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Hillsborough jury fails to reach verdict in Duckenfield case

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The jury hearing the prosecution for gross negligence manslaughter of the former South Yorkshire police chief superintendent David Duckenfield has failed to reach a verdict, almost 30 years after he commanded the 1989 FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, at which 96 people died.

The Crown Prosecution Service said it would seek a retrial of Duckenfield for manslaughter.

The jury delivered a guilty verdict on the breach of safety duty charge against Graham Mackrell, the Sheffield Wednesday secretary and safety officer for the club’s Hillsborough ground at the time of the disaster.

The jury of six men and six women took eight days considering their verdicts at Preston crown court, after being sent out at 10.51am on Monday 25 March, following prosecutions that began on 14 January.

Duckenfield and Mackrell were charged in June 2017 after a fresh police investigation into the disaster, Operation Resolve, which followed the Hillsborough independent panel report in September 2012.

Hillsborough graphic

The jury in the trial heard that the lethal crush at Hillsborough developed in the central “pens” 3 and 4 of the Leppings Lane terrace, after a buildup of people at the turnstiles for people with tickets to support Liverpool. Due to the selected method of keeping the two clubs’ supporters separate, only the 23 turnstiles at the Leppings Lane end were used to process all 24,000 people with tickets for the north and west stands allocated to Liverpool. Of these, only seven turnstiles were available for all 10,100 people with tickets to stand on the west, Leppings Lane, terrace.

Mackrell was charged with a breach of the 1974 Health and Safety Act duty to take reasonable care at work for people’s safety. The charge alleged that he failed to take reasonable care to have sufficient turnstiles to prevent “unduly large crowds” waiting for admission. Two other charges brought against Mackrell in June 2017, alleging breaches of Sheffield Wednesday’s safety certificate, were dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Mackrell’s barrister, Jason Beer QC, argued during the trial that the prosecution had not proved that Mackrell was in charge of the turnstile arrangements, and that even if he was, he had not been in breach of his safety duty because it was not foreseeable that a crush would develop outside. The jury foreman told the court it had found Mackrell guilty of the offence by a majority of 10-2.

Duckenfield had been newly promoted by South Yorkshire police to chief superintendent, and to take charge of the semi-final, 19 days before it took place on 15 April 1989, having never commanded a match at Hillsborough before. The previous, experienced chief superintendent, Brian Mole, was moved to command the division at Barnsley.

The court heard that at the semi final, a backlog built up at the Leppings Lane turnstiles, after the police under Duckenfield’s command did not manage their approach with filters or cordons.

Former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell leaves court

Former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell leaves court earlier this week. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

No successful measures were taken to alleviate the congestion. The judge, Sir Peter Openshaw, said in his summing up that “serious problems” developed “certainly from 2:25pm”, then at 2:47pm Supt Roger Marshall, on duty at the turnstiles, requested the large exit gates to be opened, to allow people respite. Duckenfield declined at first, then at 2:52pm Marshall warned that somebody would die if the gates were not opened. Duckenfield then gave the order.

Gate C opened on to a concourse with a tunnel directly ahead, leading to the central pens. Most of the 2,500 people who came through gate C, including 30 of the people who were killed, went down the tunnel. The prosecution alleged that Duckenfield’s failure to identify hazards at the turnstiles, monitor the numbers waiting to come in, relieve the pressures outside, monitor the numbers in the central pens and order the tunnel to be closed, amounted to gross negligence.

Duckenfield’s barrister, Benjamin Myers QC, argued that Duckenfield
had done his professional best, and that other South Yorkshire police officers had failed to manage the queue outside and the developing situation in the ground.

Duckenfield was charged in relation to 95 of the people who died. The 96th victim, Tony Bland, was critically injured and died in 1993 after life support was lawfully withdrawn. According to the law in 1989, a criminal charge relating to a death could not be brought if the victim died longer than a year and a day after the acts that allegedly caused it.

Neither Duckenfield nor Mackrell gave evidence at the trial.

Families of those who died at Hillsborough watched the court proceedings in Preston and at a live broadcast to the Cunard building in Liverpool.

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