Socialist Worker

Hillsborough - trials of David Duckenfield and Graham Mackrell begin in Preston

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2638

Flowers to commemorate those who died as a result of the Hillsborough disaster

Flowers to commemorate those who died as a result of the Hillsborough disaster (Pic: Edmund Gall/Flickr)

A jury has been sworn in to hear the trial of David Duckenfield and Graham Mackrell, who face charges relating to the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.

Some 96 Liverpool football fans died after a crush developed in pens 3 and 4 at the Leppings Lane end of Sheffield Wednesday’s stadium.

Duckenfield was South Yorkshire Police match commander on the day. He faces a charge that he unlawfully killed by gross negligence 95 people after breaching his duty of care to fans’ safety.

Under the law at the time there can be no prosecution for the death of the 96th victim, Tony Bland. This is because he died more than a year and a day after his injuries were caused.

The charge read to court said Duckenfield failed to take reasonable care to identify potential hazards in fans safely entering the stadium. It said he failed to sufficiently monitor and assess fans in the Leppings Lane area and in pens 3 and 4, and failed in good time to take action to relieve crowding.

Mackrell was secretary of Sheffield Wednesday football club and safety officer for the stadium at the time of the disaster. He faces two charges.

The first is that he contravened a term or condition of the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975.

Sheffield Wednesday Plc is said to have failed to agree with police the methods of admission to the ground before the match. The charge says that this offence was attributable to neglect on the part of Mackrell.

The second charge is that Mackrell failed to take reasonable care for the health and safety of others who may have been affected by his acts or omissions at work.

This charge is in respect of arrangements for admission to the stadium, particularly in respect of turnstiles and contingency plans.

Both men deny the charges.


Richard Matthews QC opened the case for the prosecution on Tuesday.

He told the court that Duckenfield had the “ultimate responsibility” to ensure fans’ safety and also “personal responsibility” to take reasonable care in the command of others.

The court heard that Duckenfield failed to properly consider the planning, preparation, roles, responsibilities and command of those who had to cope with the arrival of many thousands of people.

Gate C, an exit gate, was opened after requests were made to Duckenfield to do something to alleviate a crush outside the gates.

Fans entering by Gate C saw a prominent sign marked “Standing” above the entrance to a tunnel leading to pens 3 and 4. All 10,100 tickets for the Leppings Lane terraces were marked “standing”.

When Gate C was opened, pens 3 and 4 were already packed.

Matthews said, “At no time during, prior or even after the opening of Gate C did David Duckenfield do anything to ensure that the capacity of those pens were monitored; that the crowd were directed into emptier pens or that, most importantly, access to the tunnel was stopped or even inhibited to prevent the inevitable crush of fans.”

He argued that Duckenfield’s failure to show reasonable care prior to 3.05pm on the day of the disaster “was a significant cause of the deaths”.

“His failings substantially led to the pressure of crushing that caused the fatal injuries to all those whose lives were lost.”

The court heard that Mackrell was responsible for managing how the club followed safety guidance.


Matthews said that one condition required the club to agree with police prior to the match “the methods of entry into the stadium” but that it failed to do so.

“It is the prosecution case that Mr Mackrell committed a criminal offence by agreeing to, or at the very least, turning a ‘blind eye’, or by causing through neglect of his duty, this breach by the club of this condition,” said Matthews.

Matthews said the second charge against Mackrell concerned arrangements for admission to the stadium and in drawing up contingency plans where available entrances proved insufficient.

Matthews explained how the jury should reach its decision on the charges. “The charge of manslaughter against David Duckenfield of those 95 named people requires the prosecution to prove to you that David Duckenfield’s gross negligence caused their deaths,” he said.

“There is no issue between the prosecution and David Duckenfield about how the 95 people lost their lives. Each of those who lost their lives died as a result of crushing in pens 3 and 4 from the pressure of the number of people entering those pens.

“What the prosecution have to prove is that David Duckenfield’s extraordinarily bad failings to do his job on that day made a significant contribution to causing that fatal crushing.

“That does not mean either that no one else or no other factor or circumstance, including those outside his control, played a part in causing the crushing to occur.”

The trial, which could last up to four months, continues.

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