Hillsborough match commander faces retrial after jury fails to reach verdict

The police officer in charge of match day operations during the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 is to face a retrial after a jury were unable to reach a verdict over whether he was responsible for the deaths of 95 victims. 

Apr 3, 2019
By Tony Thompson
96 Liverpool supporters were killed in the 1989 FA Cup semi-final tie between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool

Former Chief Superintendent Duckenfield, now 74, had denied the gross negligence manslaughter of during the 10-week trial at Preston Crown Court. He appeared alongside former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell, who denied failing to discharge his duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act. Both men had denied the offences. 

The jury were originally sent out on March 25 but struggled to reach a unanimous consensus. On Monday, April 1, the judge gave jurors a majority direction. Mr Mackrell, a former accountant with no health and safety training, was subsequently found guilty of the charges against him by a majority of ten of the 12 jurors.  

In total the jury deliberated for more than 29 hours but was unable to agree whether Mr Duckenfield was guilty or not guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence. Around 60 relatives of the deceased who gathered at the court building gasped as the jury foreman told the court they could not reach a verdict for Mr Duckenfield. 

The trial heard Mr Duckenfield ordered the opening of exit gates at the Leppings Lane end of the ground eight minutes before kick-off, after the area outside the turnstiles became dangerously overcrowded. There were just seven turnstiles for the 10,100 Liverpool fans with standing tickets for the match against Nottingham Forest. 

More than 2,000 fans entered through exit gate C once it was opened and many headed for the tunnel ahead of them, which led to the central pens where the crush then occurred. 

Prosecutors had alleged that Mr Duckenfield had “ultimate responsibility” at the ground and should have made “key lifesaving decisions” on the day but his defence argued the case against him was “breathtakingly unfair” and said Mr Duckenfield had “tried to do the right thing”. 

Mr Duckenfield, who was promoted to the role less than three weeks before the disaster, did not give evidence but attended the full case.  

A total of 96 men, women and children died as a result of a fatal crush at the ground but under the law at the time, there can be no prosecution for the 96th victim, Tony Bland, as he died more than a year and a day after the disaster. 

The CPS announced its decision to press charges in 2017 saying in a statement: “We will allege that David Duckenfield’s failures to discharge his personal responsibility were extraordinarily bad and contributed substantially to the deaths.” 

The decision to prosecute came after a decades-long campaign by the Hillsborough families for the circumstances surrounding the tragedy to be reinvestigated. 

 

Sue Hemming, legal director of the CPS, said the trial had been extremely complex. “We have discussed the matter carefully with counsel and I can confirm the CPS will seek a retrial against Mr Duckenfield for manslaughter by gross negligence of 95 men, women and children,” she said. 

“I recognise that these developments will be difficult for the families affected by the Hillsborough disaster. We have remained in regular contact with them throughout these proceedings and spoke with those present in Preston and Liverpool before informing the court of our decision. We will meet with them shortly to answer any questions they have about the process.” 

 

 

 

 

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