Socialist Worker

Top Hillsborough cop admits failings

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2444

Tributes left at the Hillsborough memorial

Tributes left at the Hillsborough memorial (Pic: Nick on Flickr)

David Duckenfield has accepted responsibility for some of the police failings during the Hillsborough football disaster.

Some 96 Liverpool football fans died as a result of a crush at Sheffield’s Hillsborough football stadium in 1989.

Duckenfield was match commander and the most senior police officer on duty at the game. He began giving evidence to fresh inquests into the deaths today, Tuesday.

Duckenfield became chief superintendent just days before the Hillsborough disaster and was told he would be match commander. He said he was “delighted at the promotion and I didn’t feel at all concerned”.

But he added, “With hindsight, I should have thought about my limited knowledge of the role. Probably I wasn’t the best man for the job.”

Duckenfield said it was a “serious mistake” to accept the role of match commander and not ask for help from more experienced officers. He said it was also “a mistake that I continued in the role”.

Duckenfield accepted that he should have spent more time at Hillsborough before the match. “If there was a failing, well I apologise,” he said.

Duckenfield said he gave no thought to the need to filter fans heading to the stadium before the match. He agreed that police “should have had” a contingency plan.

He told the jury that he learned that fans would fill the pens “by the ‘find your own level’ system”. He said he found this out on the day of the disaster.

It “didn’t occur” to him that fans may not be able to choose where to go because of fences or gates. “There were others who were more professional than I was who made a decision that the radial fences and gates were necessary,” he added.


Duckenfield said he thought other groups of police officers had roles to play in monitoring the filling of pens.

Christina Lambert QC said officers have told the jury that they didn’t have a specific duty to monitor pens. He said that in a “perfect world” he would have told certain officers to monitor the filling of pens, but he did not.

Duckenfield agreed that the lack of duties for police to monitor pens and filter fans were “deficiencies”. He added, “I was the chief superintendent in charge on the day. I signed the order, so I must accept responsibility.”

Duckenfield said he was aware of guidelines on policing football matches but didn’t know when he read them.

“I should have read those documents,” he said. “I may have read them, I hope I read them, but I can’t say to you I read them on a specific date.”

Duckenfield couldn’t say whether he read the South Yorkshire Police Major Incident Plan before the Hillsborough disaster.

He said it was important to declare a major incident as soon as possible – but said he didn’t know what the codeword for this was. The word was catastrophe and was included in the major incident plan.

Duckenfield was asked about four meetings he attended about policing football matches but said he couldn’t remember attending any of them.

He was asked about planning meetings on 22 and 29 March 1989 that West Midlands Police thought he had been given the minutes for. The minutes cannot be found.

Duckenfield said no minutes had been taken. He added that there was no reason for anyone to destroy the minutes because “there was nothing in those minutes that was detrimental to anybody”.

“But of course, I can’t say that, because I never saw the minutes,” he added.

Duckenfield will continue giving evidence tomorrow.

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