Hillsborough police chief cracked under pressure

Hillsborough enquiry still throwing up surprises 26 years after the tragedy
Hillsborough enquiry still throwing up surprises 26 years after the tragedy

Hillsborough police chief David Duckenfield has told the jury looking into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans in 1989 that he was "a new and inexperienced match commander" faced with "unimaginably difficult and fast-moving circumstances".

He added he was working to "a flawed operational (match) order" and had "not envisaged or wished for death or injury to a single football supporter" in the central pens of the Leppings Lane terrace at the fateful FA Cup semi-final, which became Britain's worst sporting disaster.

Yesterday, Mr Duckenfield, 70, agreed that his failure to close the tunnel leading to those pens was the "direct cause" of the tragedy after he had just ordered the opening of an exit gate at the ground to relieve congestion at the Leppings Lane turnstiles.

The circumstances of that failure was outlined by his barrister today as the retired chief superintendent from South Yorkshire Police gave evidence for a seventh day at the hearing in Warrington.

Summing up his questioning of his client, John Beggs QC, said to Mr Duckenfield: "In front of this jury, Mr Duckenfield, many family members in court, and many many lawyers and journalists, you have admitted, haven't you, some very serious professional failures?"

Mr Duckenfield (above) was promoted 19 days before the disaster and inherited the role of match commander at Sheffield Wednesday's ground for the sell-out tie against Nottingham Forest - his first game in overall charge.

He told his barrister that on and leading up April 15 he did not ignore any advice given by experienced officers but he accepted as match commander that "the buck stops with me".

Mr Beggs said it had been suggested by a number of barristers at the inquests that Mr Duckenfield alone should bear responsibility for the tragedy.

Mr Duckenfield agreed he had nothing to do with previous turnstile "failures" at Sheffield Wednesday and no one had advised him about them.

He had no say on Liverpool being awarded the smaller end of the ground for the match with just 23 turnstiles.

In reality, he had "inherited" the police operation for the match.

He also had nothing to do with signage at the ground or previous decisions to install perimeter fences and radial fences, its architectural features or any breaches of stadium safety guidance on crush barrier heights.