Thursday 5 December 2019

Trial branded 'disgrace' as police chief escapes punishment over Hillsborough

Christine Burke, Louise Brookes and Jenni Hicks speak after the verdict. Photo: Peter Powell/PA Wire
Christine Burke, Louise Brookes and Jenni Hicks speak after the verdict. Photo: Peter Powell/PA Wire

Eleanor Barlow and Kim Pilling

Bereaved families have branded the trial of Hillsborough match commander former police chief superintendent David Duckenfield a "disgrace" after he was cleared of the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final.

There were gasps as the seven women and three men on the jury at Preston Crown Court returned their verdict following a trial which lasted more than six weeks.

Speaking at a press conference at the Cunard Building in Liverpool, Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James died in the disaster, said: "The families know who is guilty.

"Our city knows who is guilty. He can walk around now and get on with his life with a not guilty verdict.

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"To me that is a disgrace."

After the verdict was announced, Christine Burke, the daughter of Henry Burke who was killed in the tragedy, stood in the public gallery and tearfully said to the judge: "With all due respect, my lord, 96 people were found unlawfully killed to a criminal standard.

Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield. Photo: Peter Powell/PA Wire
Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield. Photo: Peter Powell/PA Wire

"I would like to know who is responsible for my father's death because someone is."

Watching proceedings in the Cunard Building, Mary Corrigan, mother of 17-year-old victim Keith McGrath, shouted: "Stitched up again," while other family members were in tears.

Inquests in 2016 found the 96 men, women and children who were fatally injured on April 15, 1989, were unlawfully killed on the basis that Mr Duckenfield (75) breached his duty of care and was found grossly negligent.

Ms Aspinall, who criticised judge Peter Openshaw for the way he handled the case, described the trial as a "kangaroo court".

Liverpool fans at Hillsborough, trying to escape severe overcrowding during the FA Cup semi-final football match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. PA Photo
Liverpool fans at Hillsborough, trying to escape severe overcrowding during the FA Cup semi-final football match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. PA Photo

She said: "I blame a system that's so morally wrong within this country. That's a disgrace to this nation.

"When 96 people - they say 95, we say 96 - are unlawfully killed and yet not one person is accountable.

"The question I'd like to ask all of you and people within the system is who put 96 people in their graves? Who is accountable?"

Under the law at the time, Mr Duckenfield was not charged over the death of the 96th victim Tony Bland, because he died more than a year and a day after the disaster.

Ian Lewis, partner at JMW Solicitors LLP who represented Mr Duckenfield, said: "David is of course relieved that the jury has found him not guilty. However, his thoughts and sympathies remain with the families of those who lost their loved ones."

Steve Kelly, whose brother Michael (38) died in the tragedy, told the press conference: "A higher judge will have the last say on this. God bless the 96."

The retired chief superintendent stood trial earlier this year, but the jury was discharged after failing to reach a verdict and a retrial was ordered.

The court heard he ordered the opening of exit gates at the Leppings Lane end of the ground at 2.52pm, eight minutes before kick-off, after the area outside the turnstiles became dangerously overcrowded.

More than 2,000 fans entered through Exit Gate C once it was opened and many headed for the tunnel ahead of them, which led to the central pens where the crush happened.

Mr Duckenfield did not give evidence in the trial because, the court heard, he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Judge Peter Openshaw also told jurors the condition could explain Mr Duckenfield's lack of reaction as he sat in the well of the court throughout the trial.

Mr Duckenfield sat impassive in front of the dock with his hands clasped and then drank from a glass of water after the verdict came in after the jury had deliberated for 13 hours and 43 minutes.

His wife Ann later went over to comfort her husband in the courtroom.

Irish Independent

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