The police chief in charge on the day of the Hillsborough Disaster has made an unreserved apology to the victims’ families after lying to FA officials about who opened the gates into the ground.
Former Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield said it was ‘arguably the biggest regret of my life’ that he authorised the opening Gate C at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium on April 15, 1989.
This led to up to 800 fans surging into one of the pens behind the goal, causing a human crush resulting in 96 deaths.
But in the chaotic aftermath of the tragedy, Mr Duckenfield failed to tell FA secretary Graham Kelly that it was he who had given the order - instead inferring that Liverpool fans had ‘stormed’ the gate themselves.
He told the inquests in Warrington: “I was probably deeply ashamed, embarrassed and greatly distressed and I probably didn’t want to admit to myself or anyone else what the situation is.”
At 3.15pm, after the tragedy had already unfolded, Mr Duckenfield was called to a boardroom meeting which was also attended by Mr Kelly.
He said he didn’t think he had said something as ‘dramatic’ as the fans had stormed the gates, but had said something along the lines of, ‘Some fans have got in through the gates.’
He said: “What I didn’t say to Mr Kelly - I didn’t say I have authorised the opening of the gates, I didn’t tell him that.
“I didn’t give sufficient information to appreciate the situation as it had occurred.
“Being absolutely honest about the situation, I made a dreadful mistake not realising the consequences of what I was doing.”
When asked to clarify his ‘dreadful mistake’, he said: “Not telling Mr Kelly that the gates had been opened by me and that may have contributed to the disaster.”
Christina Lambert QC, counsel to the inquests, said: “What motivated you to lie?”
Mr Duckenfield replied: “I have no idea. In shock and distress I said something I deeply regret.
“That was a terrible lie in that everybody knew the truth. The fans knew the truth and the police officers knew the truth, that we had opened the gates.”
Mr Duckenfield’s misleading information led to the release of an inaccurate press statement about the cause of the tragedy.
He addressed the Liverpool families directly when he said: “I regret that omission and I shall regret it to my dying day. I said something rather hurriedly without thinking of the consequences and the trauma, the heartache and distress that the inference caused.
“It was a major mistake on my part.
“I have no excuses, I apologised unreservedly to the families and I hope they believe it as a very sincere apology.”
The inquests heard Mr Duckenfield accept that it was a mistake not to close the tunnel leading to the central pens behind the goals when Gate C was opened.
When he spotted a buzz of activity near the goal he assumed there had been a pitch invasion, but quickly realised it was far more serious.
He said: “A young man came from the perimeter track behind the goal and either collapsed or fell down, I don’t know which. I remember seeing him hobbling and either collapsing or falling down on the pitch and there was a sudden realisation that this wasn’t a pitch invasion, this was a serious situation.”
He continued: “I have a recollection that after sending (ground commander) Mr Murray down to the pitch he came back and he said, ‘I think we don’t want one ambulance, we want a fleet of ambulances.’”
“I think it’s fair to say that that is arguably the biggest regret of my life, that I didn’t foresee where fans would go when they came in through the gates.”