Hillsborough Match Commander David Duckenfield 'Failed Fans', Trial Hears

Seven men and seven women selected for jury told to ‘disregard anything they may have heard or read’ about the Hillsborough disaster
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Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield’s failures “were extraordinarily bad and contributed substantially to the deaths” of those who lost their lives in the football disaster, a court has heard.

Former South Yorkshire Police chief superintendent Duckenfield, 74, denies the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final.

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

Duckenfield is at Preston Crown Court alongside former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell, 69, who is charged with safety offences.

Seven men and seven women were selected from a panel to serve as a jury of 12 for the trial with two extra people who will sit through the opening of the case.

Opening the case at Preston Crown Court, prosecutor Richard Matthews QC told jurors the youngest of the 96 victims of the disaster had been 10-year-old Jon-Paul Gilhooley.

He said 94 of the 96 succumbed to their fatal injuries on April 15, 1989, while 14-year-old Lee Nicol died two days later and Tony Bland suffered “terrible brain damage” and was in a permanent vegetative state until March 1993 when he passed away.

Matthews told the court: “Each of the 96 was a Liverpool FC supporter who had travelled to Sheffield to enjoy the ticket-only FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest; each was an individual who formed part of what was the anticipated 50,000 crowd of spectators, whose attendance, entry and accommodation at the Hillsborough Stadium should have been properly planned for and safely facilitated.”

He added: “It is the prosecution’s case that David Duckenfield’s failures to discharge this personal responsibility were extraordinarily bad and contributed substantially to the deaths of each of those 96 people who so tragically and unnecessarily lost their lives.”

The court heard how Duckenfield was the very senior police officer in charge at the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989 and had “ultimate responsibility” for the police operation as well as “personal responsibility” to take reasonable care for the arrangements that were put in place.

Matthews said each person died “as a consequence of the obvious and serious risk to life posed by crushing from poor management of the expected capacity crowd seeking admission to watch the match; and each died as a result of the extraordinarily bad failures by David Duckenfield in the care he took to discharge his personal responsibility on that fateful day.”

Matthews told the jury that the second defendant was Mackrell, the Sheffield Wednesday safety officer.

He said: “It is the prosecution case that Mr Mackrell committed a criminal offence by agreeing to, or at the very least turning a blind eye to, or by causing through his neglect of his duty, this breach by the club of this condition.”

The court was told that 96 people suffered fatal injuries as a result of crushing in the central pens of the West Terrace at the Leppings Lane end of the Hillsborough Stadium with the arrival of many thousands of people a relatively short time before the scheduled kick-off to a confined area of limited access.

The case due to last until May opened after judge Sir Peter Openshaw warned the jurors to disregard anything they may have previously heard or read about the disaster.

He also told them not to go to the stadium which has changed considerably in the last 30 years.

There was silence in court as the names of men, women and children who died were read out.

Some of the victims’ family members sat in the public gallery of the court while others were able to watch on screen from a court annex.

Duckenfield’s wife Ann sat at the back of the public gallery behind relatives throughout proceedings.