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Dayton Daily News (Ohio)
LONDON - Prosecutors charged a former senior police commander with manslaughter on Wednesday in the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster that left 96 people dead - long-awaited vindication for the families of the victims after authorities spent years blaming fans for the catastrophe.
The charges announced against former Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield and five others were met with applause from victims' relatives who had waged a decadeslong quest for justice for their loved ones after the deaths were ruled accidental - a decision that was overturned in 2012 after a wide-ranging inquiry found a cover-up by police.
The disaster - in which many victims were crushed against metal fences -prompted a sweeping modernization of stadiums across Britain, where standing-room-only sections like the one that contributed to the trampling of fans in the overcrowded stadium were commonplace. Top division stadiums were largely transformed into safer, all-seat venues, with fences around the playing surface torn down to avoid further tragedies.
Last year, a new inquest found that all 96 fans had been unlawfully killed and an independent police investigation asked prosecutors to consider criminal charges in the case. The Crown Prosecution Service in its highly anticipated decision on Wednesday filed charges against four police officers, a lawyer and an official of the team whose stadium was the venue for the April 15, 1989, match.
Barry Devonside, whose 18-year-old son, Christopher, was among those killed, pumped his fist after the indictments were made public.
"Everybody applauded when it was announced that the most senior police officer on that particular day will have charges presented to him," Devonside said.
Duckenfield, the police commander, faced the most serious charge - gross negligence manslaughter in the deaths of 95 men, women and children. Duckenfield's failures in discharging his "personal responsibility were extraordinarily bad and contributed substantially to the deaths," prosecutors said in a statement.
They declined to issue a manslaughter charge related to the 96th fatality because the young man died four years after the fateful match.
Others indicted in the case were the former chief of South Yorkshire Police, Norman Bettison, who was charged with misconduct in public office for allegedly lying about the disaster and its aftermath. Peter Metcalf, a police attorney, was charged with acting "with intent to pervert the course of public justice" for allegedly suggesting changes to officers' statements. Former Chief Superintendent Donald Denton was accused of overseeing the changes to the statements and former Detective Chief Inspector Alan Foster was accused of being central to the process.
Graham Henry Mackrell, the former secretary and safety officer for the Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, which operated Hillsborough Stadium, was charged with failing to carry out health and safety duties.
Speaking before the House of Commons, British Prime Minister Theresa May called Wednesday a "day of really mixed emotions" for the families of the fans who died, adding that justice was moving forward "after so many years of waiting."
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