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Court holds police chief responsible for Hillsborough tragedy


Photo: AFP

The “extraordinarily bad” failings of former police chief David Duckenfield caused the deaths of 96 Liverpool football fans, a court heard on Tuesday as his trial began, nearly 30 years on from the Hillsborough stadium disaster.

Duckenfield, 74, the match day police commander at the April 15, 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, failed to declare a major incident quickly, or enact emergency measures to free trapped supporters as the disaster unfolded, Preston Crown Court in northwest England was told.

“David Duckenfield’s failures to discharge this personal responsibility were extraordinarily bad and contributed substantially to the deaths of each of those 96 people who so tragically and unnecessarily lost their lives,” said prosecutor Richard Matthews, as he opened the evidence against the retired chief superintendent.

Duckenfield denies the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 of the Liverpool supporters.

There is no manslaughter charge over the death of the 96th casualty, Anthony Bland, as he died almost four years later, and under the law in 1989 his death is now “out of time” to be prosecuted.

The fans died as a result of the crush in the terrace pens inside Sheffield Wednesday’s ground in the northern English city.

Related: Police chief of Hillsborough football stadium to face trial

Exit gate C was opened to ease a crush developing outside the ground, following requests for Duckenfield to act before people were crushed or injured outside.

Once inside, signs directed fans to a tunnel leading to pens three and four on the Leppings Lane terrace, which were already packed, the court heard.

“In a crush, the pressure is coming from that direction and the only way out is back against the pressure of that crush,” said Matthews.

‘Appalling’ loss of life

Matthews said there may have been “an extraordinary series of collective and personal failures” in planning and managing the match.

However, Duckenfield had the “ultimate responsibility”, he said.

Each of the victims “died as a result of the extraordinarily bad failures by David Duckenfield in the care he took to discharge his personal responsibility”, Matthews said.

“Much about the Hillsborough disaster was extraordinary, not least the appalling scale of the loss of life, the scale of tragedy and the scale of those who failed to discharge their responsibilities with appropriate care.”

He said the prosecution was not attempting to prove that Duckenfield’s failings were the only cause of the fatal crush, only that they were “a substantial cause”.

Duckenfield is being tried along with former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell, 69, who denies contravening the stadium’s safety certificate and a health and safety offence.

Before the trial began, judge Peter Openshaw told jurors they would hear there had been previous inquests, inquiries and another trial into the disaster. They were instructed to disregard any previous commentary or findings.

The names of 95 men, women and children who died were read out by the clerk.

The trial continues Wednesday.