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Trial of Hillsborough match commander underway in Preston

Posted on - 14th January, 2019 - 3:50pm | Author - | Posted in - Crime, Preston City Centre, Preston News, Uncategorized
Preston Crown Court

Preston Crown Court is at the top of the national news agenda as the trial of Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield gets underway.

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Press and families of the 96 people who died at the match almost 30 years ago flocked to the court to see Duckenfield, 73, stand trial, accused of gross negligence manslaughter.

Outside the court, in Openshaw Place, Preston, TV crews and press photographers waited to catch Duckenfield arrive at court.

Meanwhile, inside the court, 100 would-be jurors were handed questionnaires to establish whether they were eligible to sit on the jury.

Among the questions were whether they had any connections with South Yorkshire Police, or any police force, or were supporters of Liverpool, Everton, Sheffield Wednesday or Nottingham Forest football clubs.

What is the trial about?

On April 15 1989 Liverpool FC and Nottingham Forest went head-to-head in the FA Cup semi-final at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground in Hillsborough.

Duckenfield, a newly promoted Chief Superintended with South Yorkshire police, was in charge of fans’ safety at the match.

54,000 supporters attended the match with around half being Liverpool supporters.

But as the crowd surged into pens, a crush ensued and 96 supporters lost their lives.

Duckenfield is charged with failing to prevent overcrowding at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium in respect of 95 of the fans.

No charge could be brought in respect of Tony Bland, 18, who died four years after he suffered critical brain damage in the crush. Under the law at the time this means there can be no prosecution in relation to his death

Graham Mackrell, the Sheffield Wednesday club secretary and safety officer at the time the disaster happened, will stand trial alongside Duckenfield, on two counts of breaching his duties under safety legislation.

About the trial

The trial is expected to last four months and will take place in court one of Preston Crown Court, which has seen a number of high profile trials, including Coronation Street actor Bill Roache and double police killer Dale Cregan.

A separate annexe has been set up outside the courtroom to accommodate the dozens of reporters who are in the city to report on the trial.

Another annexe has been set up in court three to make way for the families of the 96, and the trial will be live streamed to the Cunard Building in Liverpool, where families can also watch the proceedings.

The case will be tried by a panel of 12 jurors and presided over by high court judge Mr Justice Openshaw.

During the week of the 30th anniversary of the disaster, it is expected the trial will be adjourned to allow commemorations and tributes to take place.

Who is Mr Justice Openshaw?

It will be a homecoming visit for the former Recorder of Preston, Mr Justice Openshaw, whose name is synonymous with justice in the city.

Mr Justice Openshaw presided over the courts as the Honorary Recorder of Preston from 1999 until 2006 when he was appointed to the High Court Queen’s Bench Division.

On the day he was sworn, Judge Openshaw and his wife Dame Caroline Swift made legal history as the first husband and wife to be appointed to the High Court on the same day.

In 1981 Judge Openshaw’s father, Judge William Openshaw, was murdered at his home in Garstang Road, Broughton, by a man he had previously jailed.

John Smith, 31, hid in the rafters of the garage at Park House, before pouncing on the judge as he left for work, stabbing him in the head and neck.

Smith later admitted murder ‘to settle an old score’ and was jailed for 25 years.

When the new Combined Court buildings opened in Ringway in 1996, the address was listed as Openshaw Place, in tribute to the respected city judge.

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