Socialist Worker

Hillsborough: Top cop says claim that fans forced gate a ‘wicked lie’

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2423

The Shankly Gates at Liverpool FCs Anfield ground have often been a focus for Hillsborough memorials

The Shankly Gates at Liverpool FC's Anfield ground have often been a focus for Hillsborough memorials


The superintendent in charge of Liverpool football fans at Hillsborough has admitted that police contributed to the 1989 disaster.

Some 96 Liverpool fans died as a result of a crush in pens 3 and 4 at the Sheffield stadium on 15 April 1989.

Roger Marshall, the officer in charge at the Leppings Lane end on the day, gave evidence into fresh inquests into their deaths last week. He is the most senior police figure to give evidence so far.

Marshall requested that gates at the Leppings Lane end be opened to allow fans in after a crush built up outside the turnstiles. Most flowed into pens 3 and 4.

Marshall told the jury, “I could certainly have requested a delay of the kick-off. It is one of the most profound regrets of my experience at Leppings Lane on 15 April that I did not do so.”

He agreed that his commanding officer David Duckenfield's claim that Liverpool fans had forced the gate was a "wicked lie".

Marshall agreed that it was the responsibility of the police to monitor the capacity of pens 3 and 4. It was another of his "great regrets" that they didn't.

Marshall "linked the awful events on the terraces directly with my opening of the gates".

Failed

He agreed that he took "very few" steps to manage the situation in Leppings Lane and agreed that his actions contributed to congestion. He agreed that he and other match commanders “failed to take any appropriate action to prevent what occurred”.

But he also said, “I think that some of the fans have a responsibility for what occurred and for the situation that arose.

“Cooperation was not evident, neither was self-discipline, neither was self-control, neither was mutual respect for anybody else. And those are the sort of things we value in this country.”

Marshall described the police in Leppings Lane as being “in the midst of a battle we couldn’t possibly win”. When asked if video footage showed fans pushing he said it was “a matter of opinion”.

When asked if the dead were responsible he said, “I don’t think so, no. Most of the deceased had got into the viewing platform in pens 3 and 4 considerably before the problems arose at the Leppings Lane turnstiles.”

Pete Weatherby QC pointed out that at least seven of the dead whose relatives he represented had entered the ground when gate C was opened at 2.48pm.

And Marshall accepted that many of those outside the Leppings Lane entrance may have been trapped “for some time”. He added that it was "hard to define what is late".

Weatherby said that if all the fans had arrived at 2.20pm instead of later, “they still wouldn’t have been able to get in by the time gate C was opened”.

Marshall said, “That’s right.” Weatherby pointed to independent expert evidence showing that the number of fans in the area was no greater than the number of tickets sold.

Marshall said he couldn’t “agree or disagree” with the suggestion that ticketless fans played no part in the disaster. But he agreed that it was impossible to know how many fans didn't have tickets.

At 2.17pm Marshall requested that Leppings Lane be closed to traffic because of the numbers of fans there. This was a "significant request" that he had never done before.

Unravel

He disagreed that the police operation had “begun to unravel” by 2.17pm. Under questioning Marshall agreed that it was “fair” to say the problem started at 2.15pm.

Marshall agreed that the number of turnstiles was “completely inadequate”. He agreed that allowing fans to “find their own level” on the terraces “didn’t work”.

He said signage in the ground was a “contributory factor” to the disaster.

He said there should have been police contingency plans to deal with crowd problems but there weren't.

Liverpool fans reported being crushed in pens 3 and 4 at a match in 1988 and police closed the tunnel. Marshall was match commander in 1988 and "knew nothing" about the crushing.

Weatherby suggested that Marshall's evidence to an inquiry led by Lord Justice Taylor gave the impression that police successfully managed the crowd from 2.15pm.

Marshall said this was “not right”. He added that he answered Taylor’s questions without giving them “proper consideration” as he was “completely exhausted”.

Liverpool fans were allocated a total of 23 turnstiles, seven at the Leppings Lane end. The seven were to accommodate 10,100 fans.

Marshall said he never considered that the small number of turnstiles might create a problem.

He confirmed that he wasn’t aware of the recommended safe flow rate through turnstiles recommended in the Green Guide.

But he described the turnstiles as “antiquated”, claiming that two were not working properly.

Marshall told the jury, “If it’s any comfort to the relatives, I can say that the police officers did their absolute best to try to revive people, they tried to look after them in a dignified manner".

Liverpool fan Thomas Nelson described how police left "two or three" dead fans with their trousers and underpants around their ankles on the pitch.

Marshall said the disaster wasn't just a tragedy for those who died and their families. It was “tragic for every police officer”.

The inquests continue.


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