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Hillsborough trial: Stadium’s safety officer was ‘accountant with no formal training’, court told

Prosecution accuses Graham Mackrell of ‘shrugging off responsibility’ for getting Liverpool fans safely into stadium

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent, in Preston
Friday 18 January 2019 11:00
Footage shows police letting fans out of 1981 crush at Hillsborough stadium

The official in charge of safety at Hillsborough stadium was a former accountant with no health and safety training, a court has heard

A defence lawyer representing former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell said standards for the role were “very different” in the 1980s.

Jason Beer QC told Preston Crown Court: “Mr Mackrell was not an expert in issues of structural engineering, his background and training was in accountancy before he served at two smaller clubs.”

The lawyer said that health and safty management had “moved on a lot” in the past three decades and Mr Mackrell’s role did not include “what we would currently understand” as the expertise needed.

Mr Beer said the government-issued Green Guide made first mention of a “safety officer” in 1986 and there was no formal training course or qualification for the post.

The lawyer said decisions affecting the safety of Hillsborough stadium, such as the installation of fenced pens where the overcrowding of supporters led to the death of 96 victims, had already been taken before Mr Mackrell became club secretary in December 1986.

Earlier this week, the jury was shown a letter from the following year where he informed a Sheffield City Council official his “duties encompass those of a safety officer” and that he possessed the most recent edition of the Green Guide on safety.

The prosecution said Mr Mackrell “contributed to some very specific failures that fell squarely within his job” by failing to take reasonable care of how Liverpool fans entered the stadium and making contingency plans for overcrowding at turnstiles.

Court shows layout of stadium in David Duckenfield's Hillsborough trial

Richard Matthews QC said Mr Mackrell “simply shrugged off all responsibility for both those matters, about which he had accepted personal responsibility”.

Mr Mackrell, now 69, denies contravening the stadium’s safety certificate and a health and safety offence.

His defence lawyer said the prosecution would have to prove allegations that Mr Mackrell did not agree an entry plan with South Yorkshire Police as required, claiming that record-keeping by relevant officers was poor.

Mr Beer said the defendant was of “good character” and was not being prosecuted over any actions on the day of the disaster on 15 April 1989.

“Things can look ever so simple after they have happened,” he added. “These charges are not to be viewed with the eyes of 2019, but what was known before 1989 and the standards then.”

Former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell, arrives at Preston Crown Court

Mr Mackrell joined Sheffield Wednesday from Luton Town in 1986, and “inherited” Hillsborough stadium’s layout and safety arrangements, he added.

The jury was told that the club’s relationships with a firm of structural engineers, the council and police were already well established.

Mr Beer suggested that the head of the Eastwoods structural engineering firm – who has since died – exercised “control over anything to do with the safety of the ground” and “dominated” an advisory group.

The lawyer said the same structural engineer also declined to change the capacity calculations for Hillsborough after alterations at the Leppings Lane end.

Mr Beer alleged that David Duckenfield’s predecessor as match commander “dominated the planning and preparations for football matches, especially FA Cup semi-finals” and had charge of how spectators approached Hillsborough stadium and entered standing terraces.

He said former Chief Superintendent Mole, who has also died, was “instrumental” to the planning of how Liverpool fans would enter the ground on the day of the disaster and left his post just weeks before.

Mr Beer claimed it was “entirely feasible” for all Liverpool fans to pass through the Leppings Lane turnstiles, where a crush caused police to open large exit gates.

He told the jury police had previously ensured fans arrived in an “orderly manner” by controlling their approach to the stadium, and funelling them to specific terrace entrances once inside.

A supporter who attended a previous FA Cup semi-final in 1981 where police opened gates on perimeter fencing to let fans escape a crush told the court he was prevented from getting to the terraces by police officers.

James Chumley said an officer told him Leppings Lane was the “worst end” and he thought the capacity had been overstated, even before the West Stand was split into pens.

On the day of the disaster, thousands of fans flooded through opened gates and down a sloped tunnel that fed into two fenced pens, where 94 victims were crushed to death by the pressure. Two other supporters later died from their injuries.

Mr Duckenfield, now 74, denies manslaughter by gross negligence. The trial continues.

Read live coverage from the court below

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Good morning and welcome to our live coverage of the fifth day of the Hillsborough trial. As it is expected to last for up to four months, this will be the last live blog until the case is nearing a close - possibly in May - but coverage of hearings will continue.

Lizzie Dearden18 January 2019 09:31

Yesterday, the jury was played distressing footage of the disaster unfolding, and read excerpts of statements from survivors describing how they were shouting to be let out of overcrowded pens, where people were being crushed to death.

David Duckenfield's lawyer made a statement outlining the defence case, where he said the match commander had been "unfairly singled out" for prosecution. He denies manslaughter.

Lizzie Dearden18 January 2019 09:33
Lizzie Dearden18 January 2019 09:33

This morning, the court is to hear from a lawyer reperesenting Graham Mackrell, the former club secretary of Sheffield Wednesday, who is accused of health and safety offences at Hillsborough stadium.

Lizzie Dearden18 January 2019 09:34

The jury has arrived in court and his defence lawyer, Jason Beer QC, is about to speak

Lizzie Dearden18 January 2019 10:10

Mr Beer says: "The prosecution have to prove, if they can, he does not have to prove anything."

He says they must prove that "this man, 69 years old, a man of good character who's never been in trouble with the police before is guilty of criminal health and safety offences that the prosecution say played a part in the Hillsborough disaster".

Lizzie Dearden18 January 2019 10:11

He urges the jury not to make a decision until they have heard all the evidence in the "extraordinary" case, which he says has been subject of much press coverage

"Whatever you think you may know about Hillsborough, little if any of it relates to Mr Mackrell, so please judge him on the evidence in this case," Mr Beer adds.

He says people may think the victim's relatives have been badly treated by the establishment, but "those are not wrongs created by Mr Mackrell".

Lizzie Dearden18 January 2019 10:13

Mr Beer says his client did not seek to lie about the disaster or deny victims' families answers. He says the prosecution does not relate to anything Mr Mackrell did during the match, but the period leading up to it as the club, FA and police were planning for the 1989 fixture.

"That is the clear distinction between his case and that put against Mr Duckenfield, it's not being suggested that Mr Mackrell made any erroneous executive decisions on the day itself," Mr Beer, stressing he does not represent Sheffield Wednesday FC as a whole

Lizzie Dearden18 January 2019 10:15

Mr Beer says Mr Mackrell is not being charged with the safety certificate not being updated to reflect changes to Hillsborough, the design of the stadium or pens, anything to do with the pitch perimiter fences or exit gates, layout of terraces

"It's difficult to imagine any other event in legal history that has been the subject of such forensic examination," he adds. "It's easy after three decade to come up with answers that now seem obvious."

Lizzie Dearden18 January 2019 10:17

Mr Beer says the prosecution used only "part" of the evidence giving at a series of inquests and inquiries.

"Things can look ever so simple after they have happened," he tells the jury. "We ask you to step into the shoes of Mr Mackrell at the time."

Lizzie Dearden18 January 2019 10:18

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