The match commander during the Hillsborough disaster has admitted making ‘mistakes’ - but denied taking part in a ‘cover-up’ to blame Liverpool fans for the tragedy.
Former Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield said there had been ‘no conspiracy’ to hide the truth about the failings of senior officers.
Giving evidence for a third day to the inquests into the 96 deaths, Mr Duckenfield also said he believed supporters had ‘played a part’ in the tragedy by arriving late to the game - but accepted his ‘mistakes were a contributory factor’
Mr Duckenfield said he could not explain his decision not to admit to Football Association Chief Executive Graham Kelly that he had authorised an exit gate to be opened, allowing around 2,000 fans into already overcrowded pens.
Mr Duckenfield apologised unreservedly to the families of the victims on Wednesday after admitting a ‘terrible lie’ and misleading others minutes after the disaster unfolded on April 15, 1989.
Answering questions by Rajiv Menon QC, representing the families of 75 Hillsborough victims, Mr Duckenfield said that at the time he spoke to Mr Kelly in the police control box, he was concentrating on mounting a rescue operation.
Mr Menon put it to Mr Duckenfield that there had been a ‘false narrative’ after the disaster which sought to blame Liverpool fans for what had happened and conceal the truth about police failings.
After pausing to consider his answer, Mr Duckenfield replied: “I disagree. There was no conspiracy as far as I am concerned.”
Rejecting claims that he suspected there were fatalities by the time he spoke to Mr Kelly, Mr Duckenfield added: “I don’t think I was involved in any cover-up whatsoever.
“My main objective was a rescue operation and to do the very best I could for all concerned. It was chaotic, hectic, stressful.”
After claiming that no one in the court room who would understand the position he found himself in, Mr Duckenfield was asked why he had concealed the truth from Mr Kelly.
“Sir, I said yesterday, I don’t know,” Mr Duckenfield responded.
Mr Duckenfield said out of ‘respect for the dignity of the families and the deceased’, he had not spoken about his responsibility for the disaster before.
But Mr Menon said some relatives of the deceased were now themselves dead, and asked if the witness understood how “upsetting and infuriating” to hear his words now, which were “too little, too late”.
“Sir, I can accept that some will have that point of view,” Mr Duckenfield replied.
Mr Menon continued: “Do you accept these mistakes led to overcrowding, crushing, injury and deaths in the central pens?”
Mr Duckenfield replied: “Today sir, 26 years on, and with hindsight, the mistakes I made that day were a contributory factor.”
He added: “I did my best under very trying circumstances. Sadly, my best was not good enough.”
Mr Menon continued: “Your negligence caused disaster and the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans, didn’t it?”
Mr Duckenfield replied: “I would not use the word negligence. Mistake, oversight. Sir, I did not foresee the consequence.”
Earlier in the hearing, Mr Duckenfield said he did not have first hand evidence there were ‘drunk and ticketless fans’ at the game.
But he added the ‘late arrival’ of supporters had contributed to the disaster at the FA Cup semi-final.
Under questioning from Rajiv Menon QC, who is representing 75 of the victims’ families, Mr Duckenfield accepted his lawyers have been advancing a case that drunk, ticketless and late Liverpool fans contributed to the disaster.
He said: “In my position in the control box, I cannot say from first hand evidence that drunken and ticketless fans attended at the stadium.
“What I can say is I have heard various stories and I have picked up things as things have gone along, but my first hand experience is, I did not see any drunken ticketless fans.”
He added: “I am of the view that many people on that day contributed to the disaster and I hold the view that football fans played a part.
“The late arriving of fans would contribute by overwhelming the police resources and the turnstiles.”
Mr Menon asked what evidence Mr Duckenfield had of supporters misbehaving.
He said: “I have seen clips of video where I think fans are being unreasonable and pushing.”
The hearing continues.