Socialist Worker

Hillsborough: top cop in charge admits ‘far-reaching deceit’ but QC asks if he was coached for inquests

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2444

Hillsborough memorial

Hillsborough memorial (Pic: Ben Sutherland / Flickr)


Relatives of fans who died as a result of the Hillsborough disaster walked out of inquests into their deaths in disgust yesterday, Friday.

Former chief superintendent David Duckenfield, match commander on the day of the disaster, was continuing his evidence.

He told relatives that he was "dreadfully sorry" for the deaths. One replied, "I don't want your apology."

Some 96 Liverpool fans died as a result of a crush in pens 3 and 4 at the Hillsborough football stadium in 1989. Duckenfield told the inquests that he had only recently realised the impact this had on their families.

Under questioning by Michael Mansfield QC Duckenfield admitted that he was "practising and persisted in a far-reaching deceit" over his role in the disaster.

Duckenfield had ordered a gate to be opened at 2.52pm to relieve a crush outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles.

But at around 3.15pm he told Graham Kelly and Glen Kirton from the Football Association, and Graham Mackrell from Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, that Liverpool fans had forced a gate.

Others have told the inquests that Duckenfield referred to fans "storming" a gate. Duckenfield said he didn't recall saying that.

Disclose

He said that failing to disclose that "the gates had been opened by me and that may have contributed to the disaster" was a "dreadful mistake". He said he realised this as soon as the officials had left the control box.

Yet he did not correct it.

Duckenfield went to the football club board room just before 3.35 to give "an update". He was "not confident at all" that this did not include reference to Liverpool fans storming the stadium.

He agreed that this would have been a "golden opportunity" to correct his earlier lie. He did not do so.

Duckenfield told the court that "football fans played a part" in the disaster. He denied that he lied in order to suggest that fans had caused the crush.

He said if Merseyside Police had told him "it was common knowledge that Liverpool fans arrived late, having had a drink, and expected to get in at the last minute" he "might have been able to act differently".

Mansfield said, "But that's not what happened."

The court was shown footage of the Leppings Lane turnstiles at 2.06pm, 2.11pm, 2.13pm, 2.14pm, 2.16pm and 2.30pm. Duckenfield agreed that it showed fans arriving in good time but that there was a backlog waiting to get into the ground.

There were 23 turnstiles for 24,000 Liverpool fans. Duckenfield said it wasn't obvious that this would cause a problem. But he agreed that a reasonably competent match commander could have taken several measures to stop the crush at the turnstiles.

Duckenfield said he could not dispute the claim that policing at Leppings Lane was "non-existent or shambolic at best". He said he thought the situation at 2.44 or 2.45pm was "out of hand" and said police control of the crowd had been lost.

Duckenfield was shown footage of pens 3 and 4 at 2.49pm and agreed they were "full" but said he didn't realise that on the day.

The footage showed fans already climbing out of the pens. Duckenfield initially thought this was "crowd disorder". Up to 2,000 fans entered the pens after Duckenfield ordered the gate to be opened.

Failed

Duckenfield failed to warn police or stewards that he was going to order the gate open. He failed to close the tunnel leading to pens 3 and 4. He accepted that this resulted in a crush.

Tickets for Liverpool fans gave inaccurate details for the Leppings Lane end. Duckenfield agreed this was "most unhelpful". But he didn't compare the tickets to the turnstiles because of the "timescale that was available".

Duckenfield said he could not remember if he toured the ground following a briefing there the day before the match.

He did not stay in the ground between giving a briefing in the morning on the day of the match and entering the police control box at 2pm. Duckenfield said he thought he should get a view of the whole area. But he couldn't remember where he went and details are not in his statement.

He agreed that this would have been a "golden opportunity" to familiarise himself with the ground and learn the system for monitoring numbers into the stadium.

Duckenfield repeatedly referred to his lack of experience. Rajiv Menon QC asked if he had been "coached to stress your inexperience as much as you possibly can". He said no.

Menon asked if Duckenfield's promotion prior to the match was connected with the fact that he was a freemason. Duckenfield said he "wouldn't know".

He could not confirm whether the chief constable of South Yorkshire Police (SYP) was a freemason but said he wasn't a freemason in the Yorkshire area.

The court heard of delays in the police response to the disaster.

At 3.04pm a fan collapsed on the pitch. The police control box requested dog handlers. Duckenfield said they might have been needed "to put a line across the pitch for my secure area for rescue".

At 3.06pm police requested operation support. Duckenfield said that meant "manpower". He said he needed officers to help with the rescue operation. Menon asked, "What rescue operation? You have yet to call for ambulances or fire crews."

Duckenfield said he thought he had declared a major incident but added, "I can't do everything at once."

Codeword

There is no record of a major incident in the police log. Duckenfield told the court he did not know the codeword for a major incident.

Police requested a fleet of ambulances two minutes and 40 seconds after requesting dog handlers and asked for cutting equipment to cut the pen fences at 3.14pm.

Duckenfield repeatedly told the inquests that he could "not recall" many things regarding the disaster due to the stress of the day.

But he was "completely confident" that he declared a major incident. And he could "categorically state" that he "never spoke" to other police officers during their journey to SYP headquarters.

Menon said, "When it suits you, you can't remember. When you want to assert something, your memory is absolutely fine."

Duckenfield replied, "This is one of the strange realities of post traumatic stress disorder."

Menon suggested that there had been a police cover-up. He asked why Duckenfield did not mention his conversation with Kelly, Kirton and Mackrell in his statement.

Duckenfield could not explain this.

All police officers in the control box left that conversation out of their statements. Duckenfield said, "I never conferred with any other officer and it is merely a coincidence".

The court heard that police CCTV footage from a camera trained on pens 3 and 4 between 2.23pm and 3.03pm is missing. A log typed by officer Bichard included an entry at 2.55pm reading, "From officers rear of Leppings Lane terrace 'shut the gates at the back of the tunnel' KN_KN".

But although this note appears in the first draft it is not including in the version put on the police computer system.

Duckenfield accepted that he met Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher in the days after the disaster but said he couldn't remember details of the meeting.

Duckenfield said he had not been part of building the police case against drunken fans in the aftermath of the disaster as he had been "marginalised". Menon said there must have been a strategy for dealing with his lie. Duckenfield replied, "I'm sure there was but I wasn't party to it."

The inquests continue.


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