Published: Wednesday 11th March 2015 by The News Editor
The police chief at Hillsborough has told the inquests he had only a “basic knowledge” of the ground when he gave the order to open a gate allowing 2,000 more fans on to the packed terraces.
Former chief superintendent David Duckenfield, the match commander for South Yorkshire Police, agreed to a request at 2.52pm to open Gate C to let in fans who were massing at the turnstiles outside.
Many of the estimated 2,000 fans who entered headed straight for a tunnel leading directly to central pens behind the goal.
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.
Mr Duckenfield, 70, has told the jury that he was “not the best man for the job” on the day as he was new to the post of match commander and had limited experience of policing football games.
Giving evidence for a second day from the witness box, watched by more than 100 relatives of the dead fans sitting behind him, he said his memory was of him giving a briefing at 10am to all the officers working at the match but after that, until 2pm when he went to the police control box, he had “no recollection” of his movements.
“It’s gone from my mind,” he said.
Christina Lambert QC, counsel to the inquests, said this was a “significant period of time” and suggested it would have been a “golden opportunity” in the run-up to kick-off for him to tour the stadium and familiarise himself with the ground.
Mr Duckenfield replied: “I don’t know whether I did or didn’t.
“I can’t disagree with your suggestion, but I can’t answer your question.
“I’m not asking for pity, I’m not asking for sympathy.”
Miss Lambert suggested that if he had toured the ground in the hours before kick-off, it would have given him the chance to see for himself that the map of turnstiles on the back of match tickets was different from the actual layout of the ground.
And he would have seen the proximity of the turnstiles and Gate C to the mouth of the tunnel leading into the central pens.
Mr Duckenfield said: “The location of Gate C and proximity to the tunnel has become a feature in this inquiry and others because of what has occurred.
“I and no one else ever saw Gate C as an entrance gate, it was only ever seen as an exit gate.
“I certainly didn’t perceive gate C to be an entrance gate and consider where people may go.
“Ma’am, when you consider that others had policed that ground for many years and never contemplated those gates as entrance gates, if I had had the time I would have liked to think I would have had the opportunity to examine everything of that nature.”
Miss Lambert asked the witness if he thought it was “any part” of the match commander’s job to know the layout of the ground.
Mr Duckenfield replied: “I do, Ma’am.”
He continued: “I would say you are focusing after the event on a particular location and with my newness to the position, I had a basic knowledge.
“I accept in a perfect world I should have known, but in the time allotted to me, I did not know.”
Miss Lambert asked if he could have looked at a plan of the ground.
Mr Duckenfield replied: “You don’t get the feel of a situation until you stand there.”
He said it was “dreadful” that the map of the ground on the back of the match tickets “bore little resemblance” to the actual layout of the turnstiles.
The witness said 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.”
Giving his pre-match briefing, Mr Duckenfield told officers: “I can’t stress too highly the word safety.”
A football intelligence report by police said Liverpool fans’ behaviour had generally been “good” that season, despite some specific examples of bad behaviour.
Mr Duckenfield said he was not aware of any “major difficulties” the Liverpool fans were going to cause him and he accepted it was “a normality” that supporters would drink alcohol before the match.
Mr Duckenfield told Miss Lambert that because of his own inexperience another senior officer led a meeting with the referee and linesmen before the match.
Asked to confirm when he had known that fans would be allowed to “find their own level” on the Leppings Lane terracing, Mr Duckenfield answered: “I can’t be specific but it must have been before kick-off. I have no recollection between 10am and two o’clock but somewhere in my mind I knew before kick-off, that’s all I can say.”
During his testimony, Mr Duckenfield was shown photographs taken inside the control box, where he arrived at about 2pm on the day. Responding to questions about whether cameras linked to five control box monitors could pan and zoom, the retired policeman admitted to being “confused” about what he knew on April 15 1989.
Mr Duckenfield added that he was unsure “one way or the other” whether he knew there was a direct telephone line to the club control room at Hillsborough.
Commenting on his role as a commander, the ex-officer added: “There is an inevitability the higher you rise up the scale that sometimes you don’t have a detailed knowledge of communications.
“In a perfect world I should have known how to operate every individual piece of equipment in that control room. In general terms I was obviously aware of the communications available.”
Giving his recollections of the period between 2pm and 2.30pm, Mr Duckenfield said he had been watching, observing and listening.
He was also asked to comment on the absence of stewards from areas of terracing at Hillsborough, telling jurors and the coroner: “The stewards in those days were elderly gentlemen and the method of stewarding and training, I think it is fair to say, was not as sophisticated as it is today.
“In 1989 it was a totally different culture. It would not have been kind to them to put them in the midst of a crowd.”
Mr Duckenfield said he could not recall whether he had discussed the monitoring and filling of pens at Hillsborough with anyone in the control box.
CCTV footage showing a small group of supporters chatting on the Leppings Lane terrace at 2.20pm was shown to Mr Duckenfield, who agreed with Miss Lambert that it was of good quality.
After stressing that he was not being flippant, Mr Duckenfield pointed out that he was viewing the footage at the inquest from around 2ft away, whereas he had seen footage in the Hillsborough control box from a distance of up to 8ft.
He told Miss Lambert: “I was looking at a 12in screen 6ft to 8ft away. If you were to walk into John Lewis or Currys and see six televisions playing at the same time, you would have difficulty recognising or remembering what you were seeing on six different programmes on six different channels.
“I have got a perfect picture here (at the inquest) which I am delighted with. You have to visualise that my screen was probably half that size.
“If I am to look at crowd scenes then crowd scenes on this screen may be very much more distinct than they would have been on a screen 8ft away.”
Mr Duckenfield agreed it was “not unusual” that at 2.17pm he received, and agreed to, a request to close Leppings Lane from traffic due to the crowds.
Miss Lambert said: “Was it a matter of concern to you?”
Mr Duckenfield replied: “Ma’am, it was not unusual, given the occasion of the semi-final.”
Miss Lambert continued: “Given your lack of experience you did not really have the knowledge base on which to work?”
“I think that would be fair,” the witness replied.
The jury was told earlier that more than 24,200 Liverpool fans were expected to enter the ground through 23 turnstiles, while 29,800 Nottingham Forest supporters were able to use 60 turnstiles at the opposite end of the stadium.
On the day of the match, 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.
Miss Lambert said 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 said he “accepted” this was “not going to happen”.
He said if he had known these figures at the time he would have “taken action”, restricting fans entering the ground and delaying kick-off time.
Miss Lambert asked the witness if it was a mistake not to ask himself how many more fans had to get in the ground.
Mr Duckenfield replied: “Having had time to consider it over the years, it most certainly is.”
The jury heard Mr Duckenfield ordered a tannoy message be put out to fans on the Leppings Lane terrace asking them to spread out to the sides and front of the terraces as there appeared to be a concentration of supporters in the central pens, 3 and 4, behind the goal.
Mr Duckenfield said that about 2.30pm he looked at the crowds still to enter the ground on Leppings Lane and spoke to another senior officer in the control box, Bernard Murray, about possibly delaying the kick-off, asking: “Do you think we will get these all in by 3pm?”
To which he said Mr Murray replied: “Yes, we’ve got no problem there.”
Miss Lambert asked the witness whether he should have “taken steps” to get the figures detailing how many still had to get into the ground through Leppings Lane.
Mr Duckenfield said: “That’s correct Ma’am, but it is with regret I did not.”
Miss Lambert continued: “Do you think it was mistake not to make that enquiry?”
“I do,” Mr Duckenfield replied.
Miss Lambert: “Do you think if you had made that enquiry those figures would be available to you?”
“Yes Ma’am,” he replied.
Mr Duckenfield said he “accepted” the suggestion he should at that point have taken steps to delay the kick-off, but he said it might have “provoked a reaction” if he announced that the delay was due to the Liverpool fans.
Miss Lambert said a delay could have been announced without apportioning blame.
Mr Duckenfield replied: “Your suggestion has merit, but when you are in a crisis, sometimes you make quick decisions, you assess situations, you make decisions. Sometimes those decisions, in hindsight, are not correct but you make them with the best of intentions.”
Mr Duckenfield said being match commander for the semi-final was the “biggest day” of his professional career but denied he was reluctant to delay kick-off for fear of appearing “diminished” in the eyes of his colleagues.
Published: Wednesday 11th March 2015 by The News Editor