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Jury fail to reach verdict on police chief accused over Hillsborough stadium crush

© Reuters. Former Chief Superintendent of South Yorkshire Police David Duckenfield arrives at Preston Crown Court, to attend his trial regarding the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, in Preston

PRESTON, England (Reuters) – A jury at the trial of a former police chief in charge of operations at the 1989 Hillsborough soccer stadium crush that killed 96 Liverpool supporters failed on Wednesday to reach a verdict on whether he was guilty of manslaughter.

The victims, many young, died in an overcrowded, fenced-in enclosure at the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield, northern England, at an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest on a warm, sunny afternoon in April 27 years ago.

Harrowing images of young fans crushed against metal fences, bodies lying on the pitch and spectators using wooden advertising hoardings as makeshift stretchers horrified the nation.

Police at first blamed the disaster on drunken fans, an explanation that was always rejected by survivors, relatives of the victims and the wider Liverpool community who spent years fighting to find out what had happened.

Later inquests and a damning independent inquiry absolved the fans of any responsibility.

After a 10-week trial and eight days of deliberation, a jury at Preston Crown Court on Wednesday failed to reach a decision on charges of manslaughter by gross negligence against former Chief Supt. David Duckenfield, the police officer in charge on the day. He had denied the charge.

“We have discussed the matter carefully with counsel and I can confirm the CPS will seek a retrial against Mr Duckenfield,” Sue Hemming from the Crown Prosecution Service said in a statement.

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The jury did, however, find former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell guilty of a charge under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

The Hillsborough tragedy, which happened within minutes of kick-off, changed the face of English soccer. Banks of terracing and metal fences around pitches disappeared, replaced by modern, all-seated venues and better security.

The jury had heard that 96 died as a result of a crush. However, under the law at the time, there could be no prosecution for the 96th victim as he died over a year after the tragedy.

“While forthcoming legal proceedings restrict comment on the outcome of the trial, we acknowledge the guilty verdict for Graham Mackrell and can empathise with the frustration shared by everyone affected by the Hillsborough tragedy that the outcome was not definitive,” Liverpool FC said in a statement.

“Furthermore, the journey not only to reach today’s stage and continue, is testament to the perseverance and determination of all involved in the ongoing campaign for justice which is now into its 30th year.”

(writing by James Davey; editing by Michael Holden and Ken Ferris)

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