Families of those who died in the Hillsborough disaster have reacted with disbelief and anger after David Duckenfield was found not guilty of manslaughter.
The news is a terrible kick in the teeth for all those who have fought for justice over the deaths. And it has made some question the legitimacy of the system.
Some 96 Liverpool fans died as a result of the disaster, after a crush built up in two pens at the Hillsborough football ground in April 1989.
Duckenfield was South Yorkshire Police match commander on the day of the disaster. He faced a retrial for 95 counts of gross misconduct manslaughter, which he denied.
A jury found him not guilty on Thursday – prompting fury from relatives and campaigners.
Christine Burke’s father Henry died as a result of the disaster. After the verdict she told the judge that the 2016 inquests into the deaths had ruled that fans had been unlawfully killed. “I want to know who is responsible for the death of my father, because somebody was,” she said.
During the trial the jury heard that Duckenfield had accepted during the 2016 inquests into the deaths that his “professional failings led to the deaths”.
The jury heard that Duckenfield had ordered the gate open to relieve a crush outside the stadium. It also heard he gave no thought to where fans would go once entering the ground, or take any measures to direct them to emptier pens.
When asked during the inquests if his failure to direct fans away from the crowded pens was the “direct cause of the deaths” Duckenfield replied, “Yes.”
Duckenfield’s barrister, Benjamin Myers QC, claimed such admissions had been “wrung out” of Duckenfield after intense questioning. The judge did not tell the jury that many of his admissions of responsibility were made during the first two days of questioning at the inquests.
Duckenfield also accepted that he told a “terrible lie” as the disaster was still unfolding, when he told football officials that fans had forced open a gate.
The judge, Sir Peter Openshaw, had told the jury during his summing up that Duckenfield was at a disadvantage due to the passage of time. He said there was a “very different atmosphere” at matches during the 1980s due to “hooligan elements” in clubs.
“The resulting threat of football violence was such that separating fans and keeping them apart was a vital part of policing at football matches in the 1980s,” he said.
Openshaw had previously referred to Duckenfield as a “poor chap” when he had to attend hospital. He had told the jury not to judge Duckenfield’s apparent lack of emotion as it may be due to post-traumatic stress disorder.
And he instructed the jury to put aside “emotion” when making their decision.
The fact that Duckenfield stood trial at all is a testament to the 30-year fight for justice by relatives, friends and other campaigners.
This struggle led to a quashing of original inquest verdicts of accidental death. They led to an independent panel inquiry.
The jury returned a not guilty verdict by 9-1.
Stephanie Conning’s brother Richard Jones and his partner Tracey Cox were killed as a result of the disaster. Stephanie said, “To reach this stage has been 30 years in the making, and once again the families have been let down by the establishment.”
Stephen Wright’s 17 year old brother Graham died in the crush. Stephen was also at the match. He told Socialist Worker, “I’m just appalled at this decision.
“It’s a disgrace. It’s like the inquests in 2016 never happened.
“The inquests asked a clear question - did fans play any role on the disaster? The answer was no.
“Now it’s gone back to the fake, false narrative of the police. It’s all about fans being drunk and arriving late.”
Stephen said he wasn’t shocked at the decision though. “I knew what was coming,” he said.
“After the inquests, the establishment tried to silence us. We had no say about who the barristers were or anything, it was all done by the CPS. We were basically pushed to one side.”
He added, “The judge wasn’t impartial. At the start of the trial he asked Duckenfield to stand up so the jury would know who he was.
“He said that might be embarrassing for Duckenfield. This is someone who was on trial over the deaths of 95 people.
“But the judge called him a ‘poor chap’. The barristers even tried to get the public gallery screened off so the jury couldn't see us, the relatives.
“That’s how we’ve been treated.”
Stephen said the process has been “a farce”. “The system exists to protect the powerful and the police,” he said.
“The inquests said that the 96 were unlawfully killed. Who killed them?”