The jury in the Hillsborough inquests will have to “resolve the conflict” of evidence given about fans’ behaviour, coroner Sir John Goldring has said.
Inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans who died as a result of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster began in March 2014. The coroner is continuing to sum up the case.
He told the jury on Monday that they should consider conflicting evidence regarding fans’ behaviour. A number of officers were “critical” of the behaviour of fans at the Leppings Lane end of the ground.
Yet many fans “gave evidence to a very different effect”.
The coroner said, “No one suggests there was anything wrong in waiting outside the entrance turnstiles to go in and watch a football match.
“No one suggests there was anything wrong with having a drink before going to a football match. No one suggests there was anything wrong with the fans going through gate C when it was opened at 2.52pm.”
Sir John Goldring also said the jury should look at whether the evidence shows “failures by police which contributed to the crush on the terrace”.
They should consider whether commanding officers made mistakes that contributed to a dangerous situation, and whether officers could have done things differently.
The coroner also said the jury should look at how officers’ statements were made and amended. Lawyers representing families had suggested that “coordinated efforts were being made to manipulate the evidence and present a false narrative of the disaster”.
South Yorkshire Police involved in gathering and amending statement had denied they had “done anything improper”.
He said the jury would have to consider each officer’s statement and changes made. This “may also affect your view of the credibility and reliability of the officer”.
Jury told to consider whether 96 fans were unlawfully killed
The jury will decide whether the 96 fans were unlawfully killed. The coroner said that the jury cannot name the person or people they see as responsible if they reach this decision.
But he said, “In order to answer ‘yes’ to that question, you would have to be sure that David Duckenfield, the match commander, was responsible for the manslaughter by gross negligence of those 96 people.”
He said the jury should also consider whether Duckenfield deliberately lied when he said that fans had forced a gate open. If the jury felt he deliberately lied “because he knew that as a result of his order to open the gates he was responsible for the crushing in the pens and the disaster which was unfolding and he was subsequently trying to blame the fans then the lie becomes relevant”.
The jury should also look at whether errors or omissions in police planning for the match caused or contributed to the crush.
The coroner reminded the jury that two conditions of Hillsborough’s safety certificate were breached on the day of the disaster. He said structural engineering expert John Cutlack had said the calculation of capacities in the central pens was inaccurate.
Sir John Goldring also said Cutlack had calculated that 14,264 fans entered the ground for the west stand, west terrace or north west terrace on the day of the disaster. This was 300 lower than the number of fans who bought tickets for the area.
The coroner said the jury should consider this as it was “suggested that there probably were not many people without tickets at that end of the ground”.
The jury should consider why some changes were made to the stadium but not others. For instance, a proposal to create designated entrances for each pen, so that numbers could be monitored, did not go ahead.
A plan to increase the number of turnstiles was also dropped.
Sir John Goldring told the jury, “You should not make critical findings unless they are justified by the facts. However you should not shrink from making such judgements if they are.”