Five other men will also face criminal charges: Graham Henry Mackrell, a former secretary of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, which plays at Hillsborough Stadium; Peter Metcalf, a lawyer who represented the South Yorkshire Police; and three other former high-ranking police officers: Donald Denton, Alan Foster and Norman Bettison.
Sue Hemming, the head of the prosecution service’s special crime and counterterrorism division, announced the charges after meeting with victims’ families on Wednesday morning.
“Criminal proceedings have now commenced and the defendants have a right to a fair trial,” she said. “It is extremely important that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings.”
The victims suffocated at an F.A. Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest after the police opened an exit gate in an effort to relieve congestion outside the stadium before the game. In the chaos that ensued, some victims were crushed against steel fencing. Others were trampled, and more than 700 people were injured. The victims were aged 10 to 67, and they included 37 teenagers.
After the disaster, some senior law enforcement officials and members of the news media, particularly at The Sun newspaper, initially pointed fingers at the victims for abetting their own deaths, saying they had been drunk and unruly.
But the jury — after a two-year inquest that began on April 1, 2014, the longest case heard by a jury in British legal history — found that the fans had not been responsible and instead identified lethal police errors. The inquest was not a criminal trial but, rather, a finding of fact that did not confer civil damages or penalties. It was left to prosecutors to evaluate whether to press criminal charges.
The tragedy changed how soccer is watched: Standing-only sections at stadiums that were vulnerable to overcrowding were replaced by seating areas at most venues in Britain, and fences around the field were removed.
The prevailing narrative in the case — which has raised issues of class, institutional accountability and justice — has shifted over time from the behavior of the fans to the failure of law enforcement to properly police the game. Scrutiny has intensified in particular on Mr. Duckenfield, the match commander, who falsely claimed that spectators had opened the gate.
During an inquest into the tragedy, Mr. Duckenfield said that he “froze” during the crucial moments when officers were confronted with the threat of overcrowding and that he did not anticipate that his failure to close a tunnel leading to crowded pens after the gate was opened would prove deadly.
In the days after the 1989 disaster, The Sun published a story blaming Liverpool fans for belligerent behavior, saying they had attacked the authorities and even picked victims’ pockets. The Sun’s editor at the time, Kelvin MacKenzie, apologized more than 23 years later, but to this day, The Sun is reviled for its coverage of the tragedy, particularly by people in and around Liverpool.
In 1996, Bernard Ingham, a former spokesman for Margaret Thatcher, who was prime minister at the time of the Hillsborough disaster, wrote a letter to Graham Skinner, a Liverpool fan whose friend had died in the crush, in which he blamed fans for their own deaths.
“I believe that there would have been no Hillsborough disaster if tanked-up yobs had not turned up in very large numbers to try to force their way into the ground,” he wrote.
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