Sheffield licensing officer from time of Hillsborough disaster still works for council

Hillsborough Disaster
Hillsborough Disaster
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THE Sheffield Council licensing officer who allowed Hillsborough Stadium to operate without a valid safety certificate before the disaster in which 96 football fans died is still employed by the authority - and has never faced disciplinary action.

David Bownes, who now works as an information manager at the authority, was singled out for criticism in the interim report by Lord Justice Taylor after the tragedy in April 1989 in which 96 Liverpool fans died.

The safety certificate for Hillsborough had become invalid after changes to the layout of the ground in 1981 and was not updated.

No action was taken for the failings over the safety certificate at the time, as blame for the disaster was still wrongly focused towards the fans.

However, following the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel last week, supporters have been cleared of all blame for the disaster and the lack of a safety certificate highlighted as an important factor in what happened.

And, legal action, including manslaughter prosecutions, is now possible after the revelations by the Panel, which included that police officers amended statements to shift blame from commanders.

The capacity of the overcrowded pens where the tragedy happened was not even known and there were no means of counting the number of fans entering, the Taylor Report found.

At the time of the Hillsborough tragedy, Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane ground also did not have a valid safety certificate.

Lord Justice Taylor said Mr Bownes ‘bore the brunt of the council’s duties’ under safety laws, which included ensuring stadia had valid safety certificates.

He said attention given to updating Hillsborough’s safety certificate was ‘woefully inadequate’.

Lord Justice Taylor also said the council’s Safety of Sports Grounds advisory group, on which Mr Bownes sat and which involved representatives of the police and fire service, was ‘casual and unbusinesslike’.

Trevor Hicks, chairman of the Hillsborough Families’ Support Group and who lost two daughters in the disaster, said: “I am surprised Mr Bownes is still at the council and no action was taken against him.

“He is guilty of neglect at the very least.

“But nobody has lost a day’s wages over Hillsborough other than the families of those killed.”

Mr Hicks said the families were looking into possible action against South Yorkshire Police, individual officers including Sir Norman Bettison, now the West Yorkshire Police chief constable, and South Yorkshire Ambulance Service over the cover-up and changing of statements.

He said Sheffield Council, Sheffield Wednesday and the Football Association are also potential targets over the lack of safety certificate and the decision to host the match at Hillsborough.

Mr Hicks said: “Double jeopardy law has now ended, so those police officers against whom we took out private prosecutions could be re-tried and we also have corporate manslaughter prosecutions available which didn’t exist in the past.”

Home Secretary Theresa May has given her backing to prosecutions over the Hillsborough disaster.

She said: “Those who have broken the law should be pursued and, if the evidence is sufficient, prosecuted.”

A council spokesman said: “We have always accepted that the council’s actions regarding licensing of the Hillsborough ground were not rigorous enough.

“The current Hillsborough report does not highlight any new evidence about licensing or the role the council played back then.

“The council does still employ Mr Bownes. Mr Bownes fully cooperated with the Taylor inquiry.

“A decision was made at the time that the council would not taking disciplinary proceedings against any employee following a review by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

“Mr Bownes no longer works in licensing and has accepted the errors he and his department made in 1989.”