U.K. prosecutors charge 6 in 1989 Hillsborough stadium deaths

British prosecutors charged six people Wednesday in the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster in which 96 soccer fans died, many of them crushed to death — the first criminal charges in the tragedy that changed English soccer forever.

Those charged include the police commander working that day, David Duckenfield, who is accused of gross negligence manslaughter in the deaths of 95 men, women and children. Prosecutors declined to lay a charge related to the 96th death because he died four years after the April 15, 1989 tragedy.

The former chief of South Yorkshire Police, Norman Bettision, is charged with misconduct in public office for lying about the disaster and its aftermath.

Graham Henry Mackrell, the secretary and safety officer for the Sheffield Wednesday Football Club at the time, was charged with failing to carry out health and safety duties

Peter Metcalf, lawyer for the South Yorkshire police, was charged with acting “with intent to pervert the course of public justice” relating to changes in witness statements during an inquiry into the tragedy. Former chief superintendent Donald Denton and former detective chief Inspector Alan Foster were also charged.

“Criminal proceedings have now commenced and the defendants have a right to a fair trial,” said Sue Hemming, head prosecutor for special crime and counter terror. 

The tragedy at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield unfolded when more than 2,000 Liverpool soccer fans flooded into a standing-room section behind a goal, with the 54,000-capacity stadium already nearly full for the match against Nottingham Forest.

People were smashed against metal anti-riot fences or trampled under foot. Many suffocated in the crush.

Fans wrongly blamed

At the time, hooliganism was common, and there were immediate attempts to defend the police operation and assign blame to the Liverpool fans. A false narrative circulated that blamed rowdy Liverpool fans without tickets — a narrative that their families have challenged for decades.

The original inquest recorded verdicts of accidental death. But the families challenged it and campaigned for a new inquiry. They succeeded in getting the verdicts overturned in 2012 after a far-reaching inquiry that examined previously secret documents and exposed wrongdoing and mistakes by police.

Twenty-three suspects, including individuals and organizations, faced the possibility of charges.

The Hillsborough disaster prompted a sweeping modernization of stadiums across England. Top division stadiums were largely transformed into safer, all-seat venues, with fences around fields torn down.

Barry Devonside, who lost his son Christopher, met the news with mixed emotions, but insisted it was “only right and proper that we fought for our loved ones.”  

“I was frightened we were going to be let down again,” he told Sky News. “We have been smacked in the face on a number of occasions. The families have acted with the utmost of dignity.”

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CBC | Soccer News