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Ex-club secretary fined for safety breach over Hillsborough disaster

Graham Mackrell was sentenced at Preston Crown Court.

Former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell (Owen Humphreys/PA)
Former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell (Owen Humphreys/PA)

The former secretary of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club has been fined £6,500 and ordered to pay £5,000 costs for failing to ensure the health and safety of fans arriving at the ground on the day of the disaster.

Graham Mackrell, 69, who was safety officer for the club at the time of the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, was sentenced at Preston Crown Court on Monday after he 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 fine, branded “shameful” by one family member, was based on his weekly income of £1,370, made up of £700 he earned as administrator for the Football League Managers’ Association and £670 from pensions, the court heard.

Mackrell was also said to have “modest savings” of £5,000.

Judge Sir Peter Openshaw said: “The passage of time is a substantial point for mitigation.”

He said Mackrell had written a letter to the court in which he said that since the disaster he had been exposed to public abuse.

“I do not doubt the campaign of vilification against him has caused him and his family considerable anguish,” Judge Openshaw said.

The court heard the arrangements meant there were seven turnstiles available for the 10,100 Liverpool fans with standing tickets.

The judge 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.”

Ninety-six Liverpool fans died following the crush in the central pens of the Leppings Lane terrace at the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on April 15, 1989, after exit gates to the ground were opened to relieve a build-up of crowds outside.

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

Our 96 deserve better than this and us families deserve better than this Louise Brookes

Outside court an enraged 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.”

Christine Burke, whose father Henry died in the disaster, said: “When Hillsborough happened he was in charge of the safety certificate at the time and he should have been sacked straightaway.

“There should have been no way that he could have pursued his career as he did do after Hillsborough.”

Mackrell, wearing a suit with blue shirt and purple tie, sat in the well of the court rather than the dock for the hearing.

In a statement released after the hearing, he said: “I am grateful that today the judge recognised my conduct did not cause or contribute to the death of any person or cause any person to be injured on that tragic day.

“Despite that, I do wish to take this opportunity to make clear my sympathy to all those impacted by this appalling tragedy.

“No-one should have to go through what the families have experienced.”

Jason Beer QC, defending, said: “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 has spent two years with this hanging over his head.”

The court heard Mackrell, who did not give evidence during the trial, had no previous convictions and there had been evidence he was thought of as “highly competent and conscientious”.

The former club secretary, the first person to be convicted for an offence relating to the disaster, was found guilty by a majority of 10 to two on April 3 following a 10-week trial.

Mackrell, of Stocking Pelham in Hertfordshire, stood trial alongside match commander David Duckenfield.

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 Duckenfield will face a retrial is expected to be held next month

PA

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