Football official is first found guilty over Hillsborough
A FORMER football club official yesterday became the first person to be convicted over the Hillsborough tragedy.
Graham Mackrell, 69, was found guilty of a health and safety offence over the match on April 15, 1989, and now faces an unlimited fine.
However, jurors failed to reach a verdict on whether the police commander at the FA Cup semi-final, David Duckenfield, was responsible for the deaths of 95 football fans.
The 74-year-old could now face a retrial for manslaughter by gross negligence – but his lawyers hope to have the case thrown out.
Mackrell, the former secretary of Sheffield Wednesday, was convicted under the Health and Safety at Work Act in relation to the fact that 10,000 fans had to file through just seven turnstiles at the club’s ground.
Mackrell did not give evidence, but Jason Beer QC, defending, argued the build-up of crowds was caused by other factors, including a lack of police cordons and the unusual arrival pattern of fans.
Meanwhile Richard Matthews QC, prosecuting, had told the trial that Duckenfield’s ‘extraordinarily bad failures’ made him ‘ personally responsible’ for the deaths. For legal reasons he could not be prosecuted over a 96th victim – Tony Bland – who was left in a vegetative state and died four years later.
Instead of delaying kick-off, Preston Crown Court heard, Duckenfield agreed to open an exterior gate to relieve pressure from supporters outside the ground.
But Mr Matthews claimed he gave no thought to the consequences, and thousands were funnelled into two ‘already packed’ pens, causing a deadly crush.
Duckenfield’s defence counsel, Ben Myers QC, told the trial that it would be unfair to single him out for all the blame.
Both defendants remained stonyfaced as the jury foreman said they could not reach a verdict on Duckenfield. However, they found Mackrell guilty by a majority.
Following the hearing, Margaret Aspinall, chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, said: ‘We were all hoping we would have some closure today and we haven’t. We have still got a long journey.’
Mackrell, of Stocking Pelham, Hertfordshire, will be sentenced next month. Lawyers for Duckenfield, of Ferndown, Dorset, will argue that he should not face a retrial at a hearing in June.
‘Hoping we would have closure’