It was “breathtakingly unfair” to prosecute Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield, a jury has been told.
Ben Myers QC made the claim in his closing speech at Preston Crown Court in defence of Mr Duckenfield.
The 74-year-old denies gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans, on 15 April 1989.
Mr Myers also said “it must be one of the most heartbreaking cases ever to come before an English court”.
He said it was “humbling” to be addressing the court “because of the scale of the case and the scale of the loss”.
But the barrister told the jury that failings at Hillsborough included faulty police radios, poor signage, a reduction in police manpower and stadium structure – none of which were Mr Duckenfield’s fault.
He said his client was being “judged by a different standard to everyone else”, adding: “This is not a done deal. Being here proves absolutely nothing, no matter how big the case.
“The fact we are here doesn’t make David Duckenfield guilty.”
He said the jury was being invited to “give him criminal responsibility for a decade of incompetence on the part of others”.
The barrister told the court the case against his client was heavily based on hindsight, adding: “In the real world you get one go.”
He said the Hillsborough stadium “was potentially lethal” and there had been a “history of near-misses”.
“It’s like giving a captain a ship that’s already sinking and judging him on how well he sails it,” Mr Myers added.
“The system he was working with was riddled with system faults. It’s not a fair start.”
At one point he turned to the defendant and said: “Look at him now. Someone has to stand up for him. We do that, and we do it with vigour. He is an ageing man and not in the best of health.”
Mr Myers said it would be “very wrong indeed” to convict Mr Duckenfield “as a way of expressing” sympathy over what happened.
Mr Myers also said it was “utterly wrong and deeply unfair” that the jury was shown video footage of the disaster by the prosecution.
He said: “It is not right to bridge evidential gaps with emotion and strong feeling.”
On Thursday prosecutor Richard Matthews QC told the jury that Mr Duckenfield had “ultimate responsibility” and should have made “lifesaving decisions”.
Under the law at the time, there can be no prosecution for the 96th victim, Tony Bland, as he died more than a year and a day after the disaster.
Former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell, 69, denies failing to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety Act.
The trial continues.