13 Mar 2015

Hillsborough inquest: Duckenfield takes the stand

David Duckenfield, in charge of policing at Hillsborough on April 15 1989, denies taking part in a “cover-up” but admits making mistakes. Here are the key moments from his evidence to the inquest.

One of the main witnesses to an inquest examining how 96 people died at the 1989 Hillsborough disaster took to the stand this week, after a 2012 independent panel report quashed the original accidental death verdicts.

Former Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, who was match commander at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989, has been giving evidence over his role on the day.

Tuesday 10 March

He tells the inquest that he gave the order to open gates, allowing 2,000 fans massing outside the turnstiles into the ground in the minutes before the fatal crush.

Read Alex Thomson's blog: Hillsborough inquest - police chief gives evidence

The jury hears it was his first experience of policing a sell-out 54,000 crowd at the venue and most of his policing had been in criminal investigations, rather than public order.

Mr Duckenfield took “some minutes” to make a decision, but believing it was too late to delay kick-off, gave the order at 2.52pm, saying: “If there is likely to be a serious injury or death, I’ve no option but to open the gates. Open the gates.”

The inquest hears that around 2,000 fans then made their way into the ground as Gate C was opened, many heading straight for a tunnel leading directly to pens three and four behind the goal, already densely packed with fans.

A tactic of police blocking off the tunnel leading into the central pens to disperse fans into other pens on the terrace was not followed on the day, as in previous matches.

The 70-year-old admits that lack of experience played a part in his decision-making. In a statement, Mr Duckenfield tells the court that “with hindsight it was a serious mistake”, adding that his experience of policing big football matches had been limited:

Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson reports that Mr Duckenfield said he was unaware that there were already police reports regarding the turnstiles, which he said could have assisted him:

There were further revelations on day two of the cross-examination as Mr Duckenfield told the inquest that he had been warned about over-crowding at the gates.

Wednesday 11 March

The jury is told that more than 24,200 Liverpool fans had been expected to enter the ground through 23 turnstiles, while 29,800 Nottingham Forest supporters had been able to use 60 turnstiles at the opposite end of the stadium.

Mr Duckenfield says that, as the match commander, he signed off the police order, the detailed plan for policing the match, but he never handled a match ticket.

He said: “I read the order, I signed the order but I did not pay much much attention to the detail on the ticket, I accepted it would be correct. I trusted the ticket.”

On the day of the match, he tells the inquest, police could only judge how full the pens in the terraces were by looking at CCTV and the terraces.

There were counters on the banks of turnstiles but these did not record how many people were going into each pen.

Christina Lambert QC, counsel to the inquests, says that at 2.30pm the turnstile counters showed 5,700 Liverpool fans had still to enter turnstiles A to G. This meant 800 fans would have to go through each turnstile in 30 minutes to get in for kick-off.

Mr Duckenfield says if he had known these figures at the time he would have “taken action”, restricting fans entering the ground and delaying kick-off time.

John Cutlack, the inquests’ structural engineer, says there were more than twice as many fans inside one of the pens (three) as was safe.

Former superintendent Roger Marshall, who called for the exit gates to be opened so fans could enter the stadium, says officers “lost control completely” and he regretted not asking for kick-off to be delayed.

Mr Duckenfield admits that at a meeting with Football Association boss Graham Kelly, his press chief and club officials in the police control box, he lied and did not tell them it was he himself who had authorised the opening of the gates.

Mr Duckenfield says: “I was probably deeply ashamed, embarrassed, greatly distressed and I probably did not want to admit to myself or anybody else what the situation is.”

He continues: “What I would like to say to the Liverpool families is this, I regret that omission and I shall regret it to my dying day.”

The witness denies there was a “conspiracy” on day three of the inquest.

Thursday 12 March

Rejecting claims that there were fatalities by the time he had spoken to the FA boss, Mr Duckenfield says: “My main objective was a rescue operation and to do the very best I could for all concerned.”

He also apologises “unreservedly” to families of the victims.

Rajiv Menon QC, representing the families of 75 Hillsborough victims, asserts: “It was gross negligence and ultimately it caused the disaster and the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans, didn’t it?”

Mr Duckenfield answers: “No, sir. My view is it was an oversight, a mistake.”

Friday 13 March

It is revealed that the former match commander had called for police dogs instead of ambulances as fans were crushed to death in the tragedy.

But the former South Yorkshire Police chief superintendent, who was match commander on the day of the disaster, denies his mindset was focused on hooliganism rather than fans’ safety.

The inquest continues.