Hillsborough trial: Match commander David Duckenfield will not give evidence in court over manslaughter charges

Jury directed to find co-defendant Graham Mackrell not guilty on one health and safety offence

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 13 March 2019 14:33
'Seriously, open the gates' Police audio released from the 1989 Hillsborough disaster

Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield will not give evidence at his trial, a jury has been told.

The former South Yorkshire Police chief superintendent will not speak in his own defence against manslaughter charges at Preston Crown Court.

Mr Duckenfield, now 74, denies causing the deaths of 95 Liverpool fans during the FA Cup semi-final at Sheffield Wednesday's stadium on 15 April 1989.

As he sat in the court alongside members of his legal team on Wednesday, his defence lawyer told the jury: “We turn to our case. We don't call Mr Duckenfield to give evidence.”

Benjamin Myers QC called statements from Bernard Murray, who was a superintendent on duty as ground commander on the day and has since died.

Mr Duckenfield is on trial alongside Graham Mackrell, Sheffield Wednesday’s former club secretary, who was responsible for health and safety at the stadium.

Earlier in Wednesday's hearing, judge Sir Peter Openshaw told jurors they would be directed to return a not guilty verdict for one of two health and safety charges he faced.

Mr Mackrell had been accused of contravening a condition of Hillsborough stadium's safety certificate by failing to agree the methods of admission to be used for the west and north-west terraces ahead of the match.

But Richard Matthews QC, prosecuting, said: "The Crown, at the close of its case, accept there is insufficient evidence upon which Mr Mackrell can be convicted upon count two."

The 69-year-old remains on trial charged with failing to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Mr Myers previously told the jury Mr Duckenfield had been “unfairly singled out” for prosecution over the Hillsborough disaster, which left 96 victims dead.

The match commander “was not equipped with special powers to anticipate things that everybody else didn’t,” the lawyer said in his opening statement.

“What happened on 15 April 1989 was brought about by a combination of factors great and small, some with their roots in events years before and some that emerged in the hours and minutes before disaster struck,” Mr Myers said in January.

He told the jury that the prosecution has accepted that other people are at fault “but they are not accusing them of gross negligence manslaughter”.

Mr Myers said his client believes he was not negligent and “did his best”, and that “bad stadium design, bad planning, some aspects of crowd behaviour, some of police behaviour, and genuine human error” contributed to the disaster.

David Duckenfield, match-day police commander at the Hillsborough football stadium disaster

Prosecutors argue that Mr Duckenfield’s “extraordinarily bad” personal failings as match commander was a substantial cause of the deaths.

Richard Matthews QC said it “required no hindsight” to realise the risk of a fatal crush in fenced pens at the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough stadium.

Mr Duckenfield did not consider the consequences of an influx of thousands of Liverpool fans down a tunnel into the already overcrowded pens when he ordered a large gate to be opened to ease a separate crush outside the stadium, the court has heard.

Prosecutors said he then failed to take action as the disaster was unfolding, with survivors and witnesses recalling how they shouted at police officers for help, and to be let out, but got no response.

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Even as the victims were being crushed to death, police communications played to the court suggested that some officers believed the incident to be a pitch invasion and responded accordingly.

There can be no prosecution over the death of the 96th victim, Tony Bland, as he died more than a year and a day after his injuries were caused.

The trial continues.

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