Socialist Worker

Did the Hillsborough match commander make serious mistakes?

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2495

A memorial to remember victims of the Hillsborough football disaster

A memorial to remember victims of the Hillsborough football disaster (Pic: Ben Sutherland/flickr)

An inquest jury must decide whether Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield could and should have acted differently.

Coroner Sir John Goldring resumed his summing up of evidence given to the inquests on Monday of this week, after a break due to a juror’s illness. The inquests are into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans who died as a result of a crush at the Hillsborough football stadium in 1989.

The coroner told jurors to consider whether Duckenfield made mistakes, what the consequences were and how serious they were.

Duckenfield has told the court that it was a “serious mistake” to accept the role of match commander in the run-up to the disaster. He agreed that it was his ultimate responsibility to monitor the pens and that he failed to do so.

The coroner said, “The point was repeatedly made on Mr Duckenfield’s behalf that Mr Murray and others in the police control box did not foresee any risk to those in the pens when the order was given to open the gates.

“Of course it is open to you to find that they all made mistakes, even serious mistakes.”

Duckenfield accepted that he did not make clear that he ordered the gate to be opened as the disaster unfolded. Under questioning he admitted to a “far-reaching deceit” over his role in the disaster.

The coroner said Duckenfield accepted he told a lie. But Duckenfield said he told the chief constable of South Yorkshire Police Peter Wright later that evening that he had ordered the opening of the gate.

The jury was shown a transcript of Wright’s press conference that evening. In it he said the instruction to open the gate would have come “from a senior officer in the vicinity of the gate”.

The coroner said, “Members of the jury, no doubt you will want to ask yourselves how the chief constable came to say that. Mr Duckenfield said that he had told the chief constable that it was he who had ordered the gate to be opened.

“He said that he and the chief constable had not discussed shifting the blame lower down the police ranks.”

The coroner said Duckenfield was “confident” that he had declared a major incident. But there is no record of this.

The jury was also reminded of evidence given by former Metropolitan Police officer Douglas Hopkins, who criticised the police operation.

The coroner said, “He agreed that putting all the failures between 2.25pm and 2.52pm together it amounted to a failure which was ‘well below what you would have expected from a superintendent and a chief superintendent with 29 years’ experience’.”

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