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Risk of crushing death at Hillsborough was ‘obvious’, court hears

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Jurors have been told that hindsight is not necessary to appreciate the “obvious” risk of death at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium before the disaster.

Police match commander David Duckenfield, 74, is charged with the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans who died as a result of crushing at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final match.

Prosecuting barrister Richard Matthews QC told the jury at Preston Crown Court: “It is not in any way merely with hindsight that we can look back and see that there was an obvious, serious and very present risk of death from crushing to those entering the Leppings Lane area of the stadium.”

The court was told that crushing at the stadium was nothing new. Mr Matthews said Tottenham Hotspur fans had been badly injured at an FA Cup semi-final match against Wolves in 1981.

Jurors heard there was a clear risk to life at the stadium in 1989
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Jurors heard there was a clear risk to life at the stadium in 1989

Mr Matthews said that a tunnel leading to the West terrace had been blocked by police at that match to prevent further overcrowding – an action that was not taken before the 1989 disaster.

A 1981 letter from South Yorkshire Police to the then chairman of Sheffield Wednesday football club read: “Both the club and the police should be able to improve their performance.

“The police action, in letting spectators onto the track, was not only necessary but was vital to avoid further serious injuries and possibly save life.”

Former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell
Image:
Former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell

Jurors at the trial have seen a 3D graphic model of the Hillsborough stadium police control box as it was on the day of the disaster.

It reconstructs the view that senior police officers, including then-chief superintendent Duckenfield, would have had over the overcrowded pens where supporters died.

The court was told that Sheffield Wednesday’s safety certificate at the time of the disaster was flawed and that those responsible recognised that it was “very out of date”.

Graham Mackrell, 69, who was club secretary at the time, was responsible for safety at the ground. He denies two charges of breaching health and safety laws.

Mr Duckenfield denies a charge of gross negligence manslaughter.

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