’s company secretary and safety officer at the time, is charged with two offences of contravening a term of condition of a safety certificate.

He is also charged with failing to take reasonable care for the health and safety of others who may have been affected by his acts or omissions.

David Duckenfield, the police match day commander, faces 95 counts of manslaughter by gross negligence.

However, he 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.

The defendants did not enter any formal pleas during the pre-trial hearing but their lawyers had previously indicated that they would deny the charges.

The six men have also indicated that they will attempt to block prosecution as an “abuse of process” on the grounds of delay and prejudicial publicity.

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