Hillsborough chief David Duckenfield 'buried head in sand'

David Duckenfield Image copyright Reuters
Image caption David Duckenfield was in charge when a crush developed in terraced pens on 15 April 1989

The Hillsborough police match commander has made an emotional apology to the families of the victims, telling them: "It's now dawned on me what it means to you."

David Duckenfield also said he had to seek medical help after being unable to "bear the word 'Hillsborough'".

The former chief superintendent was in charge on the day of the disaster which led to the deaths of 96 football fans.

He said he had "buried his head in the sand" but now wanted to tell the truth.

Mr Duckenfield, now aged 70, was giving evidence for a fourth day at the new inquests into the deaths stemming from the 1989 FA Cup semi-final.

Some relatives of the Liverpool fans who died were in tears as the retired officer spoke, while others walked out of the courtroom in Warrington, Cheshire.

Earlier this week, he agreed he was incompetent and that his "mistakes" and "oversight" had contributed to the disaster.

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Addressing the jury as dozens of relatives looked on from the public gallery, Mr Duckenfield said: "When the [Hillsborough Independent Panel] report was published [in 2012] I hid myself away and could not bear the word 'Hillsborough' and could not bear to think about it.

"I hope you understand this. I hoped it would go away."

He continued: "But then, two years ago, I had to force myself to look at matters and, as a result, I could only do so with the assistance of doctors.

"Over this period, I have come to terms with reality, and that is why, over the period, you might say I dug my head in the sand, didn't admit things to myself.

"But I am now very much older, very much wiser and very much more understanding of the events of the day and have decided to tell the whole truth."

'Tragic circumstances'

The former South Yorkshire Police officer was being questioned by Michael Mansfield QC, who represents a group of the Hillsborough families.

Mr Duckenfield said he had watched a video of families saying goodbye to their loved ones on a gymnasium floor.

He described it as "the most moving thing I've ever seen".

"For the first time, I have seen what it means to a mother to lose a loved one. Not only in these tragic circumstances, but to have to say their goodbyes so unexpectedly in a gymnasium, on a dirty floor, cuddling that person tearfully, and you can't share with that person your grief, your sorrow and your sadness.

"It struck me that if it was my child or grandchild, I would have hoped there could have been some more privacy, some more care, and some more support, because there must be nothing more undignified.

"To the families, I say this: I'm terribly sorry. It's now dawned on me what it means to you and I'm dreadfully sorry."

Rajiv Menon QC, also representing a group of victims' families, had earlier put it to Mr Duckenfield that his leadership on the day of the disaster was "woefully inadequate from start to finish".

The retired officer defended his record but conceded that "the buck stops with me".

Mr Duckenfield will continue giving evidence to the inquests on Monday.

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