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Families in tears as Hillsborough police chief is cleared over deaths

Christine Burke, widow of victim Henry Thomas Burke, Louise Brookes, sister of victim Andrew Brookes and Jenni Hicks, whose two daughters died in the disaster, speaking outside Preston Crown Court
Christine Burke, widow of victim Henry Thomas Burke, Louise Brookes, sister of victim Andrew Brookes and Jenni Hicks, whose two daughters died in the disaster, speaking outside Preston Crown Court
David Duckenfield

By Eleanor Barlow

Families wept as Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield was cleared of the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans who died at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final.

There were gasps in court as seven women and three men on the Preston Crown Court jury returned the verdict yesterday after a trial lasting over six weeks.

The prosecution alleged Duckenfield (75), had "personal responsibility" for what happened at the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on April 15, 1989, when 96 men, women and children were fatally injured in a crush on the Leppings Lane terrace.

About 45 family members watched the verdict from the Cunard building in Liverpool, where the trial was screened.

One shouted: "Stitched up again" and others were in tears.

Christine Burke, the daughter of Henry Burke who was killed in the tragedy, stood in the public gallery and tearfully said to the judge: "With all due respect, my lord, 96 people were found unlawfully killed to a criminal standard.

"I would like to know who is responsible for my father's death, because someone is."

Under the law at the time Duckenfield was not charged over the 96th victim Tony Bland, as he died more than a year and a day after the disaster.

He stood trial earlier this year but the jury failed to reach a verdict and a retrial was ordered.

The court heard the chief superintendent ordered the opening of exit gates at the ground's Leppings Lane end at 2.52pm, eight minutes before kick-off, after the area outside the turnstiles became dangerously overcrowded.

More than 2,000 fans entered through exit gate C once it was opened and many headed for the tunnel ahead of them, which led to the central pens where the crush happened.

The court was played audio of Mr Duckenfield giving evidence to inquests in 2015. At the hearings he accepted he should have taken steps to close the tunnel to the central pens after ordering the opening of the exit gate.

Benjamin Myers QC, defending Duckenfield, told the jury he had been a "target of blame" for the disaster.

He told the court: "We say David Duckenfield did do what he was expected to do as match commander.

"He didn't breach his duty, he did what he was expected to do in difficult circumstances."

Former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell (69), stood trial alongside Duckenfield in January and was found guilty of a health and safety offence for failing to ensure there were enough turnstiles to prevent unduly large crowds building up outside the ground.

He was fined £6,500 and ordered to pay £5,000.

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