Police avoid retrial over fans' deaths at stadium

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The Independent Online

The families of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough stadium disaster were left with nothing to show for a gruelling 11-year battle yesterday after a judge ruled that no further action should be taken against one of the two policemen they blame for the deaths.

The families of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough stadium disaster were left with nothing to show for a gruelling 11-year battle yesterday after a judge ruled that no further action should be taken against one of the two policemen they blame for the deaths.

The ruling ends an extraordinarily determined campaign by the relatives of the victims of Britain's worst sporting disaster. Mr Justice Hooper said former chief superintendent David Duckenfield, 55, the senior officer in charge at the FA Cup semi-final in April 1989, should not face a fresh trial for manslaughter.

Earlier this week, a jury at Leeds Crown Court failed to reach a verdict on charges that Mr Duckenfield caused the deaths of fans at the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. His deputy, former superintendent Bernard Murray, 58, was cleared of the same charges last week.

The decisions finally forced the Hillsborough Family Support Group to accept that no one will be held legally responsible for the disaster, despite the conclusion of Lord Justice Taylor's 1990 report that "a breakdown in police control" was to blame. The group's chairman, Trevor Hicks, whose two teenage daughters were among the Liverpool supporters killed, said the families were "bitterly disappointed" but would abide by the decision.

He added: "We were not looking for scapegoats. We've put our case in a court of law and we have nearly won. We have not lost. Our lives have had to continue for 11 years. This will be one part of our lives which will not continue. We think we are totally exonerated in what we have done."

There were emotional scenes as a news conference held by the families - many of whom travelled to Leeds by coach throughout the 30-day trial - ended with relatives breaking down in tears.

Margaret Aspinall, whose son James died at Hillsborough aged 18, said: "I never had much hope in the system. My son wouldn't have wanted me to be vengeful - this was about accountability for 96 deaths and nobody has been made accountable. This is the nearest we've been for 11 years. We were so close - the jury knew someone was responsible for those deaths. I'm very proud that we got so close."

Mrs Aspinall added: "The first thing I want to do now is put flowers on James's grave and apologise to him and tell him I've done my best."

The families, many of whom contributed £5,000 of their own money towards the £750,000 needed for the private prosecution, brought the case after the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, refused in 1998 to setup a second public inquiry into the disaster.

Although the judge intimated before the £4m trial that the men would not have been jailed in the event of conviction, the tragedy has taken a heavy toll on both defendants. Mr Duckenfield, who retired to Bournemouth nine years ago, is suffering from depression. Mr Murray, 58, of Pontefract, West Yorkshire, was in tears during the trial as he told that the disaster still "haunted" him.

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