Socialist Worker

Evidence concludes in the Hillsborough disaster trials

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2646

Remembering the victims of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster

Remembering the victims of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster (Pic: Bryan Ledgard/Flickr)


Evidence has concluded in the trials of David Duckenfield and Graham Mackrell, who face charges relating to the Hillsborough disaster.

Some 96 Liverpool fans died after a crush in pens 3 and 4 in the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough football ground in April 1989.

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

Mackrell was Sheffield Wednesday Football Club safety officer at the time. The court heard on Wednesday that one of two charges against Mackrell has been dropped.

This was an allegation that Mackrell breached safety legislation by failing to agree with police methods of admission to the ground prior to the match. Richard Matthews QC, prosecuting, said there was “insufficient evidence” to proceed with the charge.

Part of the second charge against Mackrell was also dropped. Mackrell remains charged with an offence under the Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974.

This says he “failed to take reasonable care for the health and safety of other persons who may have been affected by his acts or omissions at work”.

The defence did not call Duckenfield or Mackrell to give evidence. The court was read evidence and statements given by others.

Bernard Murray was a superintendent in command of the police control box at the ground on the day of the disaster.

Closed

At 2.17pm it received a message requesting that Leppings Lane be closed to traffic. At 2.30pm Murray thought a large crowd outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles would get into the ground before kick-off.

The court heard that at 2.40pm a request was received for spare mounted officers to be sent to Leppings Lane. Requests were received for the box to use the Tannoy to tell people to stop pushing. At around 2.42pm radio transmissions were breaking up.

By around 2.45pm Murray could see from CCTV that the crowd outside the turnstiles was “compacting” and there seemed to be a crush. A message was received asking to open the gates.

When a further request came, Murray asked Duckenfield what to do. “He replied, ‘Open the gates’,” said Murray.

Hillsborough football stadium

Hillsborough football stadium


 

Murray said he became aware of an issue in the pens behind the goal at 2.58pm. At around 3.01pm Murray said Duckenfield asked superintendent Greenwood to go to the Leppings Lane end and find out what was happening.

At around 3.06pm he recalled messages over the PA system asking people to move back in the central pens.

Murray recalled Duckenfield deciding not to tell fans the game was abandoned as their exit might have hampered emergency services.

He told the Taylor Inquiry into the disaster that he had no concerns about signage at the Leppings Lane end.

Murray’s log of events on the day of the disaster ended at 2.21pm and he believed this is because it became busier after this time.

He believed there was still room in pens 3 and 4 by 2.30pm. He didn’t consider that fans may need to be diverted from the pens. By 2.45pm he said he saw nothing unusual in pens 3 and 4.

Murray said there was no instruction to officers in the concourse about the gate opening and that the control room gave no message to stewards. He did not consider where people would go and didn’t realise fans would go through the tunnel to pens 3 and 4.

Dithered

He didn’t believe Duckenfield had “dithered” when deciding to open the gates.

Murray told the 1988 Popper Inquests that he wasn’t aware of the tactic of closing the tunnel to pens 3 and 4. He accepted that Duckenfield might have had to make decisions based on his advice.

He agreed that he had more experience in considering getting fans into the ground.

Murray said no one had reported anything to suggest a risk to fans’ safety by 2.30pm. He said the crisis situation happened very suddenly and that radio problems were “devastating”.

Murray agreed the closure of Leppings Lane was an unusual request.

His evidence to a case in 2000 said there had been no issue with the “find your own level” tactic of filling the Leppings Lane terrace at the 1988 semi-final.

He said the crowd for the 1989 semi-final was different to any other game he had policed at Hillsborough.

The court was read evidence given previously by former chief superintendent Brian Mole.

Mole didn’t accept that the bottleneck at the turnstiles in 1989 was bound to create trouble. He said there had been no issue in 1988. He agreed Mackrell was “co-operative, professional and reliable”.

Mole told the Popper Inquests that the Hillsborough stadium had been well thought of and he believed it was safe to hold a full capacity.

At the 2000 hearing Mole said he believed SWFC understood its safety duties. He said the way in which the number of people arrived as they did in 1989 was “unique”.

Jason Beer QC, representing Mackrell, read some character evidence. Howard Wilkinson, chair of the League Managers Association, worked with Mackrell from 1983 to 1988 when managing SWFC.

He said Mackrell “worked hard, was self-motivated and brought a professional quality to his work”. Wilkinson found Mackrell “competent, proficient and trustworthy”.

Olaf Dixon, secretary of the Institute of Football Management and Administration, said Mackrell was seen as competent and maintained extremely high standards.

David Richardson, chair of the Professional Football Coaches Association since the 1980s, said Mackrell had a “professional approach”.

Roy Hattersley, a life peer, knew Mackrell during the 13 years he was secretary of SWFC. He said to the best of his knowledge Mackrell carried out his duties with “punctilious efficiency”.

Richard Matthews QC is due to give his closing speech on Thursday, and defence speeches will follow


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