Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield "tried to do the right thing" ahead of the disaster in which 96 Liverpool fans died, a court has been told. Benjamin Myers QC, defending the retired chief superintendent, told the jury at Preston Crown Court on Wednesday that the only safe, fair and proper verdict would be to find Duckenfield not guilty of gross negligence manslaughter.
He said the 74-year-old made the "right decision" when he ordered the opening of exit gates at the Leppings Lane end of the ground on April 15, 1989.
That allowed 2,000 Liverpool fans to enter the stadium ahead of the FA Cup semi-final, with many going down the tunnel to the central pens of the terrace where the fatal crush happened.
The court has heard Duckenfield made the decision following three radio requests from Superintendent Roger Marshall, stationed at the turnstiles, who warned there was a risk of death if gates were not opened to relieve crushing outside the turnstiles. Mr Myers said: "It was the right decision and he is given absolutely no credit for that." He said Duckenfield was expecting the crowd from immediately outside the turnstiles to enter but was not expecting fans on Leppings Lane to come in through outer perimeter gates and then enter through the exit gates.
Mr Myers said: "No-one at that point was thinking where 2,000 people would go, what they were thinking about was how to deal with the crush at the turnstiles."
Mr Myers suggested the jury was being asked to convict a man who "acted to save lives in an emergency".
He said: "That man tried to do the right thing and if he was not equal to the position in which he was placed, we say that is not his fault and not a reason to make him a criminal." He told the jury that after the Hillsborough disaster, changes were introduced to football grounds, including making them all-seated and removing pitch perimeter fences.
He said: "If this is so much the fault of one person why change the face of British football so much after the tragedy?"
On the third day of his closing speech, he finished by saying: "This is a case for human understanding and real fairness to be applied to the evidence.
"When you do that, we say, the safe verdict, the fair verdict and the proper verdict in the case of David Duckenfield is not guilty."
The jury also heard the closing speech for former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell, who denies failing to discharge his duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
His barrister Jason Beer QC said Mackrell is a 69-year-old man of previous good character, who the court had heard is hard working, diligent and had "played a significant part in the development of football in the country".
He told the jury: "Your job is not to solve the Hillsborough disaster and particularly not 30 years on. Your job is to faithfully try this defendant based on the evidence before you." Mackrell is accused of failing to ensure turnstiles were of such numbers to admit spectators at a rate where no unduly large crowds would be waiting for admission.
The court has heard seven turnstiles were allocated to 10,100 Liverpool fans with tickets for the terraces. Mr Beer said the jury had heard evidence which suggested "common sense" would not have viewed that number of turnstiles as being "demonstrably unsafe or giving rise to foreseeable risk of crowd crushing".
He said factors which led to the build-up of crowds outside the turnstiles could have included a lack of police cordons on the approach to the ground, unusual arrival patterns of fans, an "influx of ticketless spectators", or a reduction in police manpower.
The trial was then adjourned until Thursday, when the judge will begin summing up the case.