Hillsborough disaster: Police policy 'led to loss of control'

The Hillsborough disaster Image copyright Inquest handout
Image caption Mr White said the ground commander had not wanted fans "herded into pens"

A "find your own level" policy for fan management at Hillsborough meant police "lost a fair amount of control", a former inspector has told the inquests.

Harry White said police "abdicated responsibility" by letting Liverpool fans decide which pen to go into.

He also said police control box staff "should have noticed something very serious was going wrong".

Mr White was in charge of the concourse between the Leppings Lane turnstiles and the terraces on 15 April 1989.

Ninety-six fans died following a crush on the terraces during the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest held at the Sheffield stadium on that date.

Mr White, who was medically retired from South Yorkshire Police in December 1989, said that after getting his orders two weeks before the game, he had approached the ground commander Supt Bernard Murray about only being given two officer groups, known as serials.

"I said, 'I expected an extra serial because of all the information you've given me that you're going to have an absolutely capacity crowd'."

He said Supt Murray had not wanted fans "herded into pens" but wanted them to find their own level.

Image copyright Inquests handout
Image caption Mr White was in charge of officers on the inner concourse between the stand and the turnstiles

He said he had not replied to that suggestion but the "expression on my face was enough".

"'He reminded me then that he, up in the control box, was in the best position to see if anything was developing in those pens."

He added his "own personal opinion was that we were abdicating responsibility for controlling the crowd to the fans themselves and just leaving them to it."

'Solid press'

Earlier, Mr White spoke of becoming aware of a large crowd on the other side of the turnstiles on the day of the disaster.

He said he looked through an exit gate window and saw a "solid press of people [that] was probably the most compact I have ever seen".

"I thought there and then 'people are going to get killed out there'."

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Asked if he should have shouted to a PC to close the tunnel gates that led to the central pens where the disaster happened after exit gate C was opened, he said he "would have expected the control room, who have got the cameras on all of that, to realise something very serious was going wrong".

The jury has previously heard that the opening of exit gate C at 14:52 BST allowed up to 2,000 fans to enter the ground in five minutes.

He said that following the disaster, he came off duty at around 23:00 and went for a "very rare" drink in the nearby Niagara Police Sports Club, where he found "quite a lot of officers", including Supt Murray and match commander Ch Supt David Duckenfield, and "quite a hullaballoo".

"I asked Mr Duckenfield in front of everybody 'who opened the gate?'

"He just looked around, took stock of his thoughts and he said 'the gate is down to me - it's only me that can make an order for the gate to be opened'.

The inquests, being held in Warrington, continue.

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