Policeman cleared over Hillsborough deaths

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The Independent Online

Eleven years after Britain's worst footballing disaster, when 96 fans were crushed to death in the Hillsborough tragedy, a senior policeman on duty at the ground was yesterday cleared of manslaughter. The jury is still considering the case against his superior officer.

Eleven years after Britain's worst footballing disaster, when 96 fans were crushed to death in the Hillsborough tragedy, a senior policeman on duty at the ground was yesterday cleared of manslaughter. The jury is still considering the case against his superior officer.

Former Superintendent Bernard Murray held his head in his hands as a jury at Leeds Crown Court returned its not guilty verdict after considering the charges for nearly 22 hours. It will resume its deliberations on Monday morning.

Mr Murray, 58, from Pontefract, West Yorkshire, had been in the police control box overlooking the Leppings Lane terraces during the FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday's ground in April 1989. The prosecution blamed him and former Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield for directing a build-up of fans into a tunnel which led directly into already overcrowded "pens" on the terraces.

Giving evidence, Mr Murray said he was haunted by the thought that he could have saved some of the victims by ordering that tunnel to be closed.

"I am very much aware that there was a course of action which, if I had thought about it and realised I could have taken, might have prevented people going down the tunnel," he said

"I am haunted by the memory that if I had done it, it might have saved lives ... I feel a great deal of sympathy and sadness for the people I see here every day. I know how they feel and I know a lot of them blame me. I just hope they can be a little understanding because it does affect me."

After yesterday's decision, Mr Murray's solicitor, Richard Manning, said that because the trial was ongoing he could say nothing more than that his client was relieved at the verdict. "I hope you will all understand that he now wants to try and resume his normal life," he said.

As the jury of eight men and four women returned its verdict, there was little outward reaction from the 50 or so families of the victims in the public gallery, although some were in tears.

The charges brought against Mr Murray and Mr Duckenfield were sample charges relating to the deaths of Liverpool supporters John Anderson, 62, and 18-year-old James Aspinall.

The private prosecution has been brought by the Hillsborough Family Support Group which claimed that the actions of Mr Murray and Mr Duckenfield, 55, from Bournemouth, Dorset, were criminally negligent. They believe that directing fans away from the tunnel would have been the "simple and obvious step".

But Mr Murray's barrister, Michael Harrison QC, had told the court that it was the situation which had led to football supporters being caged in pens that caused the deaths, rather than the failures of the police

Yesterday, after returning its not guilty verdict in regard to Mr Murray, the jury was again sent out. When it returned an hour later, Mr Justice Hooper asked if there was "a realistic possibility" of reaching a majority verdict on Duckenfield. The foreman of the jury replied: "I believe with a little more time we may."

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