Ex-club secretary fined for safety breach over Hillsborough disaster
The former secretary of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club has been fined £6,500 and ordered to pay £5,000 costs for a health and safety offence related to turnstile arrangements on the day of the Hillsborough disaster.
Graham Mackrell, 69, who was safety officer for the club at the time of the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, was sentenced at Preston Crown Court on Monday after he was found guilty of failing to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act in respect of ensuring there were enough turnstiles to prevent unduly large crowds building up outside the ground.
The court heard there were seven turnstiles available for the 10,100 Liverpool fans with standing tickets.
Judge Sir Peter Openshaw said: “He should have realised there was an obvious risk that so many spectators could not pass through seven turnstiles in time for kick-off.”
Mackrell, wearing a suit with blue shirt and purple tie, sat in the well of the court rather than the dock for the sentencing.
About half a dozen family members sat in the public gallery and nine members of the press were also in court, with others watching from an annexe.
Three members of the jury returned to hear the sentencing.
The former club secretary, the first person to be convicted for an offence relating to the disaster, was found guilty of by a majority of 10 to two on April 3 following an 10-week trial.
Ninety-six Liverpool fans died following the crush in the central pens of the Leppings Lane terrace at the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on April 15, 1989, after exit gates to the ground were opened to relieve a build-up of crowds outside.
But, Judge Openshaw said Mackrell’s offence did not directly cause the disaster inside the ground.
He said: “The defendant’s offence was at least one of the direct causes of the crush at the turnstiles outside the ground but it was not a direct cause of the crush on the terraces inside the ground that resulted in the deaths of 96 spectators and injury to many more, to which the crush outside the ground did no more than set the scene.”
Jason Beer QC, defending, said: “Thirty years has elapsed since this offence was committed, but Mr Mackrell was told in August 1990 that he wasn’t going to be prosecuted and lived his life accordingly.
“He has spent two years with this hanging over his head.”
Mackrell, of Stocking Peltham in Hertfordshire, had originally faced three charges relating to the disaster, but two counts of contravening terms or conditions of the ground’s safety certificate were dropped during proceedings.
He stood trial alongside match commander David Duckenfield but, after deliberating for 29 hours and six minutes, the jury failed to reach a verdict on whether the former chief superintendent was guilty of the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 of the victims.
A hearing to decide whether Duckenfield will face a retrial is expected to be held next month.
Judge Openshaw said Mackrell would be given a fine which was 600% of his weekly income.
The court heard he made £700-a-week in his job as administrator for the Football League Managers’ Association and earned an additional £670-a-week from pensions.
There was laughter from the public gallery as Mr Beer said Mackrell had “modest” savings of £5,000.
Mr Beer told the court: “Mr Mackrell made a mistake and he made the same mistake that others may have made.”
He said senior police officers had also been aware of the arrangement for turnstiles on the day.
He added: “He wasn’t part of any cover up, he wasn’t part of any concealment of facts. He was blameless for the delay of 30 years.”
He said at the time, Hillsborough had been regarded as one of the safest stadiums in the country.
Judge Openshaw said if Mackrell had been sentenced under the guidelines of today he could have faced a maximum of two years in prison.
He said Mackrell had been exposed to public “vilification” since the disaster.
He said: “The disaster and its aftermath has had a serious and lasting effect on him and his family.”