‘Unimaginable difficulties’ for Hillsborough match boss

Former chief superintendent David Duckenfield arrives at the Hillsborough Inquest in Warrington, where he was due to continue giving evidence. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday March 18, 2015. Yesterday the Hillsborough police match commander agreed that his failure to close a tunnel was the "direct cause" of the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans. Mr Duckenfield, 70, accepted he "froze" during the 1989 football disaster before he ordered the opening of an exit gate to relieve congestion outside the Leppings Lane turnstile. See PA story INQUEST Hillsborough. Photo credit should read: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire
Former chief superintendent David Duckenfield arrives at the Hillsborough Inquest in Warrington, where he was due to continue giving evidence. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday March 18, 2015. Yesterday the Hillsborough police match commander agreed that his failure to close a tunnel was the "direct cause" of the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans. Mr Duckenfield, 70, accepted he "froze" during the 1989 football disaster before he ordered the opening of an exit gate to relieve congestion outside the Leppings Lane turnstile. See PA story INQUEST Hillsborough. Photo credit should read: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire
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Hillsborough police chief David Duckenfield has said he was faced with ‘unimaginably difficult and fast-moving circumstances’ on the day of the 1989 disaster.

Giving evidence for a seventh day to the inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans, told the jury he was a ‘new and inexperienced match commander’.

He said he was working to a ‘flawed’ operational order for the match and had ‘not envisaged or wished for death or injury to a single football supporter’.

On Tuesday, Mr Duckenfield, 70, agreed that his failure to close the tunnel leading to those pens was the ‘direct cause’ of the tragedy after he had just ordered the opening of an exit gate at the ground to relieve congestion at the Leppings Lane turnstiles.

Summing up his questioning of his client, John Beggs QC, said to Mr Duckenfield: “In front of this jury, Mr Duckenfield, many family members in court, and many many lawyers and journalists, you have admitted, haven’t you, some very serious professional failures?”

“Yes, sir,” he replied.

Mr Beggs said: “Do you agree that those serious failures were in circumstances where first you were new and inexperienced?”

The witness said: “Yes, sir.”

His barrister continued: “Were you working to what we now know was a flawed operational order?”

Mr Duckenfield said: “Yes, sir.”

Mr Beggs asked: “Were you at least from 2.30pm onwards, if not earlier, under intense pressure?”

Mr Duckenfield repeated: “Yes, sir.”

Mr Beggs said: “Were you working in unimaginably difficult and fast-moving circumstances?”

Mr Duckenfield said again: “Yes, sir.”

Mr Duckenfield was promoted 19 days before the disaster and inherited the role of match commander at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground for the sell-out tie against Nottingham Forest - his first game in overall charge.

He said that on and leading up April 15 he did not ignore any advice given by experienced officers but he accepted as match commander that ‘the buck stops with me’.

Mr Beggs said it had been suggested by a number of barristers at the inquests that Mr Duckenfield alone should bear responsibility for the tragedy.

Mr Duckenfield agreed he had nothing to do with previous turnstile ‘failures’ at Sheffield Wednesday and no one had advised him about them.

He had no say on Liverpool being awarded the smaller end of the ground for the match with just 23 turnstiles.

He also had nothing to do with signage at the ground or previous decisions to install fences, its architectural features or any breaches of stadium safety guidance on crush barrier heights. Mr Duckenfield said he had no control over whether supporters turned up later at the ground than they had done previously.