Socialist Worker

The first guilty verdict in 30 years isn’t the end of the Hillsborough justice fight

It took a 30-year struggle against the establishment to get the first criminal conviction. With more trials set for this year, the fight is far from over, writes Sadie Robinson

Issue No. 2649

A tribute to the victims of the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster

A tribute to the victims of the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster (Pic: Bryan Ledgard/Flickr)

Relatives of people who died as a result of the Hillsborough disaster have vowed to keep fighting following a trial ­verdict last week.

Some 96 Liverpool fans died after being crushed at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough football stadium during an FA cup semi-final in April 1989.

Graham Mackrell, the Sheffield Wednesday safety officer at the time, was last week found guilty of a health and safety offence in relation to the disaster.

Stephen Wright’s brother Graham died as a result of the crush. Stephen told Socialist Worker, “There was an audible ‘yes’ in the courtroom when people heard that Mackrell had been found guilty.

“He is the only person to have been convicted of anything in relation to Hillsborough and it’s taken nearly 30 years.”

Stephen said that the fight for “truth and justice” for the victims will continue. “We’ll never give in,” he said. “The fight goes on.” David Duckenfield was police match ­commander on the day of the disaster.

He had been charged with 95 counts of manslaughter by gross negligence. Duckenfield couldn’t be charged over the 96th death, that of Tony Bland, because he died four years after the crush.

Duckenfield could face a retrial after the jury failed to reach a verdict on the charges.

Fans were crushed in pens 3 and 4 at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium. Several told the court they were unable to move or help others. Many witnesses described “chaos” in the immediate aftermath of the crush.


The trial heard that police failed to stop a build-up of fans outside the turnstiles. The judge, Sir Peter Openshaw, said that “serious problems” had “certainly developed by 2.25pm” on the day.

At 2.52pm, Duckenfield ordered a gate to be opened to relieve the ­pressure outside the turnstiles.

The court heard that most fans who entered went down a tunnel into pens 3 and 4. It heard evidence that police had blocked the tunnel at previous matches. The prosecution argued that Duckenfield gave no thought as to where fans would go and failed to block the tunnel.

It said he didn’t have an adequate grasp of the ground’s geography and failed to give orders to officers about how to safely manage fans.

Duckenfield’s defence said officers at the turnstiles failed to communicate the scale of the problem to Duckenfield, and failed to take initiatives to keep fans safe.

It said there were serious radio problems and that Duckenfield shouldn’t have been put in charge of commanding the match because of his inexperience.

Benjamin Myers, representing Duckenfield, said the many factors lie behind the disaster including “some aspects of crowd behaviour”.

The prosecution said it was not suggesting that fans attending the 1989 semi-final were “hooligans”.

Mackrell didn’t ‘take reasonable care’ of fans’ safety

Graham Mackrell is the first person to be convicted of a criminal offence in relation to Hillsborough.

A jury last week found him guilty of an offence under the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act.

Mackrell “failed to take reasonable care” for fans’ health and safety by failing to ensure there were enough turnstiles to stop “unduly large crowds” developing.

The offence is punishable by fine and Mackrell is set to be sentenced on 13 May.

The court heard that 10,100 Liverpool fans with standing tickets had to enter through seven turnstiles. By 2.30pm over 5,700 fans still had to enter through the turnstiles and a crowd had built up outside them.

Mackrell was initially charged with another offence—of failing to agree with police methods of admission to the ground prior to the match. The prosecution dropped this charge due to “insufficient evidence”.

Mackrell became Sheffield Wednesday secretary in December 1986.

The disaster didn’t hinder his career.

He stayed at Sheffield Wednesday until 1999, when he left to become chief executive of West Ham United.

Mackrell is currently Football Administrator for the League Managers’ Association (LMA), the trade union for a number of managers in English football.

The LMA hadn’t commented on his position as Socialist Worker went to press.

The state blocked campaign for justice

The recent trials came about because campaigners spent decades fighting for justice—in the teeth of opposition and lies from the Tories, The Sun newspaper and others.

Inquests in 1991 delivered rulings of accidental death.

In 1996 Margaret Thatcher’s former press secretary Sir Bernard Ingham said people should “shut up about Hillsborough”.

In December 2012, the original inquest verdicts were quashed.

Fresh inquests ruled in April 2016 that fans had been unlawfully killed.

Former SYP chief superintendent Donald Denton, former South Yorkshire Police (SYP) detective chief inspector Alan Foster and former SYP solicitor Peter Metcalf are due to stand trial later this year.

They are charged with perverting the course of justice.

The long fight for justice has taken its toll on many families.

Sheila Coleman from the Hillsborough Justice Campaign told Socialist Worker, “You cannot help but reflect on the wisdom of maintaining a campaign over so many years.

“There remains a camaraderie and a collective spirit to fight on among many of the bereaved and survivors. I marvel at their resilience. Their fundamental humanity gives me hope for a better world.”

Sheila Coleman will speak at Marxism 2019. Go to

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Tue 9 Apr 2019, 12:22 BST
Issue No. 2649
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