Hillsborough police chief could face retrial after jury fails to reach verdict

03/04/2019

Jurors at Preston Crown Court found former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell guilty of a health and safety offence.


Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield could face a retrial over the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans after a jury failed to reach a verdict.

Jurors at Preston Crown Court found former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell guilty of failing to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act by a majority of 10 to two on Wednesday, but failed to reach a verdict on Duckenfield after 29 hours and six minutes of deliberations.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will seek a retrial for the retired chief superintendent, 74, but his lawyers will oppose it on the grounds of abuse of process at a hearing due to be held in the week starting June 24.

Hillsborough Family Support Group chairwoman Margaret Aspinall said the families of the 96 fans killed at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final had no closure.

Mrs Aspinall, whose son James was 18 when he died in the crush on the Leppings Lane terrace, said: “We were all hoping we would have some sort of closure today and we haven’t. We have still got a long journey.”

She thanked the jury and those who supported the families and called on people not to post comments on social media which may prejudice a potential retrial.

Steve Rotheram, Mayor of Liverpool City Region, and Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “There are many things we would like to say but can’t due to the fact that this is an ongoing process.

“But we can at least say that today, at long last, someone has been held to account for what happened – a vindication of the long fought battle by families and campaigners for truth and justice.”

Sue Hemming, legal director of the CPS, said: “This trial, which relates to events from almost 30 years ago, has been incredibly complex and, after lengthy deliberations, the jury has found Graham Mackrell guilty but has been unable to reach a verdict in respect of David Duckenfield.

We have discussed the matter carefully with counsel and I can confirm the CPS will seek a retrial against Mr Duckenfield for manslaughter by gross negligence of 95 men, women and children.”

Conservative former minister Sir Christopher Chope, who represents Christchurch, questioned in the House of Commons whether it was “reasonable” for Duckenfield, who is one of his constituents, to face another trial.

Around 60 family members and supporters who gathered to watch proceedings via videolink at the Cunard Building in Liverpool gasped as the court heard the jury had not been able to reach a verdict on Duckenfield.

The prosecution in the case, which lasted more than 11 weeks, alleged Duckenfield had the “ultimate responsibility” at the ground for the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on April 15 1989.

Under the law at the time he was not charged over the death of the 96th victim Tony Bland, as he died more than a year and a day after the disaster.

The court heard Duckenfield ordered the opening of exit gates at the Leppings Lane end of the ground at 2.52pm, eight minutes before kick off, after the area outside the turnstiles became dangerously overcrowded.

More than 2,000 fans entered through exit gate C once it was opened and many headed for the tunnel ahead of them, which led to the central pens where the crush happened.

Richard Matthews QC, prosecuting, told the court in his closing speech that Duckenfield, who was promoted to the role less than three weeks before the match, should have had the knowledge to make “key lifesaving decisions” on the day.

Duckenfield did not give evidence during the trial but Benjamin Myers QC, defending him, told the jury the case was “breathtakingly unfair” and said Duckenfield had “tried to do the right thing”.

Mackrell, 69, who was safety officer for the club at the time, was accused of failing to take reasonable care particularly in respect of ensuring there were enough turnstiles to prevent unduly large crowds building up.

The court heard there were seven turnstiles for the 10,100 Liverpool fans with standing tickets.

Mackrell did not give evidence but Jason Beer QC, defending him, argued the build up outside was caused by other factors, including a lack of police cordons and the unusual arrival pattern of fans.

He is due to be sentenced on May 13 and faces a maximum sentence of an unlimited fine.

 

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