The ‘extraordinarily bad’ mistakes made by Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield ‘contributed substantially’ to the deaths of 95 Liverpool fans who perished in the 1989 disaster, a court heard today.
The retired policeman, 74, made ‘no attempt’ to monitor if the pens holding supporters were overcrowded and failed to act fast enough as the worst football stadium disaster in history unfolded, a jury was told as his trial started today.
Duckenfield is in the dock at Preston Crown Court accused of the manslaughter of 95 of the Liverpool fans who died in the 1989 disaster – but not the 96th victim Tony Bland, 22, because he died four years later.
Prosecution QC Richard Matthews said today: ‘David Duckenfield is guilty of the very serious crime of the manslaughter of each of those who died that day’.
He added that Duckenfield, who was in charge of policing the stadium, made mistake after mistake that ‘led to the pressure of crushing in pens that caused the fatal injuries to all those whose lives were lost’.
Former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell, 69, is also on trial at Preston accused of health and safety offences and was today accused of ‘abdicating responsibility for safety at the ground’.
Mr Matthews added that Mackrell committed a criminal offence when he ‘turned a blind eye’ to Sheffield Wednesday’s ‘duty’ to agree a plan with police for fans to enter turns safely – and without huge crowds – before the tragic FA Cup semi-final.
David Duckenfield, 74, pictured arriving at Preston Crown Court today along with former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell, 69, (right today)
Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield (left) and former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell (right) sketched in the dock yesterday as jury selection began
Family members of the disaster’s victims arrive at Preston Crown Court for the four-month trial
Ninety six men, women and children died following the crush in pens at the Leppings Lane end of the Sheffield Wednesday ground at the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest 29 years ago.
Why is David Duckenfield being prosecuted for 95 deaths and not 96?
David Duckenfield is accused of causing 95 of the 96 deaths of the people at Hillsborough in Sheffield in April 1989.
The law at the time means no one will ever be prosecuted for the death of the 96th victim.
Tony Bland, 22, (pictured) was crushed during the FA Cup Semi Final between his beloved Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
But he survived for four years because of life support.
Because he died more than a year and a day after his injuries were caused the CPS could not charge Duckenfield with his manslaughter.
In a statement, his family said last year: ‘Whilst we are hugely disappointed with the exclusion of Tony from the manslaughter charge against [match commander] David Duckenfield by the CPS, our relief for the families of the other 95 men, women and children outweigh our personal frustrations.
‘We will continue to support the other families on the journey for accountability.’
Mr Bland’s tragic death also formed part of a test case decision that first allowed doctors to decide whether patients should die, which was made by the Law Lords in 1993.
They said the 22-year-old Liverpool football supporter, who suffered severe brain damage in the crush at Hillsborough football stadium, should be allowed to die.
Doctors treating Mr Bland, who was in a persistent vegetative state, had to go to court to seek approval before discontinuing artificial feeding.
The landmark Bland ruling set down that artificial nutrition and hydration by tube are not normal feeding but medical treatment.
Under the law at the time, there can be no prosecution for the death of the 96th victim, Tony Bland, 22, because he died more than a year and a day after his injuries were caused.
Today a jury was sworn in for the four-month trial trial is expected to last until May – with a break in proceedings in mid-April for commemorations to mark the 30th anniversary.
Opening the case, Richard Matthews QC, prosecuting, told them the youngest of the 96 victims of the disaster had been 10-year-old Jon-Paul Gilhooley.
He said 94 of the 96 succumbed to their fatal injuries on April 15, 1989, while 14-year-old Lee Nicol died two days later and Tony Bland suffered ‘terrible brain damage’ and was in a permanent vegetative state until March 1993 when he passed away.
He said: ‘Each of the 96 was a Liverpool FC supporter who had travelled to Sheffield to enjoy the ticket-only FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest; each was an individual who formed part of what was the anticipated 50,000 crowd of spectators, whose attendance, entry and accommodation at the Hillsborough Stadium should have been properly planned for and safely facilitated.’
Mr Matthews said Duckenfield, as match commander, had the ‘ultimate responsibility’ for the police operation as well as ‘personal responsibility’ to take reasonable care for the arrangements put in place, the command of those beneath him, the orders he gave and the decisions he made.
He added: ‘It is the prosecution’s case that 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.’
Mr Matthews told the jury they would hear from some witnesses who had made errors themselves on the day of the disaster and before it.
He added: ‘We, the prosecution, are not calling evidence to prove that David Duckenfield’s failings were the only cause of that crush, only that David Duckenfield’s exceptionally bad failings were a substantial cause.’
Mr Matthews said each of those who died did so as a result of ‘the wholly innocent activity of attending a football match as a spectator’ and as a consequence of the ‘obvious and serious risk to life’ posed by crushing from poor management of the expected capacity crowd.
He added: ‘Each died as a result of the extraordinarily bad failures by David Duckenfield in the care he took to discharge his personal responsibility on that fateful day.’
He 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.
‘Undoubtedly each of the deceased, indeed all those 50,000 who attended, were entitled to have relied upon those who had such responsibility to have discharged it and carried out their jobs with appropriate care and with regard to the safety of all.
‘Undoubtedly, each of the deceased has been failed by many, in many ways and over a protracted period; before, during and even after this disaster.’
he full list of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster (top row left to right) Adam Edward Spearritt, Alan Johnston, Alan McGlone, Andrew Mark Brookes, Anthony Bland, Anthony Peter Kelly, Arthur Horrocks, Barry Glover, Barry Sidney Bennett, Brian Christopher Mathews, Carl William Rimmer, Carl Brown, (second row left to right) Carl Darren Hewitt, Carl David Lewis, Christine Anne Jones, Christopher James Traynor, Christopher Barry Devonside, Christopher Edwards, Colin Wafer, Colin Andrew Hugh William Sefton, Colin Mark Ashcroft, David William Birtle, David George Rimmer, David Hawley, (third row left to right) David John Benson, David Leonard Thomas, David William Mather, Derrick George Godwin, Eric Hankin, Eric George Hughes, Francis Joseph McAllister, Gary Christopher Church, Gary Collins, Gary Harrison, Gary Philip Jones, Gerard Bernard Patrick Baron, (fourth row left to right) Gordon Rodney Horn, Graham John Roberts, Graham John Wright, Henry Charles Rogers
Mr Matthews said Duckenfield’s criminal responsibility for the deaths of the 95 flowed from his gross failure to discharge his responsibility as match commander.
He said on the day of the disaster pressure built up outside turnstiles at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium, where the 24,000 Liverpool fans attending the match were to be directed.
An exit gate – known as gate C – was opened following requests by Duckenfield to do something to alleviate the crush outside the gate.
Once beyond the gate, fans were met by a sign marked ‘standing’ above the tunnel which led to pens three and four of the terrace – which were already packed by the time the gate was opened.
Mr Matthews said: ‘At no time during, prior to or even after the opening of gate C did David Duckenfield do anything to ensure that the capacity of those pens, which were beneath the police control box, were monitored, that the crowd were directed in any way into emptier pens or that, most importantly, access to the tunnel was stopped or even inhibited to prevent the inevitable crush of fans effectively carried away down the slope of the tunnel.’
Mr Matthews said: ‘It is the prosecution’s case that his failure to show reasonable care in his role as match commander prior to 3.05pm was a significant cause of the deaths – his failings substantially led to the pressure of crushing in pens three and four that caused the fatal injuries to all those whose lives were lost.
‘It is the prosecution’s case that his failures in this regard amounted to the gross breach of his duty of care that he owed to each of the deceased.’
He said the prosecution’s case was that Duckenfield was guilty of the ‘very serious crime’ of manslaughter by gross negligence.
Mr Matthews told the jury the second defendant was Mackrell, the Sheffield Wednesday safety officer who was responsible for ensuring the club followed safety guidance in Home Office publication the Green Guide.
He said the club breached the conditions of its safety certificate by failing to agree with police before the semi-final the methods of entry into the stadium.
He said: ‘It is the prosecution case that Mr Mackrell committed a criminal offence by agreeing to, or at the very least turning a blind eye to, or by causing through his neglect of his duty, this breach by the club of this condition.’
Mackrell, who joined the club in 1986, is also charged with failing to take reasonable care of the health and safety of others, in respect of the arrangements for admission to the ground and the drawing-up of contingency plans.
Mr Matthews said: ‘It is the prosecution’s case that Mr Mackrell effectively shrugged off all responsibility for these important aspects of the role he had taken on as safety officer.’
The 12 members of the jury were selected from a pool of 100 potential jurors after candidates were ruled out if they were Liverpool fans, knew any of the Hillsborough dead or the suspects in the dock.
Addressing the jury today judge Sir Peter Openshaw told them: ‘I understand that jury service, particularly in such a case, is a heavy responsibility. Your responsibility can and should be shared among the 12 of you – but not with anyone else’.
Former South Yorkshire Police chief superintendent Duckenfield, 74, is accused of the manslaughter by gross negligence of 95 Liverpool fans at the FA Cup semi-final on April 15 1989.
Mackrell, 69, who was the club’s safety officer, is charged with contravening a term or condition of the stadium’s safety certificate and one health and safety offence.
The men both deny the charges.
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