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Hillsborough match commander appears in court at start of manslaughter trial

UK News | Published:

David Duckenfield appeared at Preston Crown Court charged over the deaths of 95 Liverpool fans in April 1989.

David Duckenfield

Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield has appeared in court at the start of his trial for the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans.

The 74-year-old former police chief superintendent sat in the well of the court alongside former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell, who is charged with contravening the stadium’s safety certificate and a health and safety offence, as proceedings began in Preston Crown Court on Monday morning.

When the hearing began shortly after 11am, 100 potential jurors were brought into the courtroom, sitting in the jury box, public gallery and dock.

Graham Mackrell
Former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell (Peter Byrne/PA)

Judge Sir Peter Openshaw told the jury panel: “Public opinion in this country strongly supports a system of trial by jury, particularly in serious cases.

“I know that your jury summons suggests that jury service is usually only for two weeks but some trials take longer than two weeks and I must find a jury, if I can, to try an important case which might last three or even four months.”

Potential jurors were given a questionnaire to assess whether they would be suitable to serve.

The questionnaire said: “In this case one defendant is charged with manslaughter and another with two health and safety offences arising out of the Hillsborough stadium disaster at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest played in Sheffield as long ago as April 15 1989.”

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The form was made up of 18 questions including whether they were supporters of Liverpool, Everton, Sheffield Wednesday or Nottingham Forest football clubs and whether they or close family members or friends had ever been police officers or been employed by the police, Crown Prosecution Service, Independent Police Complaints Commission or any criminal justice agency.

Sir Peter Openshaw
Sir Peter Openshaw (Peter Byrne/PA)

The two defendants, who both wore suits and sat alongside solicitors, were asked to stand so the panel could see whether they recognised them and a list of witnesses to be called was read out.

Potential jurors were also asked whether they had health problems or had any pre-booked holidays while the trial was due to sit.

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Sir Peter said: “Don’t go out and book a holiday this afternoon.”

He also warned them not to look up anything about the disaster on the internet.

The court was adjourned while potential jurors filled in the questionnaires.

David Duckenfield
Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield denies gross negligence manslaughter (Peter Byrne/PA)

Fourteen family members sat in court with seven members of the press as part of the public gallery was set aside for the jury panel.

Other relatives of the 96 victims watched from a court annexe while some were able to watch via videolink at the Cunard building in Liverpool.

Duckenfield previously appeared via videolink to enter a not guilty plea to the charge of gross negligence manslaughter.

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

Mackrell, 69, is charged with contravening a term or condition of the stadium’s safety certificate, by failing to agree the methods of admission for the match, and failing to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety Act by not taking reasonable care in respect of arrangements for admission and the drawing up of contingency plans.

Ninety-six men, women and children died in the crush in pens at the Leppings Lane end of the Sheffield Wednesday ground at the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

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