LONDON – British prosecutors charged six people Wednesday in the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster in which 96 soccer fans died, many of them crushed to death – the first criminal charges in the tragedy that changed English soccer forever.
Those charged include the police commander on the day, David Duckenfield, who is accused of gross negligence manslaughter in the deaths of 95 men, women and children. Prosecutors declined to charge the manslaughter of the 96th casualty because he died four years after the April 15, 1989 tragedy.
The former chief of South Yorkshire Police, Norman Bettison, is charged with misconduct in public office for lying about the disaster and its aftermath.
Graham Henry Mackrell, the secretary and safety officer for the Sheffield Wednesday Football Club at the time, was charged with failing to carry out health and safety duties
Peter Metcalf, the attorney for the South Yorkshire Police, was charged with acting “with intent to pervert the course of public justice” relating to changes in witness statements during an inquiry into the tragedy. Former Chief Superintendent Donald Denton and former Detective Chief Inspector Alan Foster were charged for their involvement in the same matter.
“Criminal proceedings have now commenced and the defendants have a right to a fair trial,” said Sue Hemming, the head prosecutor for special crime and counter terror. “It is extremely important that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings.”
WATCH: Prosecutors announce criminal charges against 6 people, ex-police chiefs over deadly Hillsborough stadium crush
The tragedy at the stadium in Sheffield unfolded when more than 2,000 Liverpool soccer fans flooded into a standing-room section behind a goal, with the 54,000-capacity stadium already nearly full for the match against Nottingham Forest. The victims were smashed against metal anti-riot fences or trampled underfoot. Many suffocated in the crush.
At the time, hooliganism was common, and there were immediate attempts to defend the police operation. A false narrative circulated that blamed ticketless and rowdy Liverpool fans – a narrative that their families have challenged for decades.
The original inquest recorded verdicts of accidental death. But the families challenged it and succeeded in getting the verdicts overturned in 2012 after a far-reaching inquiry that examined previously secret documents and exposed wrongdoing and mistakes by police.
Some 23 suspects, including individuals and organizations, had faced the possibility of charges.
The Hillsborough disaster prompted a sweeping modernization of stadiums across England. Top division stadiums were largely transformed into safer, all-seat venues, with fences around fields torn down.
VIDEO: Justice after 27 years in Hillsborough Stadium stampede
Barry Devonside, who lost his son Christopher in the disaster, met the news with mixed emotions, but insisted it was “only right and proper that we fought for our loved ones.”
“I was frightened we were going to be let down again,” he told Sky News. “We have been smacked in the face on a number of occasions. The families have acted with the utmost of dignity.”