The police match commander in charge on the day of the Hillsborough Disaster has ‘apologised unreservedly’ to the families of the victims and said he would regret lying about who opened the exit gate into the ground ‘until his dying day’.
Former Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, now aged 70, said failing to consider where the mass of fans would go once the exit gate into the ground was opened was ‘one of the biggest regrets of his life’.
He apologised ‘unreservedly’ for the ‘grave’ error as he gave evidence for the second day at the new inquests into the deaths of the 96 Liverpool fans who died in Warrington.
He told the jury it was a ‘shocking and almost terrifying moment’ when he was told by a colleague someone would be killed if Gate C wasn’t opened.
Mr Duckenfield said after the gate was opened he thought fans would go onto the concourse, rather than head for the already over-crowded Leppings Lane pens.
“I was just thinking they would go into the concourse, gather themselves and take a moment or two to recover.” he said.
Around 600 to 800 fans surged into pen three behind the goal.
Addressing Christina Lambert QC, counsel to the inquests, Mr Duckenfield said: “Ma’am it is fair to say it’s arguably one of the greatest regrets of my life I did not forsee where those fans would go.”
He said it was a ‘grave mistake’ and one he bitterly regretted.
Mr Duckenfield also admitted lying about who opened the gate, originally claiming the fans had forced it open, when infact he gave the order for the gate to be opened.
He said: “I was probably deeply ashamed, embarrassed, greatly distressed and I probably didn’t want to admit to myself or anyone else, what the situation is.
“What I would like to say the Liverpool families is this, I regret that omission and I shall regret it to my dying day.
“I said something rather hurriedly, without considering the position, without thinking of the consequences and the trauma, the heartache and distress that the inference would have caused to those people who were already in a deep state of shock, who were distressed.”
“I apologise unreservedly to the families and I hope they believe it is a very, very sincere apology.”
This morning the court heard at 2.30pm on April 15, 1989, there were still some 5,700 fans yet to enter through turnstiles A to G at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium ahead of the FA Cup semi-final match between Liverpool FC and Nottingham Forest.
Mr Duckenfield said had no knowledge of this and admitted he had not thought to ask.
“It is with regret I didn’t,” he said.
Miss Lambert QC put it to him that at that stage he should have taken steps to delay kick off.
He said: “I accept that view.”
When asked what he would have done if he had known about the numbers of fans outside pushing at the turnstiles, he replied: “I would have informed the club, I would have informed the referee that we had a difficulty arising and, on the evidence I had available, that we should consider delaying the game.”
At about that time, Mr Duckenfield was in the police control box speaking to his colleague, ground commander Bernard Murray.
Mr Duckenfield said: “Looking out of the window at the Leppings Lane turnstile area, I said, ‘Do you think we’ll get those in by 3pm?’
“And he said to me words to the effect, ‘Yes, we have got no problem there.’”
When asked to describe his thought process for not taking steps to delay the game, he said: “If I had said the match is being delayed because of the late arrival of certain fans, or ‘Liverpool fans’ - which would have been foolish - it might have provoked a reaction between the Liverpool and Nottingham Forest fans.”
Earlier this morning, Mr Duckenfield revealed he had a ‘complete blank’ in his memory for about two hours between finishing the pre-match briefing which had begun at 10am, and entering the police box at about 2pm.
He told the jury: “Because of my personal circumstances there are periods when my knowledge is good or non-existent and remarkably - and I say remarkably because I’m quite shocked by it - between me giving the briefing and going into the control box is a complete blank in my mind.
“I’m not asking for pity, I’m not asking for sympathy. The best way to describe it is this - because of the situation over a number of years there are blanks and that is one of those. As to why it is blank, I don’t know, but that’s how it is in my mind.”