Hillsborough trial: Fans ‘failed by match chief’

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David Duckenfield (left) and Graham Mackrell arrive at Preston Crown CourtImage copyright
PA

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David Duckenfield (left) and Graham Mackrell arrive at Preston Crown Court

Match commander David Duckenfield's “extraordinarily bad” failures led to the deaths of 96 “wholly innocent” fans at Hillsborough, a court has heard.

The ex-policeman did not quickly take measures to free Liverpool supporters trapped in the fatal crush at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, jurors were told.

Prosecutors said his actions “contributed substantially” to the “tragic and unnecessary” loss of life.

Mr Duckenfield, 74, denies the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 fans.

Ex-Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell, 69, who is on trial alongside the former South Yorkshire Police chief superintendent, denies safety breaches.

Opening the case at Preston Crown Court, prosecutor Richard Matthews QC said a capacity crowd of 50,000 had been expected at the game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

‘Resuscitation delayed'

Each of those who died did so as a result of “the wholly innocent activity of attending a football match”, Mr Matthews said.

Every spectator could have reasonably expected their “attendance, entry and accommodation” at the Hillsborough Stadium to have been “properly planned for and safely facilitated”, the court was told.

While there may have been “an extraordinary series of collective and personal failures” in planning how to manage the crowds beforehand, “Sadly, there were also many collective and individual failures to intervene effectively once the disaster unfolded,” Mr Matthews said.

As the disaster unfolded, the court was told, Mr Duckenfield failed to quickly declare a major incident or enact emergency measures to free trapped supporters.

The senior officer also failed to provide “emergency medical attention, particularly attempts at resuscitation”, in a timely fashion, the court heard.

As match commander, he would have had the “ultimate responsibility” for the police operation, Mr Matthews told jurors.

“It is the prosecution's case that David Duckenfield's failures to discharge this personal responsibility were extraordinarily bad and contributed substantially to the deaths of each of those 96 people who so tragically and unnecessarily lost their lives,” he added.

What happened at Hillsborough?

Outlining the prosecution's case, Mr Matthews said:

  • Pressure built up outside turnstiles at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium, where 24,000 Liverpool fans were to be directed
  • An exit gate – known as gate C – was opened after requests by Mr Duckenfield to do something to alleviate the crush outside
  • Once inside the stadium, fans were met by a sign which led to pens three and four of the terrace – which were beneath the police control box
  • Mr Duckenfield did nothing to monitor the capacity of the pens, which were already packed by the time the gate was opened
  • He further failed to redirect the crowd to other, less crowded pens and control access to the tunnel to “prevent the inevitable crush of fans effectively carried away down the slope of the tunnel”.

“Much about the Hillsborough disaster was extraordinary, not least the appalling scale of the loss of life, the scale of tragedy and the scale of those who failed to discharge their responsibilities with appropriate care,” Mr Matthews said.

“Undoubtedly, each of the deceased has been failed by many, in many ways and over a protracted period; before, during and even after this disaster,” he said.

“Each died as a result of the extraordinarily bad failures by David Duckenfield in the care he took to discharge his personal responsibility on that fateful day.”

‘Turned blind eye'

Jurors were told second defendant Mr Mackrell was the Sheffield Wednesday safety officer responsible for ensuring the club followed Home Office guidance.

He said the club breached the conditions of its safety certificate by failing to agree methods of entry into the stadium with police before the semi-final.

Mr Matthews said Mr Mackrell committed an offence by “by agreeing to, or at the very least turning a blind eye to,” the breach.

Mackrell, who joined the club in 1986, is also charged with failing to take reasonable care of the health and safety of others, in respect of the arrangements for admission to the ground and the drawing-up of contingency plans.

Mr Matthews said: “It is the prosecution's case that Mr Mackrell effectively shrugged off all responsibility for these important aspects of the role he had taken on as safety officer.”

The 96 victims

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The 96 people who lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster

Jurors have been told 96 fans were killed as a result of a crush in pens at the Leppings Lane end of the ground.

Of those, 94 died on the same day.

The youngest of the victims had been 10-year-old Jon-Paul Gilhooley.

Lee Nicol, 14, died two days later and Tony Bland, who suffered “terrible brain damage” was in a permanent vegetative state until his death in March 1993, jurors heard.

Under the law at the time, there can be no prosecution for the death of Mr Bland, as he died more than a year and a day after his injuries were caused.

Former South Yorkshire Police chief superintendent Mr Duckenfield, from Bournemouth, was the police officer in charge at the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989.

On Monday, Judge Sir Peter Openshaw told 100 potential jurors the trial could last up to four months and warned them not to research the disaster on the internet.

They were asked if they recognised either defendant and to fill out a form asking if close family members or friends had ever worked for any criminal justice agency.

After completing the questionnaires, 68 panel members were excused from serving on the jury.

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