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Jury blames police, clears fans in 1989 soccer disaster

April 26, 2016

WARRINGTON, England (AP) — The families of 96 Liverpool soccer fans who were crushed to death at a crowded stadium in 1989 declared they had finally won justice Tuesday after a jury found that police and emergency services were to blame for Britain’s worst sports disaster.

The jury exonerated the behavior of the crowd, saying it did not contribute to the tragedy at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, and that the victims were “unlawfully killed.”

Relatives who had waged a tireless campaign to protect the reputation of their loved ones leapt to their feet outside a specially built courtroom, cheering and weeping, when the verdicts were announced. They chanted, “Justice for the 96!” and sang the Liverpool soccer club’s anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

The original inquest recorded verdicts of accidental death, something the families of the victims refused to accept. Those verdicts were overturned in 2012 after a far-reaching inquiry into the disaster that examined previously secret documents and exposed the wrongdoing and mistakes by police.

Hooliganism was rife in English soccer throughout the 1980s, and there were immediate attempts to assign blame on the Liverpool fans and defend the policing operation. A false narrative that blamed drunken, ticketless and rowdy Liverpool fans was created by police and spread by a lawmaker in Sheffield.

“The disgrace is that we’ve been faced by police slander upon slander, insult upon insult,” said Hillsborough campaigner Trevor Hicks, who lost two daughters in the crush. “Now, truth has won out.”

The Hillsborough tragedy unfolded on April 15, 1989, when more than 2,000 Liverpool fans were allowed to flood 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, and many suffocated. A police officer ran onto the field and asked the referee to halt the game, which was abandoned after six minutes. Fans and rescue workers ripped up advertising boards and used them as makeshift stretchers as police and first-aid workers treated victims on the field.

David Duckenfield, who was then the South Yorkshire police chief superintendent in charge of policing the game, testified at the inquests that he told a “terrible lie” by saying fans had rushed through gates into the stadium, rather than admitting to authorizing the gates to be opened.

The jury found Duckenfield was in breach of his duty of care to fans and that his actions amounted to “gross negligence.” It concluded unanimously that police-planning errors “caused or contributed” to the situation that led to the crush, and it confirmed the behavior of fans did not cause or contribute to the tragedy.

Jurors also criticized the actions of the emergency services at the game, saying there was a “lack of coordination, command and control which delayed or prevented appropriate responses.”

They also found that the construction and layout of the stadium was dangerous and contributed to the disaster. The Sheffield Wednesday soccer club, which owns Hillsborough, should have done more to detect unsafe or unsatisfactory features of the venue, the jury said.

“I knew the truth 27 years ago, just came here to hear it confirmed,” said Gary Spencer, 51, who attended the game and was outside the courtroom. The verdicts capped the more than two-year inquests, the longest in British legal history.

By the end of 2016, police plan to conclude a separate criminal investigation into wrongdoing by authorities in the disaster. Prosecutors said they will “formally consider whether any criminal charges should be brought against any individual or corporate body.”

After the jury’s decision, the police force said “we unequivocally accept the verdict,” and apologized to the families for their failings.

“I want to see accountability for all the things that have been done to the families down the years,” said British lawmaker Andy Burnham. “That means prosecution, not just for the failings on the day but the cover-up that followed. People will never recover from it.”

Prime Minister David Cameron called the verdicts a “landmark moment in the quest for justice.”

The Hillsborough disaster prompted a sweeping modernization of stadiums across England and also transformed inadequate policing. In the immediate aftermath, plans were being made to renovate the top division stadiums into safer, all-seat venues, with fences around fields torn down.

“The Hillsborough disaster changed the way in which major sporting events are policed and many lessons have been learned as a result,” South Yorkshire Police Chief Constable David Crompton said. “Today with improvements in training, communication and technology it’s almost impossible to imagine how the same set of circumstances could arise again.”

Margaret Aspinall, whose 18-year-old son, James, died at Hillsborough, said the disaster helped bring about changes “hopefully for the good of other people.”

“That’s the legacy the 96 left,” she said.

Family of Fan Who Fell in Stadium Sues Braves

by Ernie Suggs
April 2016

Copyright 2016 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The family of a season-ticket holder who plunged to his death last August from the upper deck at Turner Field filed suit Tuesday against the Atlanta Braves and Major League Baseball, claiming negligence relating to how high the guard railing should be.

The lawsuit claims that the railing in front of Section 401 was only 30 inches high. The family of 60-year-old Gregory Kent Murrey argues, through their attorneys, that the railing should be at least 42 inches — what the suit calls the industry standard.

“Had the rail been 42 inches, Mr. Murrey would not have fallen over the rail,” stated the complaint filed in Fulton County State Court.

Murrey’s death marked the 24th time someone died after falling at a Major League ballpark since 1969. Of those, Atlanta has had the most deaths.

Since 2008, three people — although one was ruled a suicide — have died after falls at Turner Field.

From ABShould Building Codes be Changed to Keep Fans from Falling Out of Their Seats?

In 2011, Shannon Stone fell 20 feet onto the concrete at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, and died, after tumbling over a 33-inch rail. Although not mandated by Major League Baseball, the Rangers spent $1.1 million to extend the heights of all front railings to 42 inches.

“I think that made sense,” said Robert Gorman, author of a book titled “Death at the Ballpark.” “If you are very tall like I am, 6-2, if you hit those things around your knees, someone my size could topple.”

Immediately after Murrey’s death, Braves officials said they were “constantly evaluating ways to ensure fan safety while maintaining the game-day experience.”

Michael L. Neff, an attorney representing Murrey’s widow, Laura Hale Murrey, said that hasn’t been enough.

“Nothing has gotten done and no commitments have been made on the Braves’ part or Major League Baseball,” Neff said. “And they didn’t have any interest in talking to us.”

Minimum railing height debated

Gorman, who has written extensively about accidents and deaths at ballparks, said according to the International Building Code, the actual minimum height for railings in front of seats is 26 inches.

From ABTexas Rangers’ Railing Renovation May Not Impact Codes, Other Teams

“So if that is the case, the railing at Turner Field was higher than that,” Gorman said. “The problem with the railing is how it affects the line of sight. If the railing blocks a view, I don’t know how people would want to sit in those front-row seats. And teams know that.”

Neff said aside from wanting railings raised at major league stadiums, his client will also be seeking a monetary settlement, although he hasn’t said for how much.

“We seek compensation for the value of Greg’s life. Mr. Murrey was a successful businessman, husband and grandfather, so the jury is going to have to make that call. It would be premature to put out a figure,” Neff said.

Nine months after Murrey’s death, there has been no apparent move by the Braves to raise the height of the railing at Turner Field. After this season, the Braves will relocate to a new stadium in Cobb County.

In a statement last year, Braves officials said they were working with architects to “ensure that SunTrust Park has effective safety protocols in place at the time of opening.” It did not provide specifics on what measures will be put in place at the new park.

“I don’t know what the future use of Turner Field is,” Neff said. “The Braves are going to a different stadium and they have ducked the issue of how high the rails were going to be. They have never given a direct answer.”

The Braves declined to comment Tuesday on the lawsuit.

But according to the building permit for SunTrust Park, the guardrails range from 30 inches in the “lower bowl” to 47 inches in the “upper bowl.”

Fan fell 40 feet It was the top of the seventh inning on Aug. 29, 2015, and the New York Yankees had just taken a 2-0 lead. With one out, Alex Rodriguez — who sat out the entire 2014 season for using performance-enhancing drugs — was announced as a pinch-hitter.

Like many of the 49,000 people there, Murrey, who owned an insurance business in Roswell, got up to boo the slugger.

According to witnesses, as Rodriguez was digging in, Murrey stood up from his seat in the second row of the 400 level and lost his balance.

He passed through the front row as he toppled over the railing, landing about 40 feet down in Section 202. No one else was hurt.

Rodriguez walked, and the Braves went on to lose the game 3-1.

Murrey died before reaching Grady Hospital.

The death was ruled an accident by the medical examiner’s office, which also said no underlying medical condition was found that contributed to Murrey’s death.

Some changes made While baseball has seemingly not been quick to raise the height of railings, there has been movement to provide more netting around the stands to prevent people from getting hit with flying bats and errant baseballs.

During a game Aug. 30, 2010, at Turner Field, a 6-year-old girl sitting behind the Braves’ dugout was hit in the head by a foul ball, fracturing her skull in 30 places and causing traumatic brain injury.

Last December, baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred recommended that all teams extend the netting from behind home plate to either the near ends of the dugouts or to any seat within 70 feet of the batter’s box, similar to what all ballparks in Japan do.

And all base coaches must now wear helmets, following the death of a minor league first base coach who was killed by a foul ball during a game.

“Obviously, for many years, people got hit and nothing happened, so there is movement. They can’t gloss things over,” Neff said. “When you have an issue where it is life or death, it should crystallize from a business owner’s perspective that something needs to be done to address what is going on.”

Suicide Bombing Kills 41 at Iraq Soccer Stadium

by Stuart Goldman
March 2016

A suicide bombing at a soccer stadium in Iraq killed 41 and injured 105 last Friday, according to multiple reports.

The Islamic State, or ISIS, has claimed responsibility in the bombing, which took place at a small stadium in the city of Iskanderiyah, about 25 miles south of the capital of Baghdad.

According to a report, one official said 17 of those killed were boys between the ages of 10 to 16.

Gianni Infantino, who was recently elected the new president of FIFA, said he was “shocked and terribly saddened” and offered his condolences to those killed in the attack.

“Around the world, football unites people,” Infantino said in a statement. “It is a very sad day, when people, going to a match together, become the victims of such violence.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also offered his condolences on Saturday, adding that “the international community stands with Iraqis in horror and outrage.”

The attack occurred three days after ISIS-claimed bombings in Brussels, Belgium, killed at least 35 and injured more than 300.

Fans Thrown From Malfunctioning Escalator After Flyers Game

by Phil Helsel

An escalator sped up after a Philadelphia Flyers game Saturday, sending fans tumbling to the ground in a pile, according to a witness and video that captured the incident.

“We heard the escalator rev up a little bit. It started going faster and faster. People couldn’t get out of the way fast enough,” Meghan McGreevy told NBC News.

No injuries were reported, the company that owns and operates the Wells Fargo Center said. The mishap occurred after the Flyers’ 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators in Philadelphia, and the escalator was crowded with fans leaving the game, McGreevy said.

A representative for Comcast-Spectacor said the escalator was immediately closed and was not in use when the basketball team the 76ers played later Saturday.

“The comfort and safety of our guests is our number one concern,” Ike Richman, vice president of public relations for Comcast-Spectacor, said in a statement.

“Immediately following today’s game an incident did occur involving one of our escalators. We immediately closed it down to protect our patrons and notified the operator,” Richman said. “We are working with the operator on investigating this incident.”

Lugnuts make change to ballpark with fan safety in mind

, Lansing State Journal 1:36 p.m. EDT March 29, 2016

There will be a new look to Cooley Law School Stadium next time you go to check out the Lansing Lugnuts, and fan experience and safety are the reasons.

The minor league baseball team is in the process of installing a new safety net behind home plate to protect its supporters from the action on the field. The new net, which is roughly 32 feet tall, will span seven seating sections of the ballpark, from home plate to the edge of each dugout. The previous net protected five sections.

The changes come after Major League Baseball recommended that all nets cover any seats that fall within 70 feet of home plate.

“It’s all about safety,” Lugnuts General Manager Nick Grueser said. “Our ballpark is very intimate, which is nice from a fan perspective, but, also, you have to pay attention. A lot of our fans don’t always pay attention to the game — they come for (other) stuff that we do. This really protects them.”

Grueser added that the net is ”more durable and stronger, but not as thick” as the previous one. The goal was to increase fan safety while not taking away from the experience.

“The visibility is better,” Grueser said. “For fans that have always sat behind the net, season ticket holders or anyone that sits back there, we’re actually minimizing the amount of cables that we have.”

The Lugnuts are also in the process of adding three new gates for field access. Those gates have a clear, plexiglass-type surface to them, according to Grueser, to help with visibility as well.

Both of the additions are expected to be completed well before Lansing takes on Michigan State in the Crosstown Showdown on April 6. Opening day for the Lugnuts is April 7.

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