Socialist Worker

Hillsborough trial hears evidence given to inquests by Duckenfield and Mackrell

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2645

A tribute to the 96 Liverpool fans (Pic: Flickr/Edmund Gall)


The prosecution has finished outlining its case in the trial of David Duckenfield and Graham Mackrell. The men are on trial in relation to the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster.

Some 96 Liverpool fans died after being crushed in pens 3 and 4 at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium.

Duckenfield was police match commander on the day. He faces 95 charges of manslaughter by gross negligence. Duckenfield can’t be charged over the death of the 96th victim, Tony Bland, as Bland died four years after the disaster.

Mackrell was Sheffield Wednesday club safety officer at the time of the disaster. He faces two charges relating to safety breaches. Both deny the charges.

The court was last week read a statement given by Mackrell to the police Operation Resolve investigation into the disaster.

In it Mackrell said he took “reasonable care” in his role during the disaster and that he has “sorrow and regret” over what happened. He said at no point before the disaster did anyone suggest any dangers.

It said the Officer Working Party viewed Hillsborough as safe and compliant with the ground’s safety certificate. He said engineers Eastwood and Partners, the council and police were all content with the layout of the stadium.

The ground’s safety certificate had been prepared before Mackrell arrived at Hillsborough. He said he would have expected the council to raise any issues with him.

He understood the Green Guide was a voluntary code. He was not aware that the stadium or its layout contravened the spirit of the guide.

Duckenfield was also interviewed by Operation Resolve and his statement was read to the court. It said he “tried to do my professional best” in relation to Hillsborough.

The statement said it is difficult for Duckenfield to differentiate between what he knew at the time and what he has learned since. It said he turned to drinking as a form of self-medication and that this had a serious impact on his memory.

Duckenfield said, “I’m not guilty of criminal offences.”

Douglas Hopkins, former crowd control adviser to the Football Association, gave evidence to the trial this week. He agreed that Hillsborough compared “favourably” to other stadia in April 1989.

The court heard that not all clubs had safety officers at the time of the disaster, and that stewards were poorly paid. Hopkins agreed they did not have the responsibility for crowd safety and control that they may have now.

The Green Guide identified stewards’ role as including controlling and directing members of the public and helping to achieve an even flow of people and dispersal of fans on terraces. Hopkins agreed the role of stewards changed fundamentally after the disaster.

The court heard evidence given to the inquests into the deaths of the victims of the disaster. The inquests heard that Duckenfield had been involved in policing at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane ground and at Hillsborough for a season. This included policing an FA Cup semi-final.

He also had “considerable experience of public order policing”.

Hopkins said Duckenfield had “a fair amount of experience and I wouldn’t have hesitated to appoint him as match commander”.

He said, “My big concern at the time was did he have a safe enough pair of hands to command a semi-final. I felt it should have been [previous match commander] Mr Mole with him shadowing.”

Hopkins said the cause of the large build-up of fans outside the turnstiles was due to too few turnstiles. He said contributory factors include police failure to set up cordons.

Hopkins agreed that his view of Duckenfield was affected by hearing Duckenfield’s evidence to the inquests. He agreed that he is more critical of him now.

Hopkins said that during the inquests “it became quite apparent that he had not prepared himself properly”.

Operational 

He agreed that those responsible for the operational plans Duckenfield inherited could face some blame. He maintained that a competent match commander would have made a more thorough investigation of the Leppings Lane area before the match.

Benjamin Myers QC, representing Duckenfield, suggested that crowd behaviour was a “significant problem” at the time of the disaster. Hopkins agreed that police might have seen fans climbing over turnstiles as ticketless fans trying to get in.

But he said he believed most people would think it showed people trying to get out of a crush. He said this is based on what could be seen of the size of the crowd at the time, not hindsight.

Hopkins agreed that superintendent Marshall, as sector commander for Liverpool fans, would be responsible for considering whether to deploy cordons at the Leppings Lane end.

He agreed Marshall would be expected to respond to what was happening but could expect support from the police control room.

Myers suggests that the evidence in the trial is there was no build up outside Leppings Lane until around 2.30pm. Hopkins said this is when the crowd became “compressed”.

He said Duckenfield was asking about kick off delay at 2.30pm so was obviously concerned.

Hopkins said footage outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles at 2.30pm would have caused him concern. He accepted officers on the ground didn’t send a message raising concern at that point.

Hopkins said measures taken from 2.40pm were “too late” and that officers were not given any tactics. He said Duckenfield took too long to open gate C to relieve the crush outside the turnstiles and should have been able to see there was a “terrible problem”.

Hopkins agreed there is no reference to closing the tunnel to pens 3 and 4 in any briefing material. He said Duckenfield should still have realised the pens were full and closed the tunnel.

The court was read evidence from former assistant chief constable Stuart Anderson. He was in charge of HR at South Yorkshire Police in 1989.

Anderson said that when Duckenfield was promoted to be chief superintendent of the division that included Hillsborough he was seen as the “ideal candidate.  And he was seen as “competent for all facets of the role”.

The trial is set to continue on Monday.


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