Socialist Worker

David Duckenfield made a ‘fatal mistake’ during Hillsborough disaster, jury is told

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2644

A memorial to victims of the Hillsborough football disaster

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


Poor decision making and lack of leadership by David Duckenfield contributed to the Hillsborough football disaster, a court has heard.

Some 96 Liverpool fans died after being crushed in pens 3 and 4 at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium. Duckenfield was police match commander on the day.

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 Footbal Club (SWFC) safety officer, faces two charges relating to safety breaches. Both deny the charges.

Former crowd control adviser to the Football Association Douglas Hopkins gave evidence to the trial on Monday.

He said it took Duckenfield a long time to respond to requests to open a gate to relieve a crush outside the turnstiles.

When Duckenfield decided to open the gate “he didn’t even tell his officers inside so they had no forewarning of a sudden flood of supporters coming through”.

Hopkins said, “I think it was a fatal mistake.”

The court heard that at the inquests Duckenfield referred to his lack of experience and knowledge.

Prepared

Hopkins said, “I believe a prudent and careful match commander, even one who was inexperienced, would have prepared himself far better.”

Hopkins would have expected a reasonably competent match commander to be familiar with various documents. This included an Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) document on hooliganism dated October 1987.

It referred to the need to monitor the approaches to a stadium and said effective turnstile policing is “key”. He said Duckenfield failed to meet SWFC senior staff and failed to realise the club control room could provide him with turnstile counts.

Hopkins said an essential part of being match commander is knowing what resources are available and having contingency plans.

He said it would be “essential” to be aware of the stadium’s geography and to police the tunnel leading to pens 3 and 4.

Benjamin Myers QC, defending Duckenfield, asked Hopkins about a match between Arsenal and Liverpool in November 1988. Hopkins was match commander.

The court heard that 6,000 Liverpool fans were locked out of the stadium as more fans arrived than could be catered for.

Hopkins accepted there was some loss of control of fans at the game, despite planning.

Hopkins agreed that mistakes were made in planning for the 1989 semi-final that played a part in the disaster but were not to do with Duckenfield.

The trial continues.


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