Hills­bor­ough deaths: Duck­en­field trial starts

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - David Conn

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

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