Monday 18 December 2017

Jury retires to consider verdict on Hillsborough

David Duckenfield Photo: PA
David Duckenfield Photo: PA

Tom Morgan

Jurors at the long-running inquest of 96 Liverpool fans who died in Britain's worst sporting disaster retired yesterday afternoon to consider whether they were unlawfully killed by police.

The longest case heard by a jury in British legal history is the culmination of a legal fight spanning more than a quarter of a century for the families of Hillsborough victims.

Jurors must contemplate whether match commander Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield committed manslaughter by gross negligence as they answer 14 key questions about the tragedy in Sheffield.

Alleged failures in stadium safety, the role of other emergency services and the Football Association will also be considered during deliberations which are expected to take weeks.

Evidence in Warrington has run a year longer than expected and the coroner has said they must "resolve the conflict" between what Liverpool fans and "critical" police have said about their behaviour.

Men, women and children, who had set off in spring sunshine to watch their side's FA Cup semi-final clash against Nottingham Forest, on the afternoon of April 15, 1989, were instead crushed to death against metal barriers and fences.

Lord Justice Goldring has told the jury of seven women and three men that they can only return an unlawful killing verdict if they were sure that Mr Duckenfield owed a duty of care to the 96, that his breach caused their deaths and that the breach amounted to "gross negligence".

Mr Duckenfield, now retired on a full police pension, has since admitted he had not told the whole truth about mistakes he made on the day, through a succession of legal inquiries since 1989. Mr Duckenfield, who had in fact given the order for a gate to be opened that allowed them into the stadium, directly addressed the Hillsborough families, adding: "I regret that omission and I shall regret it to my dying day."

He agreed with Michael Mansfield QC, representing 75 families whose relatives were killed in the lethal crush, that he was "practising and persisted in a far-reaching deceit" on the day, by lying to FA officials about his actions.

As the number of fans gathering outside the ground began to build in the run-up to the kick-off, one of Chief Supt Duckenfield's officers asked him three times to open the gates near the turnstiles, telling him "someone was going to be killed". Eventually after deciding against delaying the kick-off, he ordered that Gate C was opened allowing around 2,000 supporters to pour into the Leppings Lane End. He later told the FA that Liverpool fans had forced Gate C open and had pushed their way into the stadium.

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