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Scene was already set for Hillsborough tragedy, ex-club secretary's lawyer tells court

Former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell Credit: Press Association

The former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary accused of safety offences related to the Hillsborough disaster started the job when the "scene was already set" for the tragedy, his lawyer has told a court.

The jury in the trial of the club's safety officer Graham Mackrell, 69, and match commander David Duckenfield, 74, also heard how fans were turned away from full terraces at an FA Cup semi-final eight years before the tragedy.

Outlining key issues in the case, Jason Beer QC, representing Mackrell, told the jury the former secretary was not charged with anything to do with the construction and layout of the Leppings Lane terrace.

Ninety-six Liverpool fans attending the FA Cup semi-final on April 15 1989 died.

He said: "The prosecution, you would have noted, has opened the case on the basis that in many respects the scene was already set for Mr Mackrell by the way this club had developed in the 1970s and 1980s up to his arrival. We strongly agree with that.

"The critical decisions as to the layout of ground, that would in the end have a significant effect on how the crush occurred, had already been taken, been taken by experts, signed off and approved by regulatory authorities long before Mr Mackrell's arrival."

He added: "These two charges are to be viewed not with the eyes of 2019 but in relation to what was known before April 15 1989 and the standards of the day then."

Mr Beer said Mackrell was accused of breaching a condition of the safety certificate by not agreeing the methods of admission for the match with the chief constable or police officer in charge on the day.

But he said it would be the defence case that Brian Mole - who had been the match commander at Hillsborough until he was replaced by Duckenfield less than three weeks before the match - had been aware of the turnstile arrangements, although Mr Mole would not be giving evidence as he was dead.

Mr Beer told the jury to consider to what extent Mr Mole had determined the planning of football matches, especially FA Cup ties, and the extent to which structural engineer Dr Wilfred Eastwood, who is also now dead, had exercised control over anything to do with the safety of the ground.

The court also heard from Tottenham Hotspur fan James Chumley, who said he had been unable to watch the FA Cup semi-final on April 14 1981, almost exactly eight years before the disaster, because he was stopped from entering the Leppings Lane terrace.

The court has seen footage of Spurs fans being allowed on to the pitch perimeter track following a crushing incident on the terrace at the match against Wolverhampton Wanderers.

In a letter which Mr Chumley wrote to the club after the match, he said: "One police officer advised me I was at the 'worst end' and that the situation at big games was always the same.

"In his opinion the capacity of the stand was over declared."

Court sketch of Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield (left) and former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell Credit: Press Association

Mackrell, of Hertfordshire, denies contravening a term or condition of the stadium's safety certificate, by failing to agree the methods of admission for the match, and failing to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety Act by not taking reasonable care in respect of arrangements for admission and the drawing up of contingency plans.

Duckenfield, of Bournemouth, denies the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 people at the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Under the law at the time, there can be no prosecution for the 96th victim, Tony Bland, as he died more than a year and a day after the disaster.

The trial will continue on Monday.

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