Socialist Worker

Hillsborough police chief gives final evidence to inquest

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2445

Hillsborough football stadium

Hillsborough football stadium (Pic: Gareth Simpson on Flickr)


David Duckenfield has agreed that his failings were "the direct cause of the deaths of 96 persons in the Hillsborough tragedy".

The former chief superintendent of South Yorkshire Police (SYP) was match commander on the day of the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster. Some 96 Liverpool football fans died as a result of a crush in pens 3 and 4 at the Leppings Lane end of the ground.

Duckenfield finished giving evidence to fresh inquests into their deaths today, Wednesday.

Paul Greaney questioned Duckenfield yesterday on behalf of the Police Federation. Duckenfield agreed that had fans not been allowed to flow down a tunnel into pens 3 and 4 then the crush would not have occurred.

He agreed that he failed to recognise the need to close the tunnel or take steps to do so. He agreed that this failure was "the direct cause" of fans' deaths.

Duckenfield had ordered a gate to be opened to relieve a crush outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles. Greaney referred to Duckenfield's statement to the earlier Taylor Inquiry into the disaster.

Crushing

It read, "If the gates were opened, there may be crushing and injury on the inside". Greaney said this showed Duckenfield had foresight of the risk of crushing as a result of opening the gate.

Duckenfield's statement also said, "There was space in the terrace, there was space on the inside of the turnstiles in the concourse, and room to ease the situation."

Duckenfield has told the court that he didn't know the layout of the ground well enough to know that the gate led to the tunnel.

Greaney asked why he looked at the terrace if he didn't know the gate led to the tunnel.

Duckenfield had agreed at the Taylor Inquiry that fans would "naturally" gravitate towards the tunnel. He told the court he didn't know that on the day of the disaster.

Greaney asked if it was totally unacceptable for a match commander to "not have a grip on the geography of that ground sufficient to enable you to understand the consequences of your decision making?"

Duckenfield eventually agreed.

Greaney suggested that Duckenfield knew more about the geography of the ground but was "seeking to conceal that knowledge from this jury". Duckenfield said he had "no idea" where fans would go after he ordered gate C open.

The court was shown minutes of a meeting on 16 April 1989, the day after the disaster. Officer Greenwood said there had been crushing at the ground in 1981 and that was the only time he had known it.

Duckenfield was recorded as saying, "No in 1979 sir, it's happened before, in that area."

Greaney suggested this referred to crushing. Duckenfield said it appeared to but that it didn't. He said he didn't remember the meeting.

Greaney suggested that the reason for Duckenfield's failure was not lack of knowledge of the geography of the ground or lack of foresight of the risk of crushing. He suggested that Duckenfield "froze". Duckenfield eventually agreed that he froze.

Duckenfield was also questioned by Heather Williams on behalf of one of the families of the dead. She suggested that a backlog of fans developing at the Leppings Lane turnstiles at 2.15 would get worse. Duckenfield replied, "Inevitably".

Deployed

He agreed that the disaster could have been avoided had he deployed more manpower at the turnstiles to control the crowd.

Andrew Waters questioned Duckenfield on behalf of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. Duckenfield had told the court that he read the Green Guide on safety at matches before the match and looked up the responsibilities of stewards.

He said he wasn't sure Sheffield Wednesday stewards properly monitored the pens. Waters suggested this showed that Duckenfield had thought the matter was serious. Duckenfield disagreed. Waters asked if his concern with stewards "was another lie" Duckenfield said no.

Waters referred to a meeting on 17 April 1989. Duckenfield was recorded as saying it was police officers' duty to direct and control fans. Duckenfield said he couldn't recall the meeting.

Duckenfield told previous inquests into the deaths that he couldn't say whether he saw a copy of the Green Guide before the match.

Waters said, "And yet, 26 years after the disaster, not only can you remember now that you had read it, but you can remember the reason." Duckenfield said yes.

Duckenfield's counsel John Beggs asked whether it had been "easy" for Duckenfield to "admit that your professional failings led to the deaths of 96 innocent men, women and children". Duckenfield replied, "It has been the most difficult period of my life".

Duckenfield confirmed that he was suspended from duty on 4 August 1989. He retired on 10 November 1991 after a doctor declared him "unfit to undertake the duties of a police constable".

Duckenfield confirmed under questioning by Beggs that other officers had more experience than him.

Terraces

He confirmed that no officer alerted him to problems on the terraces.

Beggs asked if Duckenfield had other responsibilities in the run-up to the match. He referred to a move of police headquarters.

Duckenfield told the court, "I had other jobs."

He agreed that, on the day of the disaster, his main focus had been on crowd segregation.

Christina Lambert QC finished by asking Duckenfield questions on behalf of the inquests.

He confirmed that he didn't step outside the control box to get a better view of the terraces.

He confirmed that he should have known basic information such as the stadium layout. He agreed that there were "a number of occasions" when he could have obtained such basic knowledge.

He agreed that he knew he was inexperienced at the time of the disaster. He said he did not ask for reports of meetings concerning the ground.

Duckenfield again said he wasn't aware of crushing at the stadium in 1981. But he added that he was "not confident" about that recollection.

Lambert asked about Duckenfield's other duties in the run-up to the match. He couldn't recall any event or project at the hospital or university in his division that required his attention.

He confirmed he did not "personally have any direct involvement" in the organisation of a move of police headquarters.

The inquests continue.


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