Hillsborough: Former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary fined £6,500 for his role in disaster

‘Our 96 are dead and all it’s worth is £67.70 each,’ victim’s relative says

Alessio Perrone
Monday 13 May 2019 12:48
Graham Mackrell was found guilty of failing to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act
Graham Mackrell was found guilty of failing to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act

Graham Mackrell, the former secretary of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, has been fined £6,500 for a health and safety offence related to the turnstiles arrangement on the day of the Hillsborough disaster.

Mackrell, who was safety officer at the time, was found guilty of failing to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act in respect of ensuring there were enough turnstiles to prevent unduly large crowds building up outside the ground.

The 69-year-old was also ordered to pay £5,000 towards the prosecution costs at Preston Crown Court.

Victims’ relatives branded the sentence “shameful” outside court.

Louise Brookes, whose brother Andrew died at Hillsborough, said: “Our 96 are dead and all it’s worth is £67.70 each. Shameful. Thirty years to get to this. Our 96 deserve better than this and us families deserve better than this. We are all getting on in age and enough is enough.

“My weekly shopping costs more than £67.70.”

Christine Burke, whose father Henry died in the disaster, said Mackrell should have “been sacked straight away” after the disaster.

“He went on to bigger and better things, he was promoted,” she said. “This is a man who has been paid very well and gone on to do other things. That should not have happened.”

She added that she was “absolutely livid” when reference was made in court to Mackrell’s good character and said if he was “any kind of professional person and decent man” then he would have answered the 22 questions put to him by officers from Operation Resolve – the criminal inquiry into Hillsborough – rather than give no comment.

There were seven turnstiles available for the 10,100 Liverpool fans with standing tickets, the court heard. Stadium safety expert John Cutlack testified that there were not sufficient turnstiles for fans on the day.

Judge Sir Peter Openshaw said: “He should have realised there was an obvious risk that so many spectators could not pass through seven turnstiles in time for kick-off.”

Mackrell, the first person to be convicted for an offence relating to the disaster, originally faced three charges, but two counts of contravening terms or conditions of the ground’s safety certificate were dropped during proceedings.

Ninety-six Liverpool fans died following the crush in the central pens of the Leppings Lane terrace during the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989.

Exit gates to the ground were opened to relieve a build-up of crowds outside.

Judge Openshaw said Mackrell’s offence did not directly cause the disaster inside the ground.

He said: “The defendant’s offence was at least one of the direct causes of the crush at the turnstiles outside the ground but it was not a direct cause of the crush on the terraces inside the ground that resulted in the deaths of 96 spectators and injury to many more, to which the crush outside the ground did no more than set the scene.”

Jason Beer QC, defending, said Mackrell had been exposed to public vilification since the disaster, and that the aftermath had had a serious and lasting effect on him and his family.

“Thirty years has elapsed since this offence was committed, but Mr Mackrell was told in August 1990 that he wasn’t going to be prosecuted and lived his life accordingly,” he said. “He has spent two years with this hanging over his head.”

Judge Openshaw said Mackrell would be given a fine which was 600 per cent of his weekly income.

The court heard he made £700 a week in his job as administrator for the Football League Managers’ Association and earned an additional £670 a week from pensions.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

There was laughter from the public gallery as Mr Beer said Mackrell had “modest” savings of £5,000.

Judge Openshaw said if Mackrell had been sentenced under the guidelines of today he could have faced a maximum of two years in prison.

Mackrell, of Stocking Pelham in Hertfordshire, stood trial alongside match commander David Duckenfield, but after deliberating for 29 hours and six minutes, the jury failed to reach a verdict on whether the former chief superintendent was guilty of the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 of the victims.

A hearing to decide whether Mr Duckenfield will face a retrial is expected to be held next month.

Additional reporting by Press Association.