David Duckenfield has accepted that his failure to close a tunnel was the “direct cause” of the deaths of 96 people in the Hillsborough disaster, a court has heard.
A jury at Preston Crown Court was this week read evidence that Duckenfield gave to inquests into the deaths in 2015.
Duckenfield had agreed that his failure to close the tunnel leading to pens 3 and 4, after ordering a gate be opened to allow more fans into the ground, was the most serious failure during the disaster.
Some 96 Liverpool fans died after being crushed in pens 3 and 4 at the Leppings Lane end of Sheffield Wednesday’s football ground.
Duckenfield was police match commander on the day of the disaster on 15 April 1989. He faces 95 charges of manslaughter by gross negligence. Duckenfield can’t be charged over the death of the 96th victim, Tony Bland, as Bland died four years after the disaster.
Graham Mackrell, then Sheffield Wednesday club safety officer, faces two charges relating to safety breaches. Both men deny the charges.
The court heard that Duckenfield told the 2015 inquests that he had “a basic knowledge” of the stadium’s layout before the day of the disaster.
He did not know that turnstiles A-G at the Leppings Lane end led directly to the tunnel. “In a perfect world, I should have known,” he said. “But in the time allotted to me I didn’t know.”
Duckenfield didn’t try to contact officers in the area beyond the turnstiles to let them know the gate would be opened. He gave no instruction to block the tunnel leading to pens 3 and 4.
He said the fact he did not foresee where fans would go “is arguably one of the biggest regrets of my life”.
He accepted that it was “totally unacceptable” that he didn’t have sufficient grip on the ground’s geography to understand the consequences.
Duckenfield said that other match commanders had more experience and knowledge than he did. “I was overcome by the enormity of the situation,” he said. “My mind, for a moment, went blank.”
Duckenfield accepted it was a mistake to accept the role of match commander when he had limited experience. Asked if he fulfilled the job of match commander properly and professionally he said, “Possibly not.”
Duckenfield accepted that he was in overall charge on the day and fans’ safety was in his hands. He accepted that officers under his command were entitled to look to him for instruction and guidance.
Asked if the disaster was a result of his serious failings he said, “Together with others, sir, yes.”
Duckenfield disagreed that he “bottled it” and “panicked”. He disagreed that his lack of experience was “no mitigation” for his failings.
The court heard that Duckenfield attended a number of meetings ahead of the match. He said he was offered no hints, tips or insights about particular problems at Hillsborough.
Duckenfield said no one flagged up any particular hazards at Hillsborough that he should have known about. No particular tactics were brought to Duckenfield’s attention.
He was under the impression the match operational order was tried and tested, and run by officers who knew what they were doing.
The jury was also read evidence from a number of fans who were at the match on the day of the disaster. Michael Moran went into pen 4 and recalled “screaming” at police to help a child he was partially holding.
“There was a massive push forward but nowhere to go,” he said. “I felt something was very, very wrong. I thought I was going to die.”
Moran blacked out and woke up in the goal mouth. He said the scene was like a “battlefield” and described disorganisation and “pandemonium”.
Chelsea fan Geoffrey Moody said the crowd at the Leppings Lane turnstiles on the day of the disaster was the “worst” he’d ever encountered. He only saw two mounted officers near the turnstiles and said there was no stewarding or signage.
The jury was given information showing the name, age, medical cause of death, time and date of death of each of the 95 fans named on the indictment. The court was also shown video footage of some of the final movements of several victims.
Judge Sir Peter Openshaw told the jury that the deaths of fans was “a profound human tragedy” but said they must put aside “sympathy and emotions” when they sum up the case.
He will ask them to deal with the case with “cold, dispassionate analysis”.
He told the jury that the prosecution argue that the footage gives useful detail about the differing times of arrival and position in the ground of victims. He said the defence will argue that the footage adds nothing to material the jury has already seen and heard.
Judge Openshaw also said the footage isn’t relevant to the case against Mackrell.
The trial continues on Monday.