The most senior officer in charge of policing on the day of the Hillsborough Disaster said he was sorry if he ‘failed to do what was necessary’ ahead of the fateful match.
Retired Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield was the match commander for South Yorkshire Police when Liverpool FC played Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough in April 1989.
Today he told the inquests into the deaths of the 96 Liverpool FC fans that he ‘wasn’t the best man for the job on the day’.
The inquests, which are being heard in Warrington, have heard Mr Duckenfield was promoted just three weeks before the semi-final, and the policing of the match was just one of his many new responsibilities.
When asked by Christina Lambert QC, counsel to the inquests, if he had spent enough time getting to know Hillsborough stadium before the match, he replied: “Knowing the events of the day, I should have spent the majority of my time as new commander down there. But I did, in the light of the information available, what I considered necessary and if there was a failing then I apologise.”
He added: “It’s my view that I could command the operation without a detailed knowledge of the ground including every nook and cranny because I was employing experts in their particular field who knew those areas of the ground in detail.
“My knowledge of the ground wasn’t an intimate knowledge, and in the short time available, it couldn’t possibly have been. But I hoped and believed and was assured that the team that had been specially selected for me by Mr Mole would provide the necessary expertise.”
Brian Mole was Mr Duckenfield’s predecessor as match commander.
The inquest heard this morning that Mr Duckenfield had very limited experience of policing football matches and a detailed knowledge of Hillsborough Stadium ‘would have been beneficial’ to him.
He said: “With hindsight, I should have thought about my limited knowledge of the role of the commander in a major event that was an all-ticket sellout, when I had not been responsible, or in that responsible position, previously.
“All I would say is this, that after a period of... shall we say, I’m older, hopefully wiser, probably I wasn’t the best man for the job on the day.”
He was then asked by Ms Lambert: “Do you think it was a mistake for you to accept the role of match commander and not seek assistance from others, such as Mr Mole?”
Mr Duckenfield said the culture in the force at the time was that officers would move roles without an overlap and would learn ‘on the job’.
He said: “It didn’t cross my mind to say, ‘I’m not up to the job.’
“I just got on with it.
“With hindsight - it was a serious mistake.”
The jury has previously heard it was Mr Duckenfield’s first experience of policing a sell-out 54,000 crowd at the venue and most of his policing had been in criminal investigations, rather than public order.
As fans massed at the turnstiles in the minutes before kick-off, then-superintendent Roger Marshall, who was responsible for the Liverpool fans’ section, repeatedly requested that exit gates be opened to ease the pressure outside, fearing somebody would die.
Mr Duckenfield gave the order to open exit gate C at 2.52pm, saying: “If there is likely to be a serious injury or death I’ve no option but to open the gates. Open the gates.”
About 2,000 fans made their way into the ground, many heading straight for a tunnel leading directly to pens 3 and 4 behind the goal, which were already densely packed with Liverpool fans.
In the immediate aftermath of the crush Mr Duckenfield told FA executives the gates had been forced open.
Mr Duckenfield is being questioned today and for the rest of the week.
The hearing continues.