Hillsborough match commander tells disaster inquests: I wasn’t the best man for the job

Former chief superintendent David Duckenfield arrives at the Hillsborough Inquest in Warrington
Former chief superintendent David Duckenfield arrives at the Hillsborough Inquest in Warrington
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The former police officer in charge of the football match in Sheffield on the day of the Hillsborough disaster has told the inquests into the deaths of 96 fans he ‘wasn’t the best man for the job’.

Retired Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield was the match commander for South Yorkshire Police when Liverpool FC played Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough in April 1989.

He is being questioned today and the rest of the week over his handling of the fateful match.

Mr Duckenfield gave the order to open gates allowing 2,000 fans massing outside the turnstiles into the ground in the minutes before the fatal crush.

He also later wrongly told FA officials a gate had been forced open, comments repeated and publicised by the press.

Mr Duckenfield took over as match commander at Hillsborough three weeks before the semi-final.

Under questioning this morning, he said he had no recent experience of policing Hillsborough stadium and no experience ‘at all’ of planning for football matches.

He said: “With hindsight, I should have thought about my limited knowledge of the role of the commander in a major event that was an all-ticket sellout, when I had not been responsible, or in that responsible position, previously.”

“All I would say is this, that after a period of... shall we say, I’m older, hopefully wiser, probably I wasn’t the best man for the job on the day.”

He was then asked by Christina Lambert counsel to the inquests: “Do you think it was a mistake for you to accept the role of match commander and not seek assistance from others, such as Mr Mole?”

Brian Mole was his predecessor.

Mr Duckenfield said the culture in the force at the time was that officers would be moved without an overlap and would learn ‘on the job’.

He said: “It didn’t cross my mind to say, I’m not up to the job, I just got on with it.

“With hindsight - it was a serious mistake.”

The jury has previously heard it was his first experience of policing a sell-out 54,000 crowd at the venue and most of his policing had been in criminal investigations, rather than public order.

As fans massed at the turnstiles in the minutes before kick-off, then-superintendent Roger Marshall, who was responsible for the Liverpool fans’ section, repeatedly requested that exit gates be opened to ease the pressure outside fearing ‘somebody would be killed’.

Mr Duckenfield gave the order at 2.52pm, saying: “If there is likely to be a serious injury or death I’ve no option but to open the gates. Open the gates.”

About 2,000 fans then made their way into the ground as Gate C was opened, many heading straight for a tunnel leading directly to pens 3 and 4 behind the goal, already densely packed with fans.

In the immediate aftermath of the crush Mr Duckenfield told FA executives the gates had been forced open.

The hearing continues