Hillsborough jury fails to reach verdict in Duckenfield case | UK news
The jury hearing the prosecution for gross negligence manslaughter of the former South Yorkshire police chief superintendent David Duckenfield has failed to reach a verdict, almost exactly 30 years after he commanded the 15 April 1989 FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, at which 96 people died.
The jury delivered a guilty verdict by a majority of 10-2 on a charge against Graham Mackrell, the Sheffield Wednesday secretary and safety officer for the club’s Hillsborough ground at the time of the disaster.
Mackrell was charged with breaching the legal duty under the 1974 Health and Safety Act to take reasonable care at work for people’s safety. The charge alleged that by allocating only seven turnstiles for all 10,100 people with tickets to support Liverpool from the standing, Leppings Lane, terrace, he failed to take reasonable care to ensure the turnstiles were sufficient to prevent “unduly large crowds” waiting for admission.
The jury of six men and six women took eight days considering their verdicts at Preston crown court, after being sent out at 10.51am on Monday 25 March, following prosecutions that began on 14 January.
The lead barrister for the Crown Prosecution Service, Richard Matthews QC, told the judge, Sir Peter Openshaw, that the CPS would seek a retrial of Duckenfield on the same charge of gross negligence manslaughter. Duckenfield’s barrister, Benjamin Myers QC, told Openshaw he would apply for the trial to be “stayed” – blocked – following the failure of the jury to reach a verdict in this trial.
If a fresh trial of Duckenfield does go ahead, Openshaw said it was likely to be held again at Preston crown court in September, replacing the scheduled trial of three other defendants charged with perverting the course of justice following the Hillsborough disaster.
Sue Hemming, the CPS legal director, said in a statement: “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.
“I recognise that these developments will be difficult for the families affected by the Hillsborough disaster. We have remained in regular contact with them throughout these proceedings, and spoke with those present in Preston and Liverpool before informing the court of our decision. We will meet with them shortly to answer any questions they have about the process.”
Duckenfield and Mackrell were charged in June 2017 after a fresh police investigation into the disaster, Operation Resolve, which followed the Hillsborough independent panel report in September 2012.
The jury in the trial heard that the lethal crush developed in the central “pens” 3 and 4 of the Leppings Lane terrace, after a buildup of people waiting to be admitted. Due to the selected method of keeping the two clubs’ supporters separate, only 23 turnstiles at the Leppings Lane end were used for all 24,000 people with Liverpool tickets, including the seven for the 10,100 people with standing tickets.
Duckenfield was newly promoted to chief superintendent and match commander just 19 days before the semi-final, having never been in charge of a match at Hillsborough before, the court heard.
At the semi final, a severe backlog built up, “certainly from 2:25pm”, Openshaw said in his summing up, of people unable to get through the turnstiles for the match, which was due to start at 3pm.
At 2:52pm Supt Roger Marshall, on duty at the turnstiles, requested large exit gates to be opened to allow people respite from the crush, warning that otherwise, somebody would die. Duckenfield then gave the order.
Exit gate C opened on to a concourse with a tunnel ahead, leading to the central pens. Most of those who came through gate C, including 30 of the people who were killed, went down the tunnel. The prosecution alleged that Duckenfield failed in his duty of care so badly as to amount to gross negligence manslaughter.
Myers argued in Duckenfield’s defence that some Liverpool supporters arriving late and without tickets had created unforeseeable problems at the turnstiles, and that other South Yorkshire police officers had failed to manage the developing situation.
Duckenfield was charged in relation to 95 of the people who died because the 96th victim, Tony Bland, died in 1993 after life support was lawfully withdrawn. According to the law in 1989, a criminal charge relating to a death could not be brought if the victim died longer than a year and a day after the acts that allegedly caused it.
Family members of many of the 96 people killed watched the trial from the Preston courtroom’s public seats, and at a live broadcast in Liverpool. Speaking in Liverpool, Margaret Aspinall, the chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, whose 18-year-old son James was killed, said: “We’ve got the 30th anniversary coming up; we were hoping we would have some sort of closure today, and yet again we haven’t got it.”
Aspinall thanked the 12 members of the jury for hearing the evidence, and expressed gratitude to supporters of the families, which she said “keeps us strong”.
She urged supporters not to make any public comments that might prejudice a future retrial of Duckenfield, saying: “Nobody please do anything, especially on social media, that could prejudice that. That is so important.”