Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield has been found not guilty of the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans who died at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final.
The seven women and three men on the jury at Preston Crown Court returned its verdict on Thursday following a trial which lasted more than six weeks.
The prosecution in the case alleged Duckenfield, 75, had a personal responsibility for what happened at the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on April 15 1989, where 96 men, women and children, were fatally injured in a crush on the Leppings Lane terrace.
Under the law at the time, he was not charged over the death of the 96th victim, Tony Bland, because he died more than a year and a day after the disaster.
Duckenfield stood trial earlier this year but the jury was discharged after failing to reach a verdict and a retrial was ordered.
The court heard the chief superintendent ordered the opening of exit gates at the Leppings Lane end of the ground at 2.52pm, eight minutes before kick-off, after the area outside the turnstiles became dangerously overcrowded.
More than 2,000 fans entered through exit gate C once it was opened and many headed for the tunnel ahead of them, which led to the central pens where the crush happened.
Duckenfield did not give evidence in the trial as the court heard he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Judge Sir Peter Openshaw also told jurors the condition could explain Duckenfield’s lack of reaction as he sat in the well of the court throughout the trial.
He said: He has a resilient, passive and expressionless external presentation which gives no indication of his state of mind so don’t draw an adverse inference against him.
The court was played audio of the retired chief superintendent giving evidence to inquests in 2015.
At the hearings, he accepted he should have taken steps to close the tunnel to the central pens after ordering the opening of the exit gate.
Benjamin Myers QC, defending Duckenfield, told the jury he had been a target of blame for the disaster.
He told the court: We say David Duckenfield did do what he was expected to do as match commander. He didn’t breach his duty, he did what he was expected to do in difficult circumstances.
Summing up the case, the judge said: The deaths of 96 spectators, many of whom were very young, is, of course, a profound human tragedy attended by much anguish and anger which for many has not passed with time.
But, as both counsel have advised you and I will now direct you, as you go about your duty you must put aside your emotions and sympathies, either for the bereaved families or indeed for Mr Duckenfield, and decide the case with a cold, calm and dispassionate review of the evidence that you have heard in court.
Hillsborough Family Support Group upset by verdict
In a news conference, the chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son James died, said the verdict was an absolutely bloody disgrace.
She said: 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. What we’ve got to try and do is change a system in this country that is so wrong.
Because if that can happen to 96, what could happen to individuals who are fighting on their own? They’ll have no chance, if that’s happened to us. Things need to change.
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.
The commander of Operation Resolve, Assistant Commissioner Rob Beckley, defended the multi-million-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.
A Liverpool statement said: Following today’s verdict at Preston Crown Court, Liverpool Football Club would like to commend the bereaved families, survivors and campaigners for the remarkable courage, dignity and resilience they have shown during the past three decades.
With further related legal proceedings listed for April and the restriction for commentary, we share the reactions and frustrations by the families today and those affected by the Hillsborough tragedy.
The journey that reached today’s stage, and will continue, is testament to the perseverance and determination of all involved in the ongoing campaign for justice.
We also reiterate that the inquests in April 2016 concluded that the behaviour of Liverpool supporters did not cause or contribute to the Hillsborough disaster. We were disappointed that the allegations were raised again in this process.
We have immense admiration for the Hillsborough families, survivors and campaigners for what they have achieved and our thoughts remain with them and those 96 Liverpool supporters who went to watch their team and never came home.