17 Mar 2015

Hillsborough: Duckenfield says his decision caused deaths

The Hillsborough match commander tells the inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans that his failure to close a tunnel was the “direct cause” of the tragedy.

David Duckenfield, 70, accepted he “froze” during the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest before he ordered the opening of an exit gate to relieve congestion outside the Leppings Lane turnstile.

He has previously admitted lying after accusing fans of forcing open the gate into the stadium, and apologised “unreservedly” to the families of the victims.

During his sixth day of evidence at the Hillsborough inquests in Warrington, the retired South Yorkshire chief superintendent was questioned by Paul Greaney QC, representing the Police Federation.

Mr Geaney asked: “Do you agree with the following, that people died in a crush in the central pens?” Mr Duckenfield said: “Yes sir.” Mr Greaney said: “That if they had not been permitted to flow down the tunnel into those central pens that would not have occurred?” The witness repeated: “Yes sir.”

The barrister continued: “That closing the tunnel would have prevented that and therefore would have prevented the tragedy.” Mr Duckenfield said again: “Yes sir.” Mr Greaney said: “That you failed to recognise that there was a need to close that tunnel.” Mr Duckenfield said: “I did fail to recognise that sir.”

‘Direct cause’

Mr Greaney said: “And therefore failed to take steps to achieve that.” Mr Duckenfield replied: “I did sir.” Mr Greaney said: “That failure was the direct cause of the deaths of 96 persons in the Hillsborough tragedy.” Mr Duckenfield said: “Yes sir.”

Up to 2,000 fans entered Gate C, with many heading straight for a tunnel in front of them which Mr Duckenfield had not ordered to be closed and then on to the already full central pens on the terrace which led to the fatal crushing.

The inquests were ordered after the original accidental death verdicts were quashed in 2012.

‘Disaster unfolding’

John Beggs QC, representing Mr Duckenfield, asked if he could have “done more to in the aftermath when it became obvious that there was a disaster unfolding”. “Yes sir,” said Mr Duckenfield.

He agreed with Mr Beggs that it would have been better to have made an earlier announcement about the fact a medical emergency was unfolding. He also accepted that an experienced match commander “probably would not have made at least some or perhaps any of those mistakes”.

During his earlier evidence, Mr Duckenfield said he was unaware of the geography of Sheffield Wednesday’s ground because it was his first match in charge.

The inquests have heard that Mr Duckenfield told the 1989 Taylor inquiry into the disaster that he had made the right decisions on the day but he now accepted that he had made errors – some of which were “grave”.

He has told the jury that his serious failings were due to his lack of experience and that others also played their part in the cause of the deaths.