Hillsborough: After two years of evidence, jury retires to consider verdict

The jury in the inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans at the 1989 Hillsborough disaster has retired to consider its verdicts, more than two years since the hearings began.

Injured supporters were laid on the pitch. Picture: David Cannon/Allsport
Injured supporters were laid on the pitch. Picture: David Cannon/Allsport

The seven women and three men of the jury retired at 2:05pm yesterday to consider 14 key questions set out by the coroner Sir John Goldring, in a 33 page questionnaire, including determining if match commander David Duckenfield is responsible for the unlawful killing of the fans by gross negligence manslaughter.

The hearings into Britain’s worst sporting disaster first began on 31 March, 2014, at a specially built courtroom in Warrington, Cheshire, with dozens of relatives of the 96 attending each of the more than 300 days the court has sat at Bridgewater Place at the town’s Birchwood Park business park.

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The Hillsborough tragedy unfolded on 15 April, 1989 during Liverpool’s FA Cup tie against Nottingham Forest as thousands of fans were crushed on Sheffield Wednesday’s Leppings Lane terrace.

Mr Duckenfield gave the order at 2:52pm to open exit Gate C in Leppings Lane, allowing around 2,000 fans to flood into the already packed central pens behind the goal.

At the start of the inquests, the coroner said none of the victims should be blamed for their deaths.

Emotional tributes to each of the 96 were then delivered by family members in the form of personal portraits.

Jurors have heard months of evidence from more than 800 witnesses on topics including stadium safety, match planning, the events of the day, the emergency response and evidence gathering by police after the disaster.

The role and responsibility of Mr Duckenfield also came under intense scrutiny.

The jury was then told of the final movements of each victim before hearing from medical experts and pathologists as to the circumstances of the deaths.

The 1991 verdicts from the original inquests were quashed following the 2012 Hillsborough Independent Panel report.

Sir John told the jurors they would have to resolve “conflicts” of evidence they have heard between what Liverpool fans said and the accounts of police officers critical of them.

The coroner also told them they would have to consider the way police statements were taken, reviewed and sometimes amended in what families claim was an attempt to mould the evidence and protect the South Yorkshire force.

As he summed up the evidence, Sir John reminded the jury: “As you will recall, it was suggested to many witnesses that senior officers collectively sought to present a ‘false narrative’ of the disaster. 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.”

Earlier yesterday, the court resumed an hour and a half late, at 11:31am, after adjourning on Tuesday afternoon.

After the jurors were first brought into court yesterday, the coroner told them he wanted to make “a few observations” and say some things he had told them previously, before completing his summing-up.

Sir John told the jury: “Jurors are a random selection of members of the public, of all backgrounds and ages. They have to work together in the interests of justice.

“We are conscious you have devoted a very large part of your lives to this inquest.

“We are, of course, at a very important stage of the inquest. You will shortly retire to consider your decisions.

“It is of the highest importance that all of you work together in the interests of justice.

“It requires you to work together to discuss the evidence in a civilised manner.

“It requires you to work together as a team. It requires you to make decisions together.

“It requires you to put aside personal issues that sometimes arise.

“In the event you are unable to deal with your very important decisions in the way I have indicated you must immediately let me know.”