Hillsborough inquests: Sergeant denies 'open exit gate' order

Hillsborough disaster Image copyright Hillsborough Inquests
Image caption Ninety-six Liverpool fans died as a result of the 1989 disaster

A former police officer has denied he gave orders to open an exit gate at Hillsborough before the 1989 disaster.

The jury at the inquests into the tragedy watched footage showing then Sgt John Morgan being swept through Gate C as it opened before kick-off.

Mr Morgan said he had walked to the gate - the opening of which allowed fans to flood in - because he was "puzzled" as to why it was still shut.

But he said he did not instruct stewards or fellow officers to open it.

Ninety-six football fans were fatally injured during a terrace crush at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough stadium, on 15 April 1989.

After watching CCTV footage showing the gate opening at 14:52 - eight minutes before the game started - former South Yorkshire officer Mr Morgan told the jury: "At that stage it took me completely by surprise and I'm forced through the gate and then I turn around, midstream, and try to force my way back out.

Image caption John Morgan said he thought he was going to get trampled on

"I think that situation has put me in a state of shock and I can't - I just can't remember things that have happened."

'Pandemonium of noise'

About 2,000 Liverpool fans entered the ground through Gate C between 14:52 and 14:57, the court heard.

Many of them went down a tunnel leading to enclosures on the terraces behind the goal, where the fatal crushing took place.

Mr Morgan had been inside the stadium but he left the ground through Gate C after it was opened at 14:48.

He said he had heard a "pandemonium of noise" outside and saw "people were getting crushed up against the barriers in the turnstiles".

He said the situation was "just desperate" and the police were "overwhelmed".

Image copyright Hillsborough Inquests
Image caption The scene outside the Hillsborough stadium shortly before kick-off

Mr Morgan said he feared people were going to die and went to a funnel barrier at the turnstiles and tried to help fans out of the queue by "ducking" them underneath the bar.

He told the jury he believed the gate "was going to be opened repeatedly to gradually relieve the crush in front of turnstiles A to G" but cannot remember where he got that information from.

Although he was "perturbed" the gate was not being opened and went to speak to officers at Gate C he said he was not in a position to order them to open it, the jury was told.

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The inquest previously heard how Supt Roger Marshall, who was in charge of policing Liverpool fans outside the stadium, asked for exit gates to be opened to relieve a crush in Leppings Lane.

'Statement sanitised'

Pete Weatherby QC, who represents a group of 22 bereaved families, said the match commander Ch Supt David Duckenfield, "ordered the gates to be opened" after hearing Supt Marshall's requests and that the order was passed on from the police control box.

Mr Weatherby said officers from Operation Resolve, the ongoing criminal inquiry into the disaster, had found a background recording of what they believe to be "open the gates, open the gates at Leppings Lane", from the control box at 14:52.

The jury also heard Mr Morgan believes his statement about the disaster was "sanitised".

In one section, Mr Morgan recalled the police's response as the disaster unfolded.

He wrote: "There did not appear to be any sort of organised police effort. Many police officers were working on their own initiative."

However, he said he was "shocked" the paragraph was changed to read: "The situation was very confused but many officers responded individually to identify needs, rendering assistance wherever they could."

The inquests in Warrington, Cheshire continue.

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