David Duckenfield aims to block Hillsborough prosecution as Preston trial backed
The trial at Preston Crown Court will start on September 10 and last between 10 and 12 weeks.
Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield could go on trial in autumn next year in Preston but will attempt to block any prosecution, a court heard today.
Duckenfield, 72, is scheduled to go before a jury at a trial starting on September 10 and lasting between 10 and 12 weeks at Preston Crown Court, according to provisional details given at a pre-trial hearing at Preston on Wednesday.
However, Duckenfield and five other defendants will first attempt to block any prosecution as an “abuse of process” on the grounds of delay and prejudicial publicity, the court heard.
Duckenfield faces 95 charges of gross negligence manslaughter following the 1989 football disaster.
He would go on trial alongside Graham Mackrell, 67, the former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary, who faces health and safety and sports ground safety offences.
Mr Justice William Davis ruled Preston would be an “appropriate and proper” venue for the trial of both men and four others accused over the disaster and its aftermath.
He said: “Today I simply make a ruling on the appropriate venue. I have to emphasise whether a trial in relation to some or all the defendants should take place at all is overwhelmingly likely to be a live issue.
“All have indicated there is likely to be an application to stay proceedings as being an abuse of process. The two grounds being put forward; delay and prejudicial publicity.”
Addressing the question of where any trial should take place, Mr Justice Davis added: “The first and critical question I have to consider is the question of bias.
“The facts do not give rise to a real possibility a jury empanelled at Preston Crown Court would be biased.
“In my judgement, material and facts I am aware of do not make Preston a venue at which a jury would be biased.”
Earlier, the court heard to ensure a fair trial to the defendants any trial should be held outside the North West, with Leeds, Birmingham and London suggested as alternatives.
Three other defendants – retired police officers Donald Denton, 79, and Alan Foster, 70 and retired force solicitor Peter Metcalf, 67, who acted for South Yorkshire Police following the 1989 disaster – are scheduled to go on trial in January 2019 and to last for up to four months.
They all face charges of perverting the course of justice relating to changes to the witness statements given by police officers.
The trial of Sir Norman Bettison, 61, accused of misconduct in a public office, is scheduled for May 2019 and to last for four weeks.
All the dates and the venue of Preston Crown Court are provisional and dependent on further judges’ rulings following more legal argument.
All the defendants, apart from Duckenfield, appeared in the dock at Preston Crown Court on Wednesday as lawyers for the prosecution and defence discussed pre-trial matters.
Bettison sat cross-legged, leaning forward with his head turned slightly to better listen as lawyers discussed procedural matters ahead of any trial.
About 20 family members of the 96 fans killed sat yards away in the public gallery, overlooking the court packed with 36 lawyers and watched by 20 members of the media in the press gallery.
Duckenfield cannot be prosecuted until a stay on any further prosecution is lifted in the High Court.
A date for that hearing is scheduled for January next year with further hearings expected the following April.
Bettison, who was a chief inspector in South Yorkshire Police at the time of the tragedy, is charged with four offences of misconduct in a public office over alleged lies in accounts of his involvement in the disaster.
Mackrell, who was the safety officer for the football club, is charged with two offences involving the stadium safety certificate and a health and safety offence.
Denton, Foster and Metcalf are each charged with two offences of doing acts tending and intended to pervert the course of justice relating to amendments made to police officers’ statements following the tragedy.
Duckenfield also faces 95 counts of gross negligence manslaughter but will not be formally charged and appear in court with the other five until an application to lift a stay on prosecution at the High Court has been heard.
No pleas have been entered by the defendants but all have indicated through their lawyers at an earlier hearing that they will plead not guilty.
Ninety-six Liverpool fans were crushed to death in pens at the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough Stadium on April 15 1989 as their FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest began.