LATEST - David Duckenfield admits emergency response to Hillsborough disaster was ‘hopeless’

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
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Police chief David Duckenfield has agreed the emergency response to the Hillsborough disaster was ‘hopeless’.

Inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans heard fans and officers had to resort to tearing down fences with their hands due to delays in calling the fire service for cutting equipment.

Under questioning for a fifth day, Mr Duckenfield agreed there had been ‘a hopeless response to an emergency’.

The match commander said he believed he had declared a major incident when the game was stopped at 3.06pm.

He said: “I thought I had said it, I am sure I said it.”

But transcripts from the day show no record of a major incident being called at this time.

A call for ambulances was made around 3.08pm, with the fire service contacted at 3.14pm.

Pete Weatherby, representing 22 of the victims’ families, said: “Here we have a situation where, I say 15 minutes after it becomes apparent there’s a major incident, we are getting the first call from your control box asking for cutting equipment to remove those fences?”

Mr Duckenfield said they had tried to get cutting equipment from a police garage.

He agreed that eventually officers and fans had to take the fences down with their bare hands.

Earlier in the hearing, Mr Duckenfield agreed he had been ‘driven to accept responsibility’ for his role in the Hillsborough tragedy, in which 96 Liverpool fans died, because of evidence at the present inquests, which was ‘the writing on the wall’.

Last week, for the first time since the fateful 1989 FA Cup semi-final, he admitted he was responsible for numerous failures and had lied that fans forced open an exit gate which led to crushing in the central pens of the Leppings Lane terrace.

He previously told the hearing into the deaths that the September 2012 report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel forced him to face up to his failings and tell the ‘whole truth’.

But three weeks before the inquests started in Warrington last year he was maintaining his denial of responsibility, the jury heard.

In a prepared statement to officers from Operation Resolve - the continuing criminal investigation into the disaster - he said: “After the tragedy I co-operated to the best of my ability at all stages with all inquiries and investigations.”

Mr Duckenfield went on to outline the stress he was under when giving his initial account shortly after the tragedy and then at the 1989 Taylor Inquiry and the original 1991 inquests.

He added: “I consider it very unlikely that I can improve upon my previous recollections or previous accounts.”

Mr Weatherby put it to him that in his Operation Resolve interview he had still been trying to ‘stick to denying any responsibility’.

Mr Duckenfield replied: “I have said I was in denial.”

The barrister said: “The truth is that you have followed these inquests, you have seen the evidence that has emerged over the months, you have seen that the writing is on the wall and you are now driven to accept responsibility, that is the truth of it?”

Mr Duckenfield said: “Sir, I agree. I have now learned of my failings and I accept them.”

Mr Duckenfield agreed he had accepted that he was not the person for the job of match commander and it was ‘one of the biggest regrets’ of his life that he opened the exit gate at the Leppings Lane end without considering where the supporters would go.

But he added: “I qualify my case. What I am saying is that it was a major decision. I was relieving the stress on the gates, I was saving lives and I thought they (the fans) would go into the concourse.”

He also accepted a reasonably competent match commander would have realised that the supporters would go through the tunnel leading to the central pens of the terrace but said he was inexperienced and had a lack of knowledge of the ground.

Mr Duckenfield last week told the inquests that he thought fans were partly to blame for the tragedy. He told Mr Weatherby: “To qualify it, supporters and others played a part in this disaster.”

Mr Duckenfield also said two police units behind the tunnel played a part.

Mr Weatherby put it to him: “In essence, what you are saying is as match commander you had accepted that your serious failings on that day make you responsible but then you are trying to offload your responsibility on all sorts of others.”

Mr Duckenfield replied: “No, the buck stops with me. I was looking to those people to provide assistance.”

The hearings continue.