Socialist Worker

David Duckenfield ‘not experienced enough’ on day of Hillsborough disaster, court hears

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2639

Flowers to remember the victims of the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster

Flowers to remember the victims of the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster (Pic: Edmund Gall/Flickr)

Police match commander David Duckenfield was not “experienced enough” on the day of the Hillsborough football disaster, a court has heard.

Some 96 Liverpool fans died after a crush built up in pens 3 and 4 at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium in April 1989.

Retired police inspector William Crawford said that Duckenfield wasn’t experienced enough on the day of the disaster. He said this was the fault of the “person that put him there”.

Crawford was in charge of Serial 14, which oversaw turnstiles A-G at the Leppings Lane end. He said that as the crowd built up outside the turnstiles he “felt I wasn’t in control”. He said the mood of fans was “initially very good” but that later fans “had been drinking quite a bit”.

Gate C was opened at 2.52pm to relieve the crush outside the turnstiles. Most of the fans who entered went down a tunnel leading to pens 3 and 4.

Crawford said if he’d been warned that Gate C would be opened at 2.52pm he could have closed gates to block off the tunnel.

When called onto the pitch after the match was stopped, he said he received no instructions from senior officers.

He agreed that he could have asked for back up but said there were problems with radios.

He agreed that he could be described as the “eyes and ears on the ground” for the terraces. But he said he thought people who could see CCTV of the area would respond to what was happening.

Crawford said, “The police control room overlooked the pens in front of the West Stand and they could actually see the pens, so if there was a problem in the pens they should have been aware of it and they could have done something about it.”

Crawford believed that the tunnel would not be closed unless someone senior to him gave an order to close it.

Duckenfield faces charges of manslaughter by gross negligence for the deaths of 95 fans. He cannot be charged over the death of the 96th, Tony Bland, as he died four years after the disaster.

Graham Mackrell, then Sheffield Wednesday club safety officer, faces two charges relating to safety breaches. Both deny the charges.

The trial has heard evidence that the 1989 FA Cup semi-final was policed differently to previous semi-finals held at Hillsborough.

Retired officer Kevin Godley described rings of officers checking tickets and monitoring fans during the 1988 FA Cup semi-final.

He said some Liverpool fans “seemed more intent on fighting than helping” as the disaster unfolded.

Liverpool fan David Essery described the policing operation in 1989 as “hugely different” to that in 1988. He said there were more officers on the approach to the ground and “it was more organised”.


Fan Ferenc Morath recalled that kick off was postponed at a semi-final in 1987 and that police checked fans’ tickets as they got off coaches. But he disagreed that policing outside the turnstiles was well organised.

Morath wrote to the Home Office after the 1989 disaster describing his experience in 1987. He referred to police and stewards failing to steward the crowd properly outside the ground, and there being no attempts to direct fans into particular sections, leading to severe crushing behind the goal.

He said if extra fans had been allowed in, the disaster “may have happened two years earlier”.

Evidence from former police officer Alan Hampshire was read to the court.

He described “total, confused chaos” as the disaster unfolded and said he received abuse from fans challenging him to get into the crowd and help.

He said the “feeling of total inadequacy was overwhelming”.

Retired police officer Alan Ramsden told the court he will “never forget” the scenes during the disaster. “There was young faces pleading with us to rescue them and we could not,” he told the court.

“I could see bodies. It was shocking.”

Ramsden said that police had set up a cordon to slow the flow of fans towards the turnstiles during the 1987 semi-final. But in 1989 he said there was no cordon.

He said there were “no real instructions” on how to handle the crowd outside the turnstiles. “We were useless, we were not fulfilling any function at all,” he said.

Liverpool fan Geoffrey Bridson told the court that there had been police cordons checking for tickets during a 1988 semi-final at Hillsborough.

He said in 1989 the scene on Leppings Lane was “chaos” with a “seething mass of people”.

Bridson went into pen 4. “You couldn’t control where you moved to,” he said. “The crushing was so great you were pushed side to side. I started to get frightened.

“One of the awful things was, you knew, I knew, other people knew we were actually standing on people.”

The trial continues.

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