Police chief in charge of Hillsborough stadium when 96 Liverpool fans died cleared of manslaughter
The police commander in charge of operations at the 1989 Hillsborough football stadium crush that killed 96 Liverpool supporters has been found not guilty of manslaughter.
Former chief superintendent David Duckenfield was in charge of the stadium in Sheffield, northern England, at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest 30 years ago.
He was charged last year with 95 counts of manslaughter; he was not charged over the death of one victim, who died four years after the tragedy, because of the law at the time.
The victims were crushed and suffocated to death in fenced-in pens that they could not escape from.
Former chief superintendent David Duckenfield was charged with 95 counts of manslaughter in 2018.
Harrowing images of young fans crushed against metal fences, bodies lying on the pitch and spectators using wooden advertising hoardings as makeshift stretchers horrified the world.
Police at first blamed the disaster on drunken fans, an explanation that was always rejected by survivors, relatives of the victims and the wider Liverpool community, which spent years fighting to find out what had happened.
A coroner’s inquest in 2016 declared that the victims were unlawfully killed. The inquest’s jury concluded policing decisions “caused or contributed” to the deaths and amounted to “gross negligence”.
The latest verdict came in a retrial at Preston Crown Court after a jury in April initially failed to come to a verdict.
“I’m shocked and stunned by the verdict of the jury,” Barry Devonside, whose 18-year-old son Christopher died in the disaster, said.
Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James was killed, told a press conference in Liverpool: “I blame a system that’s so morally wrong within this country, that’s a disgrace to this nation.
“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.”
People on Twitter vented their disgust at the verdict, with some users posting that the verdict was “incomprehensible” and that victims had been denied justice.
‘Unimaginable suffering to the families’
Mike Bendown, director of the Independent Office for Police Conduct, said he recognised the verdict would be of huge significance for the families of the 96 victims.
“As there are still live criminal proceedings relating to the disaster we will not be commenting further at this time,” he added.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said it was aware the verdict would be disappointing for the relatives.
“The disaster at Hillsborough 30 years ago has caused unimaginable suffering to the families of those who sadly lost their lives and to everybody affected by the tragic events of that day, Sue Hemming, CPS spokeswoman, said.
“They were let down with the most catastrophic consequences imaginable. I know how important these proceedings have been to everyone, even though they came far too late.”
Fans surged through opened gates
Shortly before kick-off, Mr Duckenfield ordered the opening of exit gates at one end of the stadium after the area outside the ground became dangerously overcrowded with fans, the trial heard.
That enabled 2,000 fans to surge through, with many heading directly into the tunnel leading to the central terracing pens, where the crush happened.
Mr Duckenfield did not give evidence in the trial because he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the court heard.
Barry Devonside, whose son Christopher died in the disaster, has campaigned for authorities to be held accountable.
“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,” Mr Duckenfield’s lawyer, Ian Lewis, said.
Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson said the outcome was a “huge disappointment” for the families of the victims.
“In recent years they have had to relive the events of that day by sitting through the longest inquest in British legal history, followed by two trials,” he said.
“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.”