Hillsborough officer ‘gobsmacked’


Published: Monday 9th March 2015 by The News Editor

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A police officer told the Hillsborough inquest if a big gate had not been opened to relieve the crush at the turnstiles, “we would have been dealing with bodies outside the ground”.

John Morgan, a police sergeant on duty for South Yorkshire Police on the day of the football disaster, also said he would have opened the gates himself if more senior officers had not given the order.

Ninety-six Liverpool fans died following a crush on the Leppings Lane terrace of Sheffield’s Hillsborough ground as the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest kicked off on April 15 1989.

Around 2,000 fans entered the ground when match commander Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield ordered Gate C at the Leppings Lane end to be opened at 2.52pm.

But many fans headed straight for the tunnel under the seated upper stand and leading directly to the already packed central pens of the terrace behind the goal.

The tunnel was not closed off by police beforehand and the numbers of fans in each pen was not restricted – with police and club officials having a policy of allowing supporters to “find their own level” by distributing themselves along the terraces.

In the run-up to kick-off Mr Morgan was in charge of a serial of officers inside the ground at the Leppings Lane end when a massive crowd built up at the turnstiles with those at the front being crushed and “screaming for help”.

He said: “I just could not understand what I was seeing because it was unprecedented.

“What I would say, I froze, in fact I was gobsmacked. It was an alarming situation.

“One guy I remember getting hold of my anorak and saying, ‘Do something, people are getting crushed, open the gates’.”

Mr Morgan went outside and with other officers managed to pull some fans out of the crush amidst an “aura of menace” and “alarm” due to the numbers and the crushing.

“I thought people were going to die. There was imminent danger,” he added.

Mr Morgan said he had “formed an intention” to open the gates to relieve the pressure but would have first had to get permission from more senior officers first.

Later he made a statement, saying if Gate C had not been opened, “we would have been dealing with bodies outside the ground”.

He said he “assumed” there would be a controlled opening of the gates to allow fans to filter into the ground, but was left surprised when Gate C was “flung open wide” at 2.52pm.

The former officer told the jury: “At that stage, that took me by complete surprise and I’m forced through the gates and I turn around in mid-stream and try to force my way back outside. I thought I was going to be trampled under the press behind me.”

Christina Lambert QC, counsel for the inquest, asked Mr Morgan if he had himself instructed stewards to open the gates – a suggestion dismissed by the witness.

Ms Lambert continued: “Why are you confident you did not give the instruction?”

Mr Morgan replied: “Because I can’t remember it. It’s not within my memory, that I knocked on that door and spoke to anybody. I just did not do it. I don’t think I had the rank to be able to issue that order.”

He said there was “every possibility” Gate C was opened at 2.52pm on the orders of Mr Duckenfield.

After the gate was opened Mr Morgan went to help other fans outside then he heard a call on his police radio calling for help with a pitch invasion.

But he was left “shocked” when he got to the scene with fellow officers, “standing in disbelief”, in front of the Leppings Lane pens with fans crushed against the perimeter fence.

Mr Morgan then went to the back of the stand through the tunnel to get fans off the terrace to relieve pressure at the front.

Former chief superintendent Mr Duckenfield will give evidence to the inquests, in Warrington, tomorrow.

Published: Monday 9th March 2015 by The News Editor

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