Former police match commander David Duckenfield held “ultimate responsibility” on the day of the Hillsborough football disaster, a court has heard.
Richard Matthews QC concluded the case for the prosecution on Friday. He said the defence had argued that it was unfair to “single out” Duckenfield for blame.
“Others may have failed,” said Matthews. “Others may have made mistakes. No one else thought themselves the match commander.”
Some 96 Liverpool fans died after a crush in pens 3 and 4 at the Leppings Lane end of the Hillsborough football stadium in April 1989. Duckenfield is charged with 95 counts of manslaughter by gross negligence.
He can’t be charged over the 96th death, of Tony Bland, as Bland died four years after the disaster. Former Sheffield Wednesday club safety officer Graham Mackrell faces one charge of a breach of safety regulations. Both deny the charges.
Matthews said possible dangers to fans were foreseeable and could have been better prepared for.
Duckenfield had agreed at the Warrington inquests that he should have thought more about monitoring fans as they entered the pens. He wasn’t sure he was aware of the turnstile counting system and agreed he should have been.
Matthews said Duckenfield’s job involved making decisions and taking action “in difficult circumstances”.
As a crowd built up outside the stadium, Duckenfield didn’t ask how many fans still had to get through the A-G turnstiles. He told the inquests that had he known, he would have taken action.
Matthews pointed to instances where officers used radios to contact the police control box.
“From at least 2.43pm it was being recognised out loud that there was crushing outside the gates at Leppings Lane,” he said.
Matthews said some of those who died may not have done had Duckenfield taken action earlier.
In his evidence to the Warrington inquests, Duckenfield said he gave no thought to where fans would go when he opened the gate. Matthews said this was “because he had not got the knowledge of where the concourse led to”.
The jury is asked whether Mackrell was responsible for turnstile arrangements at Hillsborough. Matthews referred to a letter from Mackrell to Sheffield City Council in October 1987 which read, “I am responsible for all matters of safety within the ground.”
The jury is also asked if it was reasonable to foresee that the number of turnstiles at Leppings Lane presented a risk of overcrowding. It must consider whether Mackrell put fans at risk by failing to take reasonable care in his work.
Matthews referred to a police and club meeting suggesting fans’ tendency to arrive just before a match was due to start. He said Leppings Lane was an obvious bottleneck.
Benjamin Myers QC, representing Duckenfield, said the prosecution case is “breathtakingly unfair”.
He said Duckenfield had no responsibility for a number of relevant factors including a stadium that was “potentially lethal”.
Myers pointed to evidence heard during the trial that crushing had taken place at Hillsborough before the disaster. He said fans arrived later and in greater numbers on the day of the disaster than would be expected and that radios failed “dramatically”.
He questioned whether it was Duckenfield’s fault that officers didn’t set up filter cordons on the approach to the turnstiles. He said Duckenfield is judged by different standards to others and is being criticised because of a “deeply unfair” use of hindsight.
Myers said several officers had given evidence saying they were unaware of the practice of closing off the tunnel. He said hooliganism was “a huge problem” in the 1970s and 1980s and affected how police approached matches.
Myers said no officer raised concern about the crowd in pens 3 and 4 before the disaster. And he suggested that the gate may not have been opened because of Duckenfield’s order.
Myers said the defence question the “expertise” and “independence” of policing witness Douglas Hopkins. The trial continues.
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