World News

Hillsborough Match Commander to Face 95 Manslaughter Counts

Posted June 29, 2018 2:33 p.m. EDT
Updated June 29, 2018 2:36 p.m. EDT

LONDON — Nearly three decades after the worst stadium disaster in the history of British soccer, a police commander will face 95 counts of manslaughter in the deaths of soccer fans who were trampled and crushed at a match in England in 1989, prosecutors said Friday.

The decision by a judge to proceed to trial in the case of David Duckenfield represents the latest victory in a long quest for justice by the families of the dead, which included 37 teenagers. Duckenfield, then a chief superintendent in South Yorkshire Police, was in charge of security for the match.

More than 700 people were injured in the disaster at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, which emerged as a political flash point over the role of wealth and class in British life.

For many years, authorities, with the support of some news organizations, sought to suggest that the fans were largely responsible for their own deaths. The families of the victims and survivors fiercely rejected those claims.

They were vindicated in 2016, when a two-year inquest found that the fans had been “unlawfully killed.” David Cameron, then the British prime minister, said in response to the inquest that he was “profoundly sorry for the double injustice” of losing loved ones and then being told they had been responsible for their own deaths.

The inquest cited errors and omissions by police in planning and executing security for a crucial match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on April 15, 1989, and left prosecutors to decide whether to file charges against police.

The Crown Prosecution Service filed charges last June against six people, including Duckenfield. On Friday, the judge, Peter Openshaw, said at Preston Crown Court that the case against Duckenfield and four others could proceed, lifting an 18-year-old legal order that would have prevented prosecution.

“The CPS will now continue preparations for the trial of David Duckenfield on 95 counts of manslaughter by gross negligence,” said Sue Hemming, head of the service’s special crime and counterterrorism division.

Graham Henry Mackrell, a former secretary of Sheffield Wednesday, the soccer club that operates Hillsborough Stadium, will face charges of violating safety laws. Three others — Peter Metcalf, who was a lawyer for South Yorkshire Police, and two high-ranking police officers at the time, Donald Denton and Alan Foster, will face trial on charges of perverting justice.

The trial of Duckenfield and Mackrell is scheduled to begin on Sept. 10, according to court documents, and the other three men will face trial in 2019, according to the Crown Prosecution Service.

A decision on whether to lift an order that would prevent prosecution of another senior police officer, Norman Bettison, was delayed until Aug. 21.

Ninety-six people perished in the tragedy, when police opened a gate in a misguided effort to alleviate overcrowding outside the stadium.

Manslaughter charges could not be filed in one fatality, that of Tony Bland, who died after spending nearly four years in a vegetative state, because too much time had passed between the events at the stadium and his death.