Liverpool

Hillsborough inquests: Officer defends police call to open exit gates

Hillsborough turnstiles Image copyright Hillsborough Inquests
Image caption John Bennett is pictured on CCTV on top of a turnstile block outside Hillsborough

A police inspector at Hillsborough was "convinced" that opening exit gates to allow fans in was the "right course of action", a jury has heard.

John Bennett, who climbed on the roof of a turnstile block, said "frightened" fans in a crush outside the stadium feared "serious injury or worse".

The police call to open the gates, he told the inquests, "was the only way to recover from the situation".

Ninety-six Liverpool fans were fatally injured at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final.

The court previously heard how, at 14:52 - eight minutes before the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest kicked off - exit gate C at the Leppings Lane end was opened on police orders.

An expert witness said about 2,000 fans entered the ground through it during the next five minutes, with many of them ending up in the central terrace pens where the disaster unfolded.

'Dense crowd'

Mr Bennett had been on duty inside the stadium and went to the Leppings Lane end at about 14:45.

He told the jury that because he was concerned for their safety, when he saw fans climbing over the turnstile block from outside he decided to climb up there himself.

From that vantage point he said he could see the extent of the crowd waiting to get into the stadium.

Mr Bennett said he could see "the crush was coming from the outside of the football ground, from Leppings Lane".

He said: "I didn't really see any pushing - the crowd was just so dense."

Image copyright Hillsborough Inquests
Image caption They jury was shown CCTV of the scene outside the stadium shortly before kick-off

Mr Bennett said he decided to allow those fans who had climbed on to the roof of the turnstile block into the ground, with supporters "in fear of injury or worse".

"It seemed appropriate for me to help them down safely and not to put them back into the crowd and add that little bit extra to the crush," he said, adding that about three-quarters of those who climbed over the turnstiles had shown him tickets, while some had been "abusive".

'Allow fans access'

The jury saw video footage of Mr Bennett on the roof, timed at 14:54.

Asked about the decision to open the exit gates, Mr Bennett told the court: "I was absolutely convinced that it was the right course of action, that the number of people outside in Leppings Lane was so great that we were unable to contain the crush.

"So the only way to actually recover from that situation as far as I could see was by opening the gates to allow fans to gain access to the ground."

The jury heard in a statement to police, Mr Bennett said he believed "that the most appropriate actions in the circumstances were to open gates A, B and C, but in a controlled and supervised manner".

He agreed, however, that "someone should should have managed the consequences of that decision".


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Liverpool fan Stephen Williams also gave evidence about what happened to him on 15 April 1989.

Mr Williams, then 24, stood towards the back of one of the terrace pens at the Leppings Lane end. At about 14:55 he said a surge of fans picked him up and pinned him against a crush barrier.

A few minutes later he felt another surge.

"The force was so great that my feet were lifted off the floor," he said. "I was literally pinned against the barrier, my arms were against the barrier, I couldn't move at all.

"Everyone was screaming around me trying to get the attention of the police."

Mr Williams said their screams were "falling on deaf ears", adding: "I fought and fought as long as I could and I knew that at some point I couldn't carry on.

"I was just in so much pain. I did decide to close my eyes. I said goodbye to my family on the day because I knew I wasn't going to get out of there."

He fell unconscious and the next thing he remembered was hearing someone say "This one's alive!"

The jury heard Mr Williams was carried out by Andrew Worsley, another Liverpool fan.

Mr Worsley, who gave evidence from Sweden via videolink, said he "dragged Stephen from the terrace" and into a concourse at the rear of the terraces at about 15:30.

Mr Williams was "blue in the face" and Mr Worsley believed he was dead but was not sure, the court heard.

The inquests, held in Warrington, Cheshire are due to resume on Friday.


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