Top Hillsborough officer ‘driven to accept responsibility’ for his role because of evidence heard at current inquests

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Ex South Yorkshire police chief David Duckenfield today agreed he was ‘driven to accept responsibility’ for his role in the Hillsborough tragedy because of evidence at the current 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 lied that fans forced open an exit gate which led to crushing in the central pens of the Leppings Lane terrace.

The former South Yorkshire Police chief superintendent, who was match commander on the day, previously told the hearing into the deaths of 96 Liverpool supporters 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.”

He told the Taylor Inquiry he had not made any wrong decisions and neither did officers under his command, the court was told.

Questioning him on behalf of 22 bereaved families, Pete Weatherby QC said: “You have told this jury that your ‘road to Damascus’ moment came some time after the Hillsborough Independent Panel report came out, and that is why you confronted your denials of the past and that you came to accept responsibility for the serious failings you had made.”

Mr Duckenfield said: “I do not disagree with that, sir.”

Mr Weatherby went on: “So why on March 5, three weeks before these inquests commenced, are you telling Operation Resolve that, apart from relatively minor amendments, what you said earlier was the best that you could do?”

Mr Duckenfield replied: “I think, sir, that I saw the interview with Operation Resolve as a totally different situation to being able to, shall we say, set out the situation completely.”

Mr Weatherby said: “The truth is that you chose to put this prepared statement before them which was misleading.”

Mr Duckenfield replied: “In my view, sir, it was not misleading at all.”

The 70-year-old retired officer said on reflection his evidence to the Taylor Inquiry was ‘not the best’.

He said: “In simple terms I was not proud of the evidence I gave that day.”

Mr Weatherby continued: “So why, on March 5, were you in effect saying that you could not improve on it?”

Mr Duckenfield said: “I find that difficult to answer, sir.”

Accused of lying in his prepared statement, Mr Duckenfield said: “All I will say to you is this - that I’m now in a position to put my case forward honestly and openly and, as time has gone by, my views have changed but not with any dishonesty at all.

“Sir, the Hillsborough Independent Panel report was published and knowing the possible consequences of that I had to address issues I had never addressed before because I didn’t want to face them. As time has gone by you read more things, then the more knowledge you gain, inevitably you change your views.”

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.”

The hearing continues.