Socialist Worker

Inquests hear cop Duckenfield accept his 'serious failures' resulted in Hillsborough disaster

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2445

Memorial stone at Liverpool Cathedral

Memorial stone at Liverpool Cathedral (Pic: SteHLiverpool / Flickr)


Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield has accepted that the disaster resulted from his “serious failures”. He is continuing to give evidence to inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans who died as a result of the 1989 disaster.

Pete Weatherby QC said Duckenfield’s acceptance of responsibility “went on with a number of ifs, buts, maybes and caveats”.

Weatherby asked if Duckenfield’s apology was a “politician’s apology”. Duckenfield replied, “I am not a politician”.

Duckenfield said he realised his failings following an independent panel report into the disaster, published in 2012. Weatherby asked about a statement Duckenfield gave to Operation Resolve on 5 March 2014.

Operation Resolve is the criminal investigation into the Hillsborough disaster.

Duckenfield’s statement said, “I consider it very unlikely that I can improve upon my previous recollection or previous accounts.”

His evidence to the earlier Taylor Inquiry stated that he had made the correct decisions on the day.

Duckenfield told the court that he “wasn’t proud of the evidence I gave on that day”. Weatherby asked, “So why, on 5 March 2014, were you saying that you couldn’t improve on it?”

Duckenfield said, “I find that difficult to answer.”

Truth

Weatherby said the truth was that Duckenfield had followed the inquests, “seen that the writing is on the wall” and been “driven to accepting responsibility”. Duckenfield replied, “I agree.”

Duckenfield spoke to two representatives from the Football Association and one from Sheffield Wednesday football club at around 3.15pm on the day of the disaster.

He told them that Liverpool fans had forced a gate. In fact Duckenfield had ordered a gate to be opened to let fans gathered at the Leppings Lane turnstiles into the ground.

Weatherby said a drive to move responsibility onto fans was “the only rational explanation for your lie”. Duckenfield disagreed.

Duckenfield reiterated his view that fans “played a part” in the disaster. He referred to the Liverpool fans arriving later for the match saying, “There is a suggestion that a large mass came after 20 to 3.”

Weatherby pointed to evidence showing that problems began earlier in the day. The final entry in a police log from the day was timed at 2.21pm.

Duckenfield had told the court that the log “had to go by the board due to the crisis”. Weatherby said this showed that the crisis was “becoming apparent at very shortly after 20 past 2”.

Duckenfield said he “couldn’t dispute” that.

Weatherby said footage showed that fans arriving at around 2.20pm were “simply joining the back of a huge mass of people”. He said there was already “huge congestion” at the Leppings Lane turnstiles.

Duckenfield said that was “obvious”.

Hillsborough stadium

Hillsborough stadium (Pic: Gareth SImpson / Flickr)


Footage

Duckenfield agreed that he had “no evidence” of drunken fans. He agreed that footage did not suggest any “surge” of fans or a “cohort of late fans coming to create a problem”.

Duckenfield again told the court that he thought he had declared a major incident. There is no record of this. Weatherby said, “You are asking this jury to believe that officers have missed the most important instruction that you uttered.”

Duckenfield said it was an “oversight”.

Weatherby said that at around 3.08pm the ambulance controller said the service would have to look at the situation before sending all available ambulances. He said this was “because there has been no major incident declared”.

Duckenfield agreed that it was clear that the ambulance service had not been told there was a major incident.

Weatherby asked Duckenfield what he was doing in the emergency response. Duckenfield replied, “First of all, I was making the necessary plans to make sure there wasn’t a pitch invasion.”

Barrister Terry Munyard referred to a police meeting two days after the disaster that included a discussion about closing the tunnel to pens 3 and 4.

Duckenfield was recorded as saying, “The order has officers listed and once that central tunnel becomes full the officers control that and it is shut off and people directed off to the wings.”

The chief constable was recorded as saying that Duckenfield was “well aware that there were contingencies to deal with the filled stand, ie, the shutting off of the tunnel”.

Duckenfield told the court, “I have absolutely no recollection of attending this particular meeting.”

He added, “I didn’t recognise the need to close off the tunnel.”

Munyard asked Duckenfield, “You retired when the Police Complaints Commission indicated that they intended to bring disciplinary proceedings against you, and by retiring you avoided those proceedings, didn’t you?”

Duckenfield replied, “I did, sir.”

Munyard asked him, “You retired at what age, 46, 47, on full pension?” Duckenfield replied, “Something like that,” confirming that he retired two years after the disaster on a full pension.

The inquests continue.


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