Liverpool

Hillsborough inquests: Police exit gate order 'shocked' officer

Police control box Image copyright Hillsborough Inquests
Image caption Mr Jackson was in the directors' box when the disaster started, before moving to the police control box

A senior officer at Hillsborough was "absolutely shocked" to discover that an exit gate had been opened on police orders, the inquests have heard.

Former Asst Ch Con Walter Jackson said he did not confront match commander David Duckenfield about his claim that fans had forced entry into the ground.

Mr Jackson said this was because he did not want to "exacerbate the situation".

He also denied attempting to cover up the truth about how fans got into the stadium before the 1989 tragedy.

Mr Jackson told the inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans who died after a crush at the FA Cup semi-final, that he was in the back of the police control box when he thought he heard Ch Supt Duckenfield say the "gates were stormed".

He said the then Football Association chief executive Graham Kelly and press officer Glen Kirton were there, along with Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell.

Image copyright Inquest handout
Image caption Ninety-six fans died as a result of a crush during the 1989 FA Cup semi-final

Mr Jackson told the court he didn't ask Mr Duckenfield about what he had said because he was "still concerned with the rescue issue".

He said he went to the club's boardroom with Mr Duckenfield between 15:35 and 15:45 to discuss the abandonment of the game, which had kicked off at 15:00 but was then halted a few minutes later.

The court was shown an unsigned and undated statement with Mr Jackson's name on, which read: "I believe that the suggestion that Liverpool supporters had forced a gate at the ground was repeated by Ch Supt Duckenfield."

Mr Jackson confirmed it was about 16:00 when another officer - Supt Roger Marshall - told him police had in fact ordered the gate to be opened.

The court heard it was another hour until he discovered the order had come from Mr Duckenfield himself.

He said he was "absolutely shocked - I would have thought I would be told right from the off."

'Major incident'

Asked if he should have confronted Mr Duckenfield over the "inconsistency", he said he didn't say anything because people were "very, very shocked and I didn't feel like exacerbating the situation".

He added that there was "nothing sinister" about not referring to Mr Duckenfield's initial claim in the police statements taken in May 1989.

Mr Jackson also said it was "absolutely not true" that the omission was the start of a cover-up.

Earlier, Mr Jackson told the inquests that he did not initially think it was a "major incident" and said he regretted not using the codeword "catastrophe", which would have triggered the major disaster plan.

The court in Warrington heard Mr Jackson was in the directors' box for the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest as the tragedy began to unfold.

He told the inquests he noticed problems shortly after kick-off when he saw fans by the pitch at the Leppings Lane end of the ground in Sheffield.

He said he went down to the pitch when the match was stopped at 15:06 GMT to try to find out what was happening and had a brief conversation with Supt Roger Greenwood who told him there were "injuries".


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Although he could see a number of people lying on the pitch, at that point he did not think it was a "major incident", he said.

When he returned to the police control box, he said a fleet of ambulances had been requested.

But the court heard the word "catastrophe" - which would have implemented the major disaster plan - had not been used.

Jonathan Hough QC, counsel for the coroner, said: "There is no evidence of the words 'major incident' being used by those in the control box or the word 'catastrophe' being used in the control box in the early period of the response to the disaster."

Mr Jackson said he thought at the time that they had called a "major incident" but admitted there was no record of that on any log.

'Extremely confident'

He said: "In terms of 'catastrophe', I regret that that was not used. Because I found out that nobody, including me, used the word 'catastrophe'."

Mr Jackson also defended the appointment of Mr Duckenfield just a few weeks before the semi-final.

He said he was aware the previous match commander Ch Supt Brian Mole had been moved because of a prank that had been investigated.

Mr Jackson said he could still have asked Mr Mole to take charge of the match but Mr Duckenfield was quite happy to carry out the role and was "extremely confident".

The court heard that while Mr Duckenfield had considerably less experience policing football matches, Mr Jackson said it was perfectly feasible for him to take charge of this game because he had senior officers to support him.

Asked whether he would have considered asking Mr Duckenfield to shadow Mr Mole on the day, he said he did not think that was necessary.

The hearings are due to resume on Wednesday.

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