Police chief told football boss Liverpool fans ‘forced gate open’ at Hillsborough

Chief Supt David Duckenfield.
Chief Supt David Duckenfield.
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The police officer in charge on the day of the Hillsborough disaster told football chiefs Liverpool fans forced open a gate to ‘break in’ to the ground, a court heard.

Former South Yorkshire Police Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield initially claimed spectators had forced their way into the ground, causing the fatal crush.

The claim was carried by the media, until hours later when police confirmed they opened the gate, the new inquests into the tragedy heard.

Ninety six Liverpool fans died at the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest on April 15, 1989.

The fatal crush developed in central pens on the Leppings Lane terraces after entry and exit gate C, was opened on the orders of Mr Duckenfield, allowing around 2,000 supporters into the ground.

Many headed down a tunnel leading directly into the already packed central pens behind the goal.

Glen Kirton, the Football Association’s head of external affairs and press officer said football in the 70s and 80s was ‘riddled with hooliganism’ and the FA was ‘preoccupied’ with the problem.

He said shortly after kick off he saw Liverpool fans climbing the perimeter fence on the Leppings Lane terrace and his first thought was ‘crowd trouble’.

At 3.06pm play was stopped and he went to the police control box to find out what was happening.

“Mr Duckenfield pointed to the monitors and said that there had been a break-in,” he said.

Mr Kirton said the scene was ‘chaotic’ with fans carrying the dead and injured on advertising hoardings.

He said he didn’t hear Mr Duckenfield give any instructions in response to the emergency.

Rajiv Menon QC, representing the families of 10 of the victims, said ‘not long after’ Mr Kirton left the police control box, the Press, including BBC commentator John Motson, reported a gate had been broken and fans forced their way in.

Mr Menon asked where the press got the information from.

Mr Kirton said: “I did speak to John Motson the day after to check where he got that from. He said he couldn’t remember.”

The jury heard by 4.30pm BBC radio football pundit Alan Green was reporting he heard from Graham Mackrell, Sheffield Wednesday FC club secretary, that a surge of 500 Liverpool fans had forced a gate open that led to the crush.

Mr Menon asked the witness what he or Mr Kelly were telling the press in the hours up to 6.45pm that night when, at a bad tempered press conference, Peter Wright, the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, confirmed police had opened the gate.

Mr Kirton said: “I can’t remember specifically any information I gave to the Press. I did not give a press conference, I was talking to journalists on an individual basis.”

Mr Menon continued: “You were the FA press officer. You must have been talking to journalists. What were you telling them?”

Mr Kirton said: “I was telling them what I knew at that stage. I can’t recall anybody asking me, or me specifically replying that there had been a break-in. I can’t be certain I did not say anything about that.

“I have answered as straightforwardly as I can.”

Mr Menon said Mr Wright was subjected to aggressive questioning by journalists at the press conference after he revealed police, not fans, opened the gate, “because for the previous three hours this entirely different, false narrative had been peddled to the Press,” he said.

The inquests continue.