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Hillsborough disaster inquests jury retires to begin deliberations

Published 06/04/2016

96 fans died as a result of the Hillsborough disaster
96 fans died as a result of the Hillsborough disaster

The jury in the inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans at the 1989 Hillsborough disaster has retired to consider its verdicts, more than two years since the hearings began.

The seven women and three men of the jury retired at 2.05pm to consider 14 key questions set out by the Coroner Sir John Goldring, in a 33 page questionnaire, including determining if match commander David Duckenfield is responsible for the unlawful killing of the fans by gross negligence manslaughter.

The hearings into Britain's worst sporting disaster first began on March 31 2014, at a specially built courtroom in Warrington, Cheshire, with dozens of relatives of the 96 attending each of the more than 300 days the court has sat at Bridgewater Place at the town's Birchwood Park business park.

On day 308 of the inquest hearings, now stretching across three years, Sir John concluded his summing-up of the evidence which he first began in January, before making his final remarks to the jury before it retired.

Across the courtroom dozens of relatives of the 96 listened in silence.

He told the jurors: "While I'm not inviting you to do so, if you want to be reminded of any piece of evidence you need only send a note to that effect.

"I want to thank you for the care with which I could see you listened to the summing-up and many of you, very diligently, have taken notes."

He warned them again not to discuss the case unless they were all together as a jury, not to talk about it with anyone else, not to say anything about it on social media and not to seek out anything about it on the internet or elsewhere.

In his closing remarks, Sir John reminded the jurors how they should approach the evidence they had seen and heard.

He said: "You decide the case only on the evidence you heard in court.

"Put out of your mind anything you may have read, heard or discussed about the disaster.

"Decide the case dispassionately on the evidence.

"Put emotion to one side. Do not make critical findings unless the facts justify them.

"On the other hand, do not shrink from making such findings if they do.

"You decide what evidence you accept and what evidence you reject."

The Hillsborough tragedy unfolded on April 15 1989 during Liverpool's FA Cup tie against Nottingham Forest as thousands of fans were crushed on Sheffield Wednesday's Leppings Lane terrace.

Mr Duckenfield gave the order at 2.52pm to open exit Gate C in Leppings Lane, allowing around 2,000 fans to flood into the already packed central pens behind the goal.

At the start of the inquests, the coroner said none of the victims should be blamed for their deaths.

Emotional tributes to each of the 96 were then delivered by family members in the form of personal portraits.

Jurors have heard months of evidence from more than 800 witnesses on topics including stadium safety, match planning, the events of the day, the emergency response and evidence gathering by police after the disaster.

The role and responsibility of Mr Duckenfield also came under intense scrutiny.

The jury was then told of the final movements of each victim before hearing from medical experts and pathologists as to the circumstances of the deaths.

The 1991 verdicts from the original inquests were quashed following the 2012 Hillsborough Independent Panel report.

Sir John told the jurors they would have to resolve "conflicts" of evidence they have heard between what Liverpool fans said and the accounts of police officers critical of them.

The coroner also told them they would have to consider the way police statements were taken, reviewed and sometimes amended in what families claim was an attempt to mould the evidence and protect the South Yorkshire force.

As he summed up the evidence, Sir John reminded the jury: "As you will recall, it was suggested to many witnesses that senior officers collectively sought to present a 'false narrative' of the disaster. The senior officers from whom we heard strongly denied that suggestion.

"You will need to consider this evidence because, if you were to take the view there was some deliberate decision, you might think it reflected a view of the facts of the disaster taken by the senior officers. That, of course, is a matter for you."

Earlier today, the court resumed an hour and a half late, at 11.31am, after adjourning early yesterday afternoon.

After the jurors were first brought into court this morning, the coroner told them he wanted to make "a few observations" and say some things he had told them previously, before completing his summing-up.

Sir John told the jury: "Jurors are a random selection of members of the public, of all backgrounds and ages. They have to work together in the interests of justice.

"We are conscious you have devoted a very large part of your lives to this inquest.

"We are, of course, at a very important stage of the inquest. You will shortly retire to consider your decisions.

"It is of the highest importance that all of you work together in the interests of justice.

"It requires you to work together to discuss the evidence in a civilised manner.

"It requires you to work together as a team. It requires you to make decisions together.

"It requires you to put aside personal issues that sometimes arise.

"In the event you are unable to deal with your very important decisions in the way I have indicated you must immediately let me know."

Yesterday, the coroner again took the jurors through the 33-page questionnaire they must answer, detailing legal directions and suggestions of matters they may wish to consider to help answer the questions.

The jurors have been armed with a laptop to view video footage of the day, should they want to see parts of it again, and also a series of thick files containing documents and chronologies.

At 3.05pm the jury, having been out for exactly an hour, was brought back into court and sent home for the evening to return on Thursday morning.

Again the coroner repeated his statement that jurors are a random selection of members of the public, of all backgrounds and ages and they have to work together in the interests of justice.

He continued: "We are now at a very important stage of the inquest.

"It is of the highest importance, and I emphasise it, of the highest importance, that all of you work together in the interests of justice.

"It means you will have to be able to work together to discuss the evidence in a civilised manner.

"It requires you to work together as a team. It requires you to make decisions together.

"It requires you to put aside personal issues that sometimes arise."

The inquest was adjourned until Thursday morning.

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