Socialist Worker

Jury goes out to consider its verdicts in Hillsborough trials

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2647

The memorial in Sheffield to the people who died as a result of the Hillsborough disaster

The memorial in Sheffield to the people who died as a result of the Hillsborough disaster (Pic: geograph.org.uk)


The jury is considering its verdicts in the trials of two men charged with offences relating to the Hillsborough football disaster.

Some 96 Liverpool fans died after being crushed in pens 3 and 4 at the Leppings Lane of Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough ­stadium in April 1989.

Former police match commander David Duckenfield denies 95 counts of ­manslaughter by gross negligence. He can’t be charged over the 96th death, that of Tony Bland, as Bland died four years after the disaster.

Graham Mackrell, who was Sheffield Wednesday’s safety officer in 1989, denies one charge of breaching a safety regulation.

Review

Judge Sir Peter Openshaw summed up the case last week. He said the deaths were “a profound human tragedy”. But he said the jury must “decide the case after an objective and ­dispassionate review of the evidence”.

The judge said that the burden falls on the prosecution to prove its case against the defendants.

He said the fact that the trial is taking place 30 years after the disaster can make it harder for defendants to challenge charges. Openshaw said the ­findings of other inquiries are not relevant to the jury’s deliberations.

The judge said decisions over turnstiles and stadium features were fixed in the years before Mackrell arrived at Hillsborough.

He said the Green Guide safety manual was “not very helpful” in defining the role of safety officer. There was “no benchmark against which Mr Mackrell’s performance can be measured”.

The judge said the jury should take into account the fact that the defendants have no convictions or cautions, and both possess good character.

Openshaw said evidence that the tunnel leading to pens 3 and 4 was closed off during the 1988 semi-final at Hillsborough was not challenged in the trial. The judge also said many senior officers seemed unaware of the tactic.

He said evidence suggested that by 2.25pm or 2.30pm serious problems had developed outside the turnstiles. The prosecution say this was foreseeable. The defence say there were a lot of fans without

tickets so there could be higher numbers than expected.

The second opening of Gate C took place at 2.52pm. The judge said someone opened part of the perimeter gates and a further mass of fans went through. The defence argue that Duckenfield could not have foreseen that.

The prosecution say it should have been obvious that fans would go down the tunnel into pens 3 and 4.

Superintendent Murray told the Taylor Inquiry no instruction was given to any officer on the concourse.

Unreasonable

The prosecution say Murray made the same mistakes as Duckenfield, but that this does not mean Duckenfield is not at fault.

The defence say this is unfair and unreasonable.

The judge said evidence that Duckenfield had claimed fans had forced a gate open has no significance to the case.

He said the prosecution do not criticise the decision to open Gate C, but argue that the emergency at the turnstiles was partly of Duckenfield’s making.


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