Match commander David Duckenfield found not guilty of Hillsborough disaster manslaughter

By John Skilbeck 29 November 2019 9
Match commander David Duckenfield found not guilty of Hillsborough disaster manslaughter

Former South Yorkshire Police chief superintendent David Duckenfield has been found not guilty of gross negligence manslaughter over the deaths of 95 people in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.

Duckenfield was the match commander on April 15 1989, when Liverpool played Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final at the home of Sheffield Wednesday.

He was charged over the deaths of 95 of the 96 people who died in crushes at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium.

Tony Bland, who was the 96th supporter to lose his life, died more than a year and a day after the tragedy. UK law at the time of the disaster stipulated that charges could not be brought in that circumstance.

Following a retrial at Preston Crown Court, the jury returned its not guilty verdict on Thursday. An initial trial earlier this year ended when the jury could not reach a verdict.

Families of those who died at Hillsborough have long campaigned for their concerns over the tragedy to be heard and for justice to be served.

An original verdict of accidental death was quashed at the High Court in London in December 2012, soon after the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP) report.

Former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell was found guilty earlier this year of a charge relating to health and safety at the ground.

The mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, said the outcome of the case would leave many upset.

In a statement, he said: "Today's outcome is a huge disappointment for the families, the survivors and for all of those still trying to come to terms with the disaster that unfolded at Hillsborough on April 15, 1989.

"In recent years they had to relive the events of that day by sitting through the longest inquest in British legal history, followed by two trials. The toll that it has taken on their health and wellbeing, in addition to losing their loved ones, is unimaginable and the whole city shares their pain.

"But despite the hurt and anger felt at this very difficult time, we must make sure that nothing is said or done that jeopardises the separate trial of the authorities which is due to take place next year. I would therefore ask everyone committed to obtaining justice for those who lost their lives to be conscious of the need not to do or say anything which might undermine that, no matter how confused and upset they might be feeling at the moment."

Christine Burke, whose father Henry died in the disaster, said: "This verdict today does not take the findings of the HIP report away or the findings of the inquest jurors. The world knows the truth. We were up against the establishment."

Sheila Coleman, from the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, said she was "not in the least bit surprised".

"But I have to say it reawakens immense sadness and anger, and my heart goes out to the bereaved families and also the survivors who have fought so long for justice for those who lost their lives at Hillsborough," she told the BBC News Channel.

Margaret Aspinall, from the Hillsborough Families Support Group, lost her son James at Hillsborough.

In a news conference, she reacted to the court verdict and said: "I blame the system that is morally wrong within this country, that is a disgrace to this nation. Not one person is accountable. The question I'd like to ask all of you – and people within a system – then who put the 96 in their graves? Who is accountable for 96 unlawfully killed?

"What a disgrace this has been today and what a shame on this country of ours. I feel so embarrassed to say that is the system within our country.

"I'm really angry. I'm trying to be calm for the sake of these families who have suffered so much. For 30-odd years they have suffered. They've gone through hell.

"Now my concern is that these families … I look at their faces - please God, give them some peace, they deserve it.

"Most importantly, the 96 deserve it, and they deserve something from this country that was morally right. As far as I'm concerned, and I am starting to get angry now, that was a kangaroo court that we all sat through."

Speaking about Mr Duckenfield, she added: "He can walk around now and get on with his life with a not guilty verdict – to me that is a disgrace."

Assistant commissioner Rob Beckley, speaking outside court, said: "The jury had a difficult and challenging task examining evidence stretching back decades and I respect their decision."

He added: "It is right that an impartial and thorough examination was carried out – it is right it was presented by the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] to a jury and it was right that a jury made a judgement on the facts

"What is wrong is that it has taken 30 years to get to this point. The passage of 30 years has presented challenges to everyone involved in the legal process both the prosecution and the defence. Thirty years has meant evidence has been corroded and some people and organisations who should have answered for their actions on the day are simply no longer with us.

"Thirty years during which myths took root about fans being a cause of the disaster, now shown through the inquest evidence but also through the evidence of both the defence and the prosecution in this case to be unequivocally wrong. And 30 years when many people, especially the families, have had to relive their terrible experiences.

"When all the Hillsborough legal proceedings are concluded we should as a society take time to consider these matters and to learn those lessons for the sake of the 96 innocent people who died 30 years ago. Something like this disaster and the 30-year wait to get to this point should never happen again."

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John Skilbeck