Hillsborough Inquests: Duckenfield says ‘I must accept responsibility’

Ninety-six fans lost their lives at Hillsborough in April 1989. Pic: PA.
Ninety-six fans lost their lives at Hillsborough in April 1989. Pic: PA.
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South Yorkshire Police match commander for Hillsborough David Duckenfield accepted responsibility for the ‘deficiencies’ in a masterplan for the smooth running of the 1989 FA Cup semi-final.

The match order for the fateful game in April 1989 was signed off by Mr Duckenfield, who was the commander in charge on the day.

Former chief superintendent David Duckenfield arrives at the Hillsborough Inquest in Warrington, where he was due to give evidence. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday March 10, 2015. Mr Duckenfield, the match commander, came to court long before the expected arrival of around 200 relatives of the dead, who will listen as he gives evidence. See PA story INQUEST Hillsborough. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Former chief superintendent David Duckenfield arrives at the Hillsborough Inquest in Warrington, where he was due to give evidence. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday March 10, 2015. Mr Duckenfield, the match commander, came to court long before the expected arrival of around 200 relatives of the dead, who will listen as he gives evidence. See PA story INQUEST Hillsborough. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

It detailed how police officers would maintain public order - such as having procedures in place for filling the pens in the stadium and filtering the crowds outside. He said public order, rather than general safety, was the main focus.

Christina Lambert QC, counsel for the inquests, asked Mr Duckenfield in front of around 200 family members of the 96 fans 
who died, if he accepted any responsibility for the ‘deficiencies’ in the match report.

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Mr Duckenfield replied: “I was the Chief Superintendent in charge on the day. I signed the order so I must accept responsibility.”

Ms Lambert also questioned Mr Duckenfield about an apparent lack of a contingency plan for the match day in case there were unduly large crowds gathering outside the stadium.

He said: “As a professional you have to balance possibilities and probabilities.

“You can look at things and say, ‘Yes, we should have done that, yes, we should have had a contingency.’

“But the way I was looking at it, there was no evidence to suggest that that contingency was necessary. I don’t want to be unfair or unprofessional but I wonder how far you take contingency plans throughout the whole of the ground and surroundings.”

Mr Duckenfield said he found out on match day that there was a ‘find your own level’ system in place for fans as they filtered into the pens overlooking the pitch.

He said he was unaware the turnstiles had no way of counting how many people were entering the stadium.

Ms Lambert said the tunnel leading to the central pens had been closed as they became full at the FA Cup semi final the previous year in 1988.

She asked Mr Duckenfield: “You would agree that closure might be common sense if the pens were becoming full to capacity?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied.

He accepted under questioning that he was not aware of the codeword ‘catastrophe’ that was to be used by emergency services in the event of a major incident.

The court also heard no cordons or road closures were in place around Hillsborough on the day of the match between Liverpool FC and Nottingham Forest.

Mr Duckenfield said it was still an area of debate over quarter of a century on - having recently seen a discussion about the topic on a city online forum.

He said: “It would appear that 26 years after, no one has yet made up their mind whether or not the decision should be made. Having now had the unfortunate experience of this terrible tragedy, I can see great merit in giving serious consideration to cordons. We should have thought about it seriously.”

Mr Duckenfield is due to continue his evidence today and for the rest of the week.

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