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Hillsborough police chief is being singled out unfairly, claims lawyer

David Duckenfield
David Duckenfield

By Eleanor Barlow

Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield is being "singled out unfairly", his lawyer has claimed in court.

The retired South Yorkshire Police chief superintendent (74) denies the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans who died in the crush at the FA Cup semi-final on April 15, 1989.

Outlining the key issues at Preston Crown Court yesterday, Benjamin Myers QC, representing Duckenfield, said the match commander had done "his best in very difficult circumstances".

He said: "He is being singled out unfairly."

He said the disaster was brought about by a combination of factors, including bad stadium design, bad planning and some aspects of the behaviour of the crowd and the police.

"We say the distinction between what David Duckenfield can accurately and fairly be held to account for and what is really the fault of others, the police, the club, the crowd or anyone else, is a crucial distinction in this case," he said. "Our sympathy with those who suffered can never be a reason to convict someone for events beyond their control or responsibility."

He told the jury that when they come to evaluate the evidence to "keep in mind that the world of football in 1989 was very different to today" - with terraces, fences and police horses.

He said: "Let's not try to rewrite history. Some of the crowd behaviour would horrify people at football matches today and some of the policing was designed to contain it in a way you would not hope to encounter at a football match today."

Mr Myers told the jury he did not seek to insult Liverpool FC, its supporters or the city itself.

In his opening speech, Richard Matthews QC, prosecuting, told the jury that Duckenfield's "extraordinarily bad failings" caused the deaths of 96 "wholly innocent" Liverpool fans.

The court has heard an exit gate to the stadium was opened to relieve crowds outside the turnstiles, allowing more than 2,500 fans to enter the stadium and head down the tunnel to the already full central pens.

Mr Myers said: "It is Mr Duckenfield's case that he is not negligent and he did his best in very difficult circumstances, and even if things could have been done better with hindsight, at the time he did the best he could.

"It is not right or fair to single him out in this way.

"He was put in a position of being the match commander less than three weeks before the match with no previous experience of anything like this before."

Mr Myers said one of the issues was whether a serious and obvious risk of death was foreseeable.

Ninety-six people died as a result of the crush on the terraces at the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Under the law at the time, there can be no prosecution for the 96th victim, Tony Bland, as he died more than a year and a day after the disaster.

Duckenfield is standing trial alongside former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell (69), who denies breaching a condition of the safety certificate and a health and safety offence.

The trial continues.

Belfast Telegraph


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