Ch. Supt Duckenfield was the senior Police Officer - "Match Commander" - at Hillsborough Stadium on the day of the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. The acquittal of Mr Duckenfield was by a jury of 10 and the verdict was a majority of 9 to 1. - Statement by the CPS 28 November 2019.
The law of gross negligence manslaughter is set out in detail on the CPS website.
A 96th victim
was Anthony David Bland who died on 3 March 1993. Mr Duckenfield could not be charged with a homicide offence in relation to Mr Bland because of the "year and a day rule" by which, for the purposes of offences involving death and of suicide, an act or omission was conclusively presumed not to have caused a person’s death if more than a year and a day elapsed before he died. The law relating to that rule was amended by the Law Reform (Year and a Day Rule) Act 1996 but the legislation does not have retrospective effect.
In December 2012, the High Court ordered new inquests which, in April 2016, determined that those who died in the disaster were unlawfully killed - The Guardian 26 April 2016. However, the criminal trial has acquitted Mr Duckenfield. This can be explained by the separate purposes of Inquests and Criminal Trials.
An Inquest is held by a Coroner who sometimes sits with a jury. It is public judicial process to find the answers to a limited but important set of questions:
- Who the deceased was
- When and where they died
- The medical cause of their death
- How they came by their death
A criminal trial is to decide criminal liability in relation to the offence(s) with which a defendant is charged. The only successful criminal prosecution in relation to Hillsborough was that of Mr Graham Mackrell - CPS 13 May 2019. Mr Mackrell, a former Sheffield Wednesday club Secretary, was sentenced to a fine of £6,500 and costs of £5,000 for an offence under Health and Safety legislation. He was accused of failing to take reasonable care to ensure that the turnstile allocation and ticketing arrangements for the Leppings Lane end of the Hillsborough stadium did not result in large crowds building up.
Open the Gates:
On 17 April 1989 Lord Justice Taylor (later Lord Chief Justice) was appointed to hold an inquiry. The inquiry was completed by 14 July 1989 and an Interim Report was published in August 1989. Lord Taylor's terms of reference were - "To inquire into the events at Sheffield Wednesday football ground on 15 April 1989 and to make recommendations about the needs of crowd control and safety at sports events."
It is at paras 66-70 of the interim report where Lord Taylor commented about the decision to Open the Gates. This is worth quoting in full:
Clearly, when Mr Duckenfield made his "heat of the moment" decision regarding the gates, he was responsing to requests from other officers who had said that opening the gates was necessary to prevent casualties. Once the gates were opened, fans were able to proceed via a central tunnel to the terraces and that caused the severe pressure within the crowd. A fence around the edge of the playing pitch prevented easy access by spectators to the pitch.
Mr Duckenfield has now been cleared of criminal responsibility but it seems worthy of note that, in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, he gave a misleading account. According to this report in The Guardian 11 October 2019, the retrial was informed that Mr Duckenfield told FA Officials that “a gate had been forced and there had been an inrush of Liverpool supporters that had caused casualties. What he did not say was that he had given an order to open the gates,” said Richard Matthews QC, opening the case for the prosecution.
This is borne out by Lord Justice Taylor's Interim Report which, at paragraph 98, noted:
Legacies of Hillsborough:
One legacy of Hillsborough is the improvements made to stadiums and the safety of those attending matches, including all-seater stadiums - Telegraph 26 April 2016 - The legacy of Hillsborough - how football has changed.
The Anthony Bland case left a legal legacy relating to withdrawal of end of life medical treatment though it is now necessary to consider later cases and, in particular, the UK Supreme Court judgment in An NHS Trust v Y  UKSC 46.
Hillsborough has also left its mark on the law of tort in relation to claims brought by individuals who have witnessed a traumatic event but it cannot said that the law is particularly satisfactory and claims will be difficult to pursue. The courts have intoduced various "control mechanisms" to limit the number of claims that can be considered. See Law Commission - Liability for Psychiatric Illness.
The BBC 3 December 2019 reported that the mayors of Liverpool and Greater Manchester have written to the three main party leaders strongly criticising the legal system following the acquittal of the Hillsborough match commander, David Duckenfield, on a charge of manslaughter.
In a strongly worded letter, the mayor of Liverpool City region, Steve Rotheram, and Manchester’s mayor, Andy Burnham, as well as Margaret Aspinall, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, call on Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson to introduce without delay the so-called “Hillsborough law” if elected prime minister.
In April 2009 after being heckled at the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster Burnham used the next day's cabinet meeting in Downing Street to ask then Prime Minister Gordon Brown if he could raise the issue of Hillsborough in Parliament. Brown agreed despite it not being on the government's agenda. See Law and Lawyers 17 October 2011 and Hansard 17 October 2011.
A public authority (accountability) bill was introduced to Parliament by Mr Burnham but it was discontinued with the 2017 dissolution of Parliament. It would have placed a "duty of candour" on public authorities such as the police, fire brigade and local authorities. The Bill also sought to provide bereaved families with funding for legal representation equal to that of those public authorities.
1) Video (Youtube) - Hillsborough Disaster 1989 BBC Sports Coverage (Desmond Lynam and Jimmy Hill) - has film of the events at Hillsborough and is well worth watching for the sheer professionalism of the broadcasters
2) The Hillsborough Disaster
3) Lord Justice Taylor's Reports
"Lord Taylor's interim report on the Hillsborough stadium disaster" (PDF).
4) The Hillsborough Independent Panel Report published in September 2012
5) The judgment of the court quashing all the earlier inquest verdicts and ordering new inquests - Her Majesty' Attorney-General v HM Coroner for South Yorkshire (West) and HM Coroner for West Yorkshire (West)  EWHC 3783 Admin - Lord Judge LCJ, Burnett LJ and HHJ Peter Thornton QC (Chief Coroner)
6) Inquests - The jury determinations were set out by Prime Minister Theresa May in a Statement to the House of Commons 27 April 2016
7) The Independent 28 April 2019 - Hillsborough trial: Timeline of 30 year battle for justice
8) The Guardian 26 April 2016 - Hillsborough Disaster: deadly mistakes and lies that lasted decades
9) Independent 29 November 2019 - How the prosecution case against David Duckenfield fell apart
29 November 2019