Officer walks free after Hillsborough jury fails to agree

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The police match commander accused of causing the Hillsborough disaster could face a retrial after a jury failed to reach a verdict on manslaughter charges.

The police match commander accused of causing the Hillsborough disaster could face a retrial after a jury failed to reach a verdict on manslaughter charges.

Former chief superintendent David Duckenfield walked free from Leeds Crown Court after the eight men and four women were discharged after five days of deliberations. The decision to dismiss the jury after the six-week trial followed the acquittal on Friday of Mr Duckenfield's deputy, former superintendent Bernard Murray, on the two sample charges of manslaughter.

Relatives of the victims of Britain's worst sport disaster - in which 96 people died - who brought the private prosecution will meet their lawyers today before applying for a retrial tomorrow. Sources in the Hillsborough Family Support Group confirmed that they would seek a new prosecution, despite £1m costs and the possibility of having to meet the defence legal bill of £3m.

Lord Justice Taylor's 1990 report into the disaster at the FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield on 15 April 1989 found a "breakdown in police control" was to blame.

More than 50 family members packed the court to hear Mr Justice Anthony Hooper discharge the jurors yesterday. He said: "Notwithstanding your very best efforts, I understand you are not going to be able to reach a verdict in this case. In these circumstances, I will discharge you from doing so. You have approached the case with obvious interest and enthusiasm. Sadly, you have not been able to reach a verdict, but these things happen."

The jury, trying to find a majority verdict on Mr Duckenfield, had been deliberating for 24 hours over four-and-a-half days. Because of an order preventing publication of reaction to the failure to reach a verdict ahead of any retrial, the views of the relatives could not be reported.

Mr Duckenfield, of Bournemouth, Dorset, who retired on health grounds from South Yorkshire Police after the disaster, was silent as he was escorted from the court. He had pleaded not guilty with Mr Murray, of Pontefract, West Yorkshire, to killing the Liverpool fans John Anderson, 62, and John Aspinall, 18, who were crushed to death when a gate to the Leppings Lane terraces of the Sheffield Wednesday stadium was opened just before kick-off at the game against Nottingham Forest.

Prosecutors claimed during the trial that Mr Duckenfield and Mr Murray were responsible for causing the fatal crush by ordering the opening of the blue steel Gate C at 2.52pm.

Thousands of Liverpool supporters rushed through the gate and down a tunnel leading to the two pens on the terrace. The surge killed or mortally wounded 96 fans as they were crushed on metal railings.

The prosecution alleged that the tragedy, which happened over 13 minutes, could have been prevented if Mr Duckenfield or Mr Murray had done their duty by taking steps to block the tunnel to the already crowded pens.

But William Clegg QC, for Mr Duckenfield, called the disaster "unprecedented, unforeseeable, unique" and said it had been caused by a situation beyond the two men's control.

Gate C had also been opened because the weight of numbers waiting to getting in to see the football match had created a life-threatening situation outside the ground, the court was told.

The £3m defence costs for Mr Duckenfield and Mr Murray, who expressed his relief at the not-guilty verdict against him on Friday, are being met by the South Yorkshire Police Authority. While lawyers for the family support group are working pro bono, the relatives could still be made liable for the legal bill for the two officers.

A spokesman for the police authority said yesterday: "A decision on whether we shall seeks costs from the prosecution will be made once the situation becomes clearer with regard to a retrial."

The authority said it would also have to decide whether to fund Mr Duckenfield's costs in the event of a new trial.