29 Jun 2017

Criminal charges laid over Hillsborough disaster

8:00 am on 29 June 2017

Six people face criminal charges over the 1989 Hillsborough football stadium disaster, Britain's state prosecution service has announced.

Hillsborough disaster anniversary

A banner marks an anniversary of the 1989 Hillsborough football stadium disaster in Sheffield, England. Photo: Wikipedia

A total of 96 Liverpool fans died as the result of a crowd crush during an FA Cup semi-final at the Sheffield ground.

David Duckenfield, a former senior officer who was in charge of police operations at Hillsborough on the day of the disaster, has been charged with the manslaughter by gross negligence of 95 men, women and children.

He has not been not charged over the 96th casualty, who died four years after the disaster, because of legal time limits in force at the time.

The other five people charged include other police officers, a lawyer who acted for the police, and a stadium safety officer.

Charges include perverting the course of justice, contravening safety regulations and misconduct in public office.

The victims died in an overcrowded, fenced-in enclosure at the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield, northern England, during the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Police at first blamed the tragedy on drunken fans, an explanation that was always rejected by survivors, relatives of the victims and the wider Liverpool community. Families spent decades campaigning for justice for the 96.

"It's about all of these families, 28 years we've had of torture really. It's been hell on earth," said Margaret Aspinall, a leader of the families' campaign group, whose 18-year-old son James was among the dead.

"This is definitely the start of the end," she told reporters after the charging decision was announced.

"We all need peace from Hillsborough, but we can never have peace until we've got truth, justice, accountability."

Sue Hemming, head of the special crime and counter-terrorism division at the Crown Prosecution Service, said there was sufficient evidence to charge the six men with criminal offences.

"We will allege that David Duckenfield's failures to discharge his personal responsibility were extraordinarily bad and contributed substantially to the deaths of each of those 96 people who so tragically and unnecessarily lost their lives," said Ms Hemming.

Among the other defendants was Norman Bettison, a former police chief constable, who was charged with four offences of misconduct in public office. Those related to allegations he lied about his involvement in the aftermath of the disaster and the culpability of fans.

Two other ex-police chiefs, Donald Denton and Alan Foster, were charged with perverting the course of justice over alleged changes they made to witness statements used during the original investigation and inquest into the Hillsborough deaths.

A lawyer who acted for police, Peter Metcalf, was also charged with perverting the course of justice over similar allegations.

Graham Mackrell, who was Sheffield Wednesday Football Club's company secretary and safety officer at the time of the disaster, was charged with contravening safety rules and failing to take reasonable care for the health and safety of others.

The defendants other than Mr Duckenfield will appear at Warrington Magistrates' Court on 9 August for a first hearing in their prosecution.

- Reuters

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