Hillsborough police chief admits he was to blame

NewsBy Kevin Palmer
Hillsborough cop Duckenfield accepts blame for the tragedy
Hillsborough cop Duckenfield accepts blame for the tragedy

The Hillsborough police match commander has admitted for the first time that his failure to close a tunnel was the "direct cause" of the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final.

David Duckenfield, 70, accepted he "froze" during the disaster before he ordered the opening of an exit gate to relieve congestion outside the Leppings Lane turnstile.

The now retired police chief was responding to questions from Paul Greaney QC, representing the Police Federation, during his sixth day of evidence at the new Hillsborough inquests in Warrington, Cheshire.

Mr Greaney reminded Mr Duckenfield of his earlier evidence to Christina Lambert QC, counsel for the inquest, about his state of mind after the opening of Gate C when he told her: "It was a momentous decision and your decision is such that you do not think of the next step. My mind for a moment went blank."

Asked again if he had "froze", Mr Duckenfield said: "It appears to be a distinct possibility."

Mr Greaney said: "You know what was in your mind and I will ask just one last time. Will you accept that in fact you froze?"

"Yes sir," said Mr Duckenfield.

Mr Greaney went on: "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."

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 theHillsborough 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.

During his earlier evidence, Mr Duckenfield denied he "bottled it" and "simply froze" during the FA Cup semi-final tie.

He claimed he was unaware of the geography of Sheffield Wednesday's ground, this being his first match in charge.

Mr Greaney said: "Do you agree that never mind a competent match commander it might only take a child of average intelligence to realise what the consequences of your actions might be?"

Mr Duckenfield replied: "I did not think of it on the day, sir, because of the pressure I was under."

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.

Mr Duckenfield agreed with Mr Greaney that it was "totally unacceptable" that a match commander "did not have a grip on the geography of that ground sufficient to enable you to understand the consequences of your decision making".

He also accepted that when giving evidence to Lord Justice Taylor it appeared that he was aware that the congested Leppings Lane turnstiles did lead to the central tunnel.

Mr Duckenfield said he did not want to go into detail about his "personal circumstances" - he has previously said he suffered post-traumatic stress - but he may have been "confused" when giving evidence in 1989.

The retired chief superintendent of South Yorkshire Police has previously said he had expected police officers on the perimeter track of the ground and those in the West Stand overlooking the Leppings Lane terrace pens to have kept an eye on monitoring the filling of them, but he accepted they had not received formal instructions to do so.

The retired police chief accepted it would have been sensible to have made an earlier tannoy announcement about the fact there was a medical emergency.

He also accepted that an experienced match commander "probably would not have made at least some or perhaps any of those mistakes".

Mr Duckenfield agreed that he "buried his head in the sand" following the tragedy.

At the Taylor Inquiry weeks after the disaster he was asked about his reaction when he was told shortly before the hearing that he probably needed separate legal representation from South Yorkshire Police.

He told the jury: "I felt destroyed. I was quite shocked and extremely disappointed.

"I was of the view that that I was being represented by Mr Woodward (then Queen's Counsel for South Yorkshire Police) and probably I was a little naive. In all honesty it gave me no confidence whatsoever to think that I was walking into Lord Justice Taylor's inquiry somewhat naked, shall I say."

Mr Duckenfield agreed with his barrister that it was only in recent times that he had been able to come to terms with his mistakes and make the admissions he made to the jury last week.

Asked whether he had found it easy to admit his "professional failings which led to the deaths of 96 innocent men, women and children", Mr Duckenfield said: "It has been the most difficult period of my life."