The police officer in charge on the day of the Hillsborough football disaster has been cleared of gross negligence manslaughter. 

David Duckenfield, who is now 75, has been on trial accused of causing the deaths of 95 Liverpool fans who died at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield – the UK’s worst sporting disaster.

The majority verdict from the jury at Preston Crown Court marks a big setback for the bereaved families who have campaigned for justice over the past 30 years.

There were gasps in the public gallery as the foreman returned the verdict.

The victims of the Hillsborough disaster

The victims of the Hillsborough disaster

Christine Burke, who father Henry Burke was killed in the tragedy, stood in the public gallery and addressed the judge.

She said: “With all due respect, my lord, 96 people were found unlawfully killed to a criminal standard.”

In tears, she went on: “I would like to know who is responsible for my father’s death because someone is.”

As the verdict came in, Duckenfield sat impassive in front of the dock with his hands clasped and then drank from a glass of water.

Barry Devonside, whose 18-year-old son Christopher died in the disaster, said: “I’m shocked and stunned by the verdict of the jury. We, the families, have fought for 30 years valiantly.”

One of the female jurors walked out in tears as the jury filed out of the courtroom.

Hillsborough victim's mother reacts to the not guilty verdict from the trial of the match commander

‘Who put the 96 in their graves?’ asks victim’s mother

In a news conference later, Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James died, said: “I blame a system that’s so morally wrong within this country, that’s a disgrace to this nation.

“When 96 people, they say 95, we say 96, are unlawfully killed and yet not one person is accountable.

“The question I’d like to ask all of you and people within the system is who put 96 people in their graves, who is accountable?”

“What a disgrace this has been today and what a shame on this country of ours. I feel so embarrassed to say that is the system within our country.”

She added: “How can 96, I ask all of you, how can 96 be unlawfully killed and no one be accountable?

“Please give us the answer – who unlawfully killed my son along with 95 others?

“And I think now what we’ve got to try and do is change a system that’s in this country that is so wrong.”

Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson said: “Today’s outcome is a huge disappointment for the families, the survivors and for all of those still trying to come to terms with the disaster that unfolded at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989.”

It was only at the inquests – which concluded in 2016 – that the myth fans were to blame was finally laid to rest and the deaths were ruled to be unlawful.

The families have since continued their fight for accountability and Operation Resolve, a new police investigation, reassessed all of the evidence and decided to prosecute Mr Duckenfield.

Floral tributes and balloons are pictured in front of the Hillsborough memorial, outside of Liverpool Football Club's main stand at Anfield in Liverpool, north-west England, on April 15, 2019 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Hillsborough football stadium disaster in which 96 Liverpool football fans were killed.

The Hillsborough memorial at Anfield in Liverpool on the 30th anniversary of the tragedy earlier this year

He stood trial earlier this year but jury members were unable to reach a verdict. The retrial has now cleared him of 95 counts of gross negligence manslaughter.

The “96th victim”, Tony Bland, died from his injuries nearly four years later and too much time had passed for his case to be included in the charges Mr Duckenfield faced.

Margie Matthews lost her 38-year-old husband Brian at Hillsborough. He was a bank manager.

Three decades on, she struggles to see how Mr Duckenfield could be blamed for the entire tragedy.

“I don’t think one man can be the figurehead or the whipping boy for the whole of the tragedy that unfolded,” she said.

“I don’t hate the man, I don’t hate anyone – I feel dreadfully sorry for him right now the age he has got to.

“I wouldn’t like to swap his mind, his thoughts and his emotions for anything else in the world.”

The commander of Operation Resolve, Assistant Commissioner Rob Beckley, defended the multimillion-pound cost of the prosecution.

He said: “For those who have been affected [by Hillsborough] any price is appropriate and that’s what we’ve always got to remember.

“There are many people: the victims, the victims families and the thousands of people who’ve been affected. It’s for them that it is right that we try and bottom this matter out.”

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