Bereaved families have branded the trial of Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield a “disgrace” after he was cleared of the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans who died at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final.
There were gasps as the seven women and three men on the jury at Preston Crown Court in Preston, Lancashire, returned its verdict on Thursday following a retrial that lasted more than six weeks.
Speaking at a news conference in Liverpool, Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James died in the disaster, said: “The families know who is guilty.
“Our city knows who is guilty. He can walk around now and get on with his life with a not guilty verdict.
“To me that is a disgrace.”
"I blame the system that's so morally wrong in this country… when 96 people were unlawfully killed and yet not one person is accountable" – Margaret Aspinall, chair of Hillsborough Family Support Group @HFSG_Official on Duckenfield verdict #JFT96 🌹 pic.twitter.com/ucdoNZ85AN
— Sarah #VoteLabour (@ScouseGirlMedia) November 28, 2019
After the verdict, Christine Burke, the daughter of Henry Burke who was killed in the tragedy, stood in the public gallery and tearfully said to judge Sir Peter Openshaw: “With all due respect, my lord, 96 people were found unlawfully killed to a criminal standard.
“I would like to know who is responsible for my father’s death because someone is.”
Watching proceedings in the Cunard Building in Liverpool, Mary Corrigan, mother of 17-year-old victim Keith McGrath, shouted “Stitched up again”, while other family members were in tears.
Inquests in 2016 found the 96 men, women and children who were fatally injured on April 15, 1989, were unlawfully killed on the basis that Duckenfield, 75, breached his duty of care and was found grossly negligent.
Under the law at the time, Duckenfield was not charged over the death of the 96th victim Tony Bland because he died more than a year and a day after the disaster.
Ian Lewis, a partner at the firm that represented Duckenfield, said: “David is of course relieved that the jury has found him not guilty. However, his thoughts and sympathies remain with the families of those who lost their loved ones.”
Liverpool FC statement.https://t.co/RWbshgQawF
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) November 28, 2019
In a statement, Liverpool Football Club paid tribute to the “perseverance and determination of all involved in the ongoing campaign for justice”.
“We also reiterate that the inquests in April 2016 concluded that the behaviour of Liverpool supporters did not cause or contribute to the Hillsborough disaster. We were disappointed that the allegations were raised again in this process.
“We have immense admiration for the Hillsborough families, survivors and campaigners for what they have achieved and our thoughts remain with them and those 96 Liverpool supporters who went to watch their team and never came home.”
The retired chief superintendent stood trial earlier this year but the jury failed to reach a verdict.
The court heard he ordered the opening of exit gates at the Leppings Lane end of the ground eight minutes before kick-off after the area outside the turnstiles became dangerously overcrowded.
More than 2000 fans entered through exit gate C once it was opened and many headed for the tunnel ahead of them, which led to the central pens where the crush happened.