English Premiership

Hillsborough jury retires to consider verdicts

Hillsborough disaster (File)
Hillsborough disaster (File)

London - Jurors at the inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans at the 1989 Hillsborough disaster retired to consider their verdicts on Wednesday, over two years since the hearings began.

The jury of seven women and three men, which has been sitting since March 2014 at a purpose-built courtroom in Warrington, northwest England, will consider 14 key questions set out by coroner John Goldring.

One question concerns whether senior police officer David Duckenfield is responsible for the unlawful killing of the fans by gross negligence manslaughter, in what remains Britain's worst sporting disaster.

Addressing the jury, in front of dozens of relatives of the victims, Goldring said: "You decide the case only on the evidence you heard in court.

"Put out of your mind anything you may have read, heard or discussed about the disaster. Decide the case dispassionately on the evidence.

"Put emotion to one side. Do not make critical findings unless the facts justify them. On the other hand, do not shrink from making such findings if they do.

"You decide what evidence you accept and what evidence you reject."

The tragedy occurred on April 15, 1989 during an FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough stadium in northern England.

Seeking to alleviate a crush that had developed outside the ground at the Leppings Lane End shortly before kick-off, match commander Duckenfield opened an exit gate.

It enabled 2,000 fans to stream into the ground and they piled into the already over-full pens behind the goal at that end of the ground, causing a fatal crush.

In March last year at the hearings, Duckenfield apologised to the families of the victims after admitting to lying that fans had forced the gate open themselves.

Under English law, an inquest exists solely to determine the cause of death. It cannot impose criminal sentences.

The original coroner's verdicts of accidental death were quashed in 2012 after a campaign by victims' families led to the publication of a new report into the disaster.

At the beginning of the new inquests, Goldring said that none of the victims should be blamed for their deaths.

Family members then paid emotional tributes to each of the 96 victims.

The jurors heard evidence from more than 800 witnesses on subjects including stadium safety, match planning, the events of the day, the emergency response and evidence gathering by police after the disaster.

The court then looked at each victim's final movements before medical experts and pathologists gave evidence about the circumstances of their deaths.

Goldring also told the jurors that they would have to resolve "conflicts" between the accounts of Liverpool supporters and police officers present on the day.

"As you will recall, it was suggested to many witnesses that senior officers collectively sought to present a 'false narrative' of the disaster," he said.

"The senior officers from whom we heard strongly denied that suggestion. You will need to consider this evidence because if you were to take the view there was some deliberate decision, you might think it reflected a view of the facts of the disaster taken by the senior officers. That, of course, is a matter for you."

There is no limit on how long the jury may take to reach their conclusions.

The first report into the disaster, published by leading judge Peter Taylor in 1990, led to all-seater stadiums becoming compulsory in the English Premier League.

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