Scene Was Set For Hillsborough Disaster When Graham Mackrell Started Job, Lawyer Claims

The former Sheffield Wednesday officer is accused of health and safety offences relating to the 1989 disaster.
Graham Mackrell, former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary
Graham Mackrell, former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary
Press Association

The former football club secretary accused of safety offences related to the Hillsborough disaster began his job when the “scene was already set” for the tragedy, his lawyer has told a court.

Graham Mackrell, 69, the former Sheffield Wednesday safety officer, is accused of health and safety offences while match commander David Duckenfield, 74, has been charged with the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 people. Both men deny all charges.

Jason Beer QC, representing Mackrell, told the jury that the prosecution must prove “this man, 69 years old, a man of good character who has never been in trouble with the police before, is guilty of criminal health and safety offences” that played a part in the Hillsborough disaster.

He urged the jury to to make a decision until they had heard all the evidence and asked them to consider: “What was expected of a football club secretary in those days?”

He also stressed that the prosecution is not suggesting that Mackrell made any erroneous decisions on the day of the match, but relates to the period leading up to the 1989 fixture as the club, the FA and police prepared for it.

He said: “The prosecution, you would have noted, has opened the case on the basis that in many respects the scene was already set for Mr Mackrell by the way this club had developed in the 1970s and 1980s up to his arrival. We strongly agree with that.

“The critical decisions as to the layout of ground, that would in the end have a significant effect on how the crush occurred, had already been taken, been taken by experts, signed off and approved by regulatory authorities long before Mr Mackrell’s arrival.”

He added: “These two charges are to be viewed not with the eyes of 2019 but in relation to what was known before April 15 1989 and the standards of the day then.”

The lawyer also told the court that Mackrell was not an expert in structural engineering and his background was in accountancy.

He stated that decisions affecting the safety of Hillsborough stadium had already been taken before Mackrell became club secretary in December 1986.

The jury at Preston Crown Court heard how fans were turned away from full terraces at an FA Cup semi-final eight years before the tragedy.

QC Beer told the court Mackrell was accused of breaching a condition of the safety certificate by not agreeing the methods of admission for the match with the chief constable or police officer in charge on the day.

But he said it would be the defence case that Brian Mole – who had been the match commander at Hillsborough until he was replaced by Duckenfield less than three weeks before the match – had been aware of the turnstile arrangements.

The court also heard from lifelong Tottenham Hotspur fan James Chumley, who said he had been unable to watch the FA Cup semi-final on April 14 1981, almost exactly eight years before the disaster, because he was stopped from entering the Leppings Lane terrace at Hillsborough Stadium.

The court was shown footage of Spurs fans being allowed on to the pitch perimeter track following a crushing incident on the terrace at the match against Wolverhampton Wanderers.

In a letter Chumley wrote to the club after the match, he said: “One police officer advised me I was at the ‘worst end’ and that the situation at big games was always the same.

“In his opinion the capacity of the stand was over declared.”

Mackrell denies contravening a term or condition of the stadium’s safety certificate, by failing to agree the methods of admission for the match, and failing to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety Act by not taking reasonable care in respect of arrangements for admission and the drawing up of contingency plans.

Duckenfield, of Bournemouth, denies the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 people at the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Under the law at the time, there can be no prosecution for the 96th victim, Tony Bland, as he died more than a year and a day after the disaster.

A total of 96 victims were crushed to death during the April 15 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

The trial continues.