Police chief inspector admits delay in declaring major incident at Hillsborough disaster

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A major incident should have been declared before kick-off on the day of the Hillsborough disaster, a former police chief inspector has said.

Giving evidence to the inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground on April 15, 1989, Malcolm Edmundson accepted a major incident should have been declared at 2.59pm as supporters were being crushed on the terraces.

He made the admission after being shown a picture taken at the time which showed the central pens full and people escaping over the top of fences.

He had been on duty in the operations room, where there had been no CCTV or television showing footage from the ground. Mr Edmundson had responsibility for deciding whether a major incident plan - in which special emergency measures would be taken - should be implemented.

Mr Edmundson said his staff initially thought they had been dealing with a public order incident.

Under questioning from Pete Weatherby, representing 22 of the victims’ families, Mr Edmundson confirmed he had concerns about what was unfolding at 2.59pm and thought there may have been some injuries.

He said CCTV footage would have made him more concerned.

Mr Edmundson confirmed the police control box had the same information available to him, as well as a view into the ground and a number of cameras. He agreed that 2.59pm ‘at the very latest’ should have been when a major incident was declared.

He confirmed that ahead of kick-off, he had two messages from Superintendent Roger Marshall to say there was a problem outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles and people were in danger of being crushed.

Mr Edmundson put the ambulance service on standby and at 3.07pm, a police officer in the control box made a call for all officers trained in public order to come to Hillsborough.

A fleet of ambulances was also requested and Mr Edmundson said he recalled being told the ambulance service did not want to send them at that stage.

Mr Edmundson confirmed he did not check whether it was a major incident and still believed it to be disorder.

Mr Edmundson said he accepted he should have been aware at the time he was dealing with a major incident. He said the operations room had been ‘blind’ and was relying on what it was being told from the scene.

Also giving evidence at the hearing was leading ambulanceman Peter Litster. Mr Litster said the organisation of the emergency response had been ‘terrible’. He said assistant divisional chief of the ambulance service David Jones appeared to be in ‘state of shock’ at the ground.