Hillsborough deaths: Duckenfield trial starts
Almost 30 years after 96 men, women and children were killed at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough football ground, the police officer who was in command of the match, David Duckenfield, will today stand trial on a criminal charge of causing the deaths by gross negligence manslaughter.
Duckenfield was newly promoted by South Yorkshire police to the rank of chief superintendent when he took charge of safety at the match, which was played on 15 April 1989. He is charged with failing in his duty to take reasonable care for the safety of spectators at the Leppings Lane and North Stand areas of Hillsborough.
The semi-final was attended by 54,000 people, 24,000 of them Liverpool supporters who had been allocated those sides of the ground. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) alleges that Duckenfield’s breach of his duty of care – to prevent people being crushed in pens three and four of the Leppings Lane terrace – amounted to gross negligence and was “a substantial cause” of the deaths.
Graham Mackrell, Sheffield Wednesday club secretary and safety officer at the time, will stand trial alongside Duckenfield on two counts of breaching his duties under safety legislation.
Mackrell is charged with failing to agree with the police the number of turnstiles to be used by Liverpool supporters for admission to the Leppings Lane terrace, an alleged breach of the club’s safety certificate under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, the first-ever prosecution under that legislation. He is also charged with failing to take reasonable care of people’s safety under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, including by failing to draw up contingency plans for coping with a large buildup of spectators outside the ground.
The trial at Preston crown court, which will be presided over by the high court judge Sir Peter Openshaw, is scheduled to last four months. Openshaw is expected to pause the trial in April during the week of the disaster’s anniversary for commemorations and remembrances of those who were killed.
The CPS charged Duckenfield and Mackrell in June 2017, based on a police investigation into the disaster set up after the report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel in September 2012.
Both Duckenfield and Mackrell have pleaded not guilty to the charges in pretrial hearings. The maximum sentence for manslaughter by gross negligence is life in prison. The maximum sentence for the first charge faced by Mackrell is two years in prison; for the second charge he faces the maximum is an unlimited fine.
Duckenfield is charged with a single count of unlawful killing, manslaughter by gross negligence, in relation to 95 of the people who died. No charge could be brought in relation to the death of the 96th victim, Tony Bland. Duckenfield has not been charged in relation to Bland’s death because according to the law in 1989 a criminal charge of manslaughter could not be applied if the victim died longer than a year and a day after the alleged breaches of care occurred.
The first day of the trial is expected to be concerned with selecting a jury . The lead barrister for the CPS, Richard Matthews QC, is expected to open the case against Duckenfield and Mackrell tomorrow or on Wednesday.
Three other men face criminal charges in relation to the disaster in a separate trial scheduled to start in September. Donald Denton, who was a South Yorkshire police chief superintendent at the time, the former police DCI Alan Foster, and Peter Metcalf, then the force’s solicitor, are charged with doing acts following the disaster with intent to pervert the course of justice. They deny the charges.
▲ David Duckenfield has pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter charge