The jury who will decide whether Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield is guilty of the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans were told he is being singled out unfairly when many different people and factors played a part in the tragedy.
In his opening speech, defence barrister Benjamin Myers QC told Preston Crown Court that nothing he would say on behalf of Duckenfield would be said or asked out of any lack of sympathy for those who had suffered, and nor did they in any way seek to insult Liverpool Football Club, its supporters or the city.
He accepted Duckenfield had a duty of care to those attending the 1989 FA Cup semi-final where the disaster happened, but said it was wrong to hold him responsible for events and decisions outside his area of responsibility.
He said: “It seems Mr Duckenfield is held responsible ultimately for just about everything that went wrong that day. The prosecution may say that but now they must prove it.
“You will have to decide whether the prosecution are right to hold David Duckenfield responsible for all the shortcomings there that they are blaming him for now.”
The QC also told the jury they would have to consider if it was reasonable and foreseeable to a competent match commander that by failing to take reasonable care there was a serious and obvious risk of death.
He said: “Should he have seen how what he was doing, or not doing, created a risk of death from crushing?
“The prosecution say the risk of death from crushing was so obvious that he should have done.
“That depends upon what happened doesn’t it, and how it happened and what he knew in advance and what it is fair to expect him to have known.
“You will have to decide what David Duckenfield could have foreseen or should have foreseen.
“It’s crucial to remember this. By foresight, that means realising what might happen before it happens - not everybody being clever about it after the event.”
He also warned the jury about the dangers of hindsight and the unfairness it can cause, and how the world of football in 1989 was very different from today with its terraces, fences and police horses.
He said: “Let’s not try to rewrite history. Some of the crowd behaviour would horrify people at football matches today and some of the policing designed to contain it you would not hope to encounter at a football match today.”
However, he added there was no suggestion that crowd behaviour at Hillsborough was at that level on the day of the tragedy.
The QC pointed out Duckenfield was appointed as match commander less than three weeks before, had no real previous experience of being a match commander and had limited experience of Hillsborough stadium.
He said: “He was not equipped with special powers to anticipate things that everyone else did not.”
The lawyer added that the prosecution had accepted other people were at fault but they were not being accused of gross negligence manslaughter like Duckenfield.
He said: “It is one thing to say he is partly to blame for what happened or could have done something better. It is entirely another to say it was so bad that he should be criminalised.”
Myers told the court: “It is Mr Duckenfield’s case that he is not negligent and he did his best in very difficult circumstances, and even if things could have been done better with hindsight at the time, he did the best he could.
“It is not right or fair to single him out in this way.
“We say it is wrong and not fair when there are so many other factors and causes at work in this tragedy.
“By virtue of bad stadium design, bad planning, some aspects of crowd behaviour, some aspects of police behaviour, mistakes by various individuals and genuine human error this tragedy happened.”
He told the jury that while it was natural human reaction to look for someone to blame, he added: “Our sympathy with those who suffered can never be a reason to convict someone for events beyond their control or responsibility.”
Earlier, the jury heard Richard Matthews QC, prosecuting, describe some of the scenes of horror as football fans were crushed and how they begged to be let out of the overcrowded pens as he completed his opening.
Duckenfield, 74, denies the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans, and former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell, 69, denies breaching a condition of the safety certificate and a health and safety offence.