The “extraordinarily bad” failings of Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield “contributed substantially” to the deaths of 96 football fans, a court has heard.
Duckenfield’s retrial got underway at Preston Crown Court last week. He denies 95 counts of manslaughter relating to the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster.
Some 96 Liverpool fans died after a crush at the Sheffield stadium. Duckenfield cannot be tried over the death of the 96th, Tony Bland, as he died more than a year and a day after his injuries were sustained.
Richard Matthews, prosecuting, told the court on Thursday that Duckenfield was a chief superintendent or “very senior” officer with South Yorkshire Police at the time of the disaster. Matthews said Duckenfield had “ultimate responsibility” for the police operation to secure fans’ safety.
He said Duckenfield’s failings “contributed substantially” to the deaths of the 96 fans.
The court heard that a jury in a previous trial in January had been unable to return any verdict.
Matthews said Duckenfield’s failings were “so reprehensible and unforgiveable” that they amount to “a gross failure”.
Some 24,000 Liverpool fans were directed to the Leppings Lane end of the Hillsborough football ground on the day of the disaster, 15 April 1989.
The court heard that limited turnstiles meant a bottleneck of fans built up outside the ground. Duckenfield agreed to requests to open a gate to the stadium to relieve crushing outside.
Fans entering the ground saw a tunnel marked “standing” that led to central pens 3 and 4, where the fatal crushing occurred.
Matthews said fans were “naturally drawn” down the tunnel and into the pens. “David Duckenfield gave no thought to the inevitable consequences of the flood of people through Gate C, nor did he make any attempt to even monitor what was occurring, let alone avert the tragedy,” he told the court.
Benjamin Myers QC opened the defence for Duckenfield at Preston Crown Court on Monday. He said the case against Duckenfield, whose retrial began last week, is “unfair” because many other factors played a role in the disaster.
Myers said these included poor stadium design, bad planning and crowd behaviour.
Myers said that Duckenfield has become “the focus of blame” for the disaster.
Myers told the court, “Whilst heartfelt sympathy for those who suffered is natural, it must never be a reason to convict someone for events beyond his control or responsibility.”
The jury heard that the youngest victim of the disaster was just ten years old, and the eldest 67.
The trial continues.