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Safety officer at Hillsborough disaster fined for inadequate turnstile arrangements

The safety officer in charge of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club at the time of the Hillsborough disaster has been fined £6,500 for failing to ensure there were adequate turnstile arrangements in operation to prevent the buildup of large crowds. 

Image credit: Peter Powell/EPA-EFA/REX/Shutterstock
Graham Mackrell has become the first person to be convicted of an offence relating to the disaster, which unfolded on 15 April 1989 during the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough stadium. Ninety-six Liverpool fans died following the crush in the central pens of the Leppings Lane terrace.
 
Mackrell had been found guilty on 3 April after a ten-week trial of failing to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety at Work (HSW) Act. The Crown Prosecution Service originally charged him with two other offences that carried possible prison sentences for alleged breaches of the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 but both were dropped before the trial concluded. 
 
The jury at Preston Crown Court found the stadium’s safety officer had criminally breached his duties by only making seven turnstiles available for the 10,100 Liverpool fans with standing tickets. At the sentencing hearing on 13 May, Judge Sir Peter Openshaw 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.”
 
According to the BBC, the judge made it clear that Mackrell’s offence under the HSW Act did not directly cause the disaster in the ground.
 
“The defendant’s offence was at least one of the direct causes of the crush at the turnstiles outside the ground but was not a direct cause of the crush in the terraces inside the ground that resulted in the deaths of 96 spectators and injury to many more, to which the crush outside the ground did no more than set the scene.”
 
According to The Guardian, Mackrell’s barrister, Jason Beer QC, claimed in court that the safety officer was not even responsible for the turnstile arrangements at the ground. He also argued that supporters could arrive over a three-hour period, after turnstiles opened at 12pm, so a crush was not foreseeable due to the allocation of only seven turnstiles for more than 10,000 fans with standing tickets. However, the jury did not accept those arguments and found Mackrell guilty by a 10-2 majority.

 

Nic Warburton is acting editor, IOSH Magazine

 Nick Warburton is acting editor of IOSH Magazine. He is a former editor of SHP and has also worked on Local Authority Waste and Recycling and Environmental Health Practitioner

Comments

  • Here we go again using t

    Permalink Submitted by Jeremy Rowland on 14 May 2019 - 12:50 pm

    Here we go again using the law to punish people for accidents when crimes committed on purpose have very little or no punishment at all; most accidents cannot be foreseen, however deliberate acts are fully intentional, had Mr Mackrell stabbed a fan with a knife he would be walking away free but have an accident and the full weight of the law is brought to bear on you. It is so easy for Judge Peter Openshaw to say that Mr Mackrell should have realised, yes right how easy it is to be wise after an event, once again a British judge is so far removed from reality and circumstances of life and the case involved it is unreal. I think this represents the mad world in which we now all sadly have to live.

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    • That is not fair. Safety

      Permalink Submitted by mandyabis on 16 May 2019 - 08:08 am

      That is not fair. Safety Officer is not in full authority to arrange the Sufficient turnstile and that is a valid point. The owner of the stadium and the engineering department should be involved as the incident got something to do with the design of the stadium.

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  • Why blame the Safety Off

    Permalink Submitted by mandyabis on 16 May 2019 - 07:23 am

    Why blame the Safety Officer when his reason is enough that he is not in full authority to arrange for sufficient turnstile. The owner of the stadium is the one who is accountable plus the engineering department who designed the stadium. The jury should realize that if they are the ones in the shoes of the Safety Officer for sure they will get caught in that same situation too.

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  • An issue has been raised

    Permalink Submitted by Andrew Kurdziel CMIOSH on 15 May 2019 - 12:58 pm

    An issue has been raised on several safety forums about the accused being called a “Safety Officer”. This term leads people to assume that he was the competent Health and Safety person as required under Reg 7 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work regulations. He wasn’t, he was the club secretary and his designation as “Safety Officer” derived from his role under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975.

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  • Researching this mans ba

    Permalink Submitted by Tim Briggs on 15 May 2019 - 10:38 am

    Researching this mans background it would appear he has no valid qualification that gives you confidence he has the appropriate competent safety knowledge or experience. Yet they call him a "Safety Officer". Is it not time that titles like Safety Officer be protected and require people to have knowledge and possibly recognised qualification, or that a process for verifying appropriate knowledge and competence can be verified?

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  • Researching this persons

    Permalink Submitted by Tim Briggs on 15 May 2019 - 10:34 am

    Researching this persons background it appears he has no competent safety qualification. Yet he is referred to as the "Safety Officer"?
    Is it not time Safety Officers should have recognised qualifications before being allowed to use titles that imply "Competent" safety knowledge and experience to the general public and others?
    Just a thought.

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  • I tend to agree with the

    Permalink Submitted by AH on 15 May 2019 - 06:04 am

    I tend to agree with the ealrier comment. All too easy to cast judgement after the event. I guess what we're not seeing to provive context is what would be the norm at the time to allow 10,000 people in to a ground - how many gate over what time frame.

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  • It looks like a downward

    Permalink Submitted by Frank W Hayes NDipM DipNEBOSH CMIOSH on 14 May 2019 - 04:37 pm

    It looks like a downward finger pointing exercise with part of the rolling-stone falling right onto the lap of the Safety Officer. Was Mr Mackrell an Officer of the company at the time of the disaster, or was he employed in an advisory capacity? How many turnstiles are there in total at the stadium? Was it reasonably practicable to only utilise seven turnstiles during the day in question. Was it the Safety officers duty to manage the turnstiles? I could go on but would love to see the full investigation report. I feel that the case against a Safety officer has set a precedence for all other Health and Safety professionals in varying industries to take heed on.

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