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Hillsborough match commander’s manslaughter trial adjourned until January

The trial date for David Duckenfield, the former police officer who was the match commander on the day of the Hillsborough disaster, has been postponed until the New Year.

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He is charged with the manslaughter by gross negligence of 95 football fans who died at the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield in 1989 during the FA semi-cup final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest football clubs. 

Duckenfield, 73, was expected to go on trial on 10 September at Preston Crown Court alongside Graham Mackrell, who was Sheffield Wednesday FC’s safety officer and company secretary at the time. 
Mackrell is charged with two offences of contravening a condition of the ground’s safety certificate contractor to the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, and one offence of failing to protect peoples’ welfare under the Health and Safety at Work Act.  

At a hearing yesterday (2 July), Judge Sir Peter Openshaw adjourned the trial until 14 January. The pair will be asked to enter a plea at a pre-trial hearing on 10 September. 

Ninety-five Liverpool FC fans were killed at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground on 15 April 1989. They were crushed in standing-only “pens” at the stadium’s Leppings Lane terrace as thousands of ticketholders made their way into the ground minutes before the 3pm kick-off. 

Duckenfield cannot be charged over the death of a 96th victim, Tony Bland, as he died four years after the incident. 

Last week it was announced that the prosecution for manslaughter of Duckenfield would continue to trial after Openshaw lifted a prosecution ban, known as a “stay”, imposed in 2000 by Mr Justice Hooper to prevent further action being taken against him. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) previously had applied for the stay to be lifted.

Openshaw said in court: “In respect of the defendant David Duckenfield I lift the stay. I confirm that I grant the voluntary bill of indictment to allow prosecution for manslaughter to proceed. I decline to order a stay on that charge.” 

Openshaw also rejected Mackrell’s and three other defendants’ applications for their criminal charges to be dismissed. 

These were Peter Metcalf, the solicitor acting for the South Yorkshire Police; former chief superintendent Donald Denton; and former detective chief inspector Alan Foster, who are all charged with perverting the course of justice, relating to changes made to the witness statements. 

Former chief constable of Merseyside and West Yorkshire Police Norman Bettison is charged with four counts of misconduct in public office, relating to alleged lies he told about his involvement in the aftermath of Hillsborough and the culpability of fans. His application to stay a prosecution has been adjourned until 21 August.

The CPS announced last June that it intended to prosecute the six individuals after new inquests into the disaster concluded the fans had been unlawfully killed. 

 

 

Keeley Downey is acting deputy editor of IOSH Magazine. She is a former editor of Biofuels International, Bioenergy Insight and Tank Cleaning Magazine

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