Liverpool

Hillsborough inquests: David Duckenfield agrees 'writing is on wall'

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

The Hillsborough police senior officer has agreed he was "driven to accepting responsibility" for his role in the disaster after realising the "writing is on the wall".

Responding to barristers' questions, David Duckenfield said he came to this view after following the new inquests.

He went on to admit that by retiring two years after the disaster, he had avoided police disciplinary procedures.

He also agreed he had led a "hopeless" police response to the emergency.

Ninety-six football fans died following a terrace crush at the FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989.

Mr Duckenfield, now aged 70, was giving evidence for a fifth day at the court in Warrington, Cheshire.

On Friday he apologised to relatives of the Liverpool supporters who died, telling them he "had to force himself to look at matters" following the publication of an independent panel report into the disaster in 2012.

But Pete Weatherby QC, representing a group of 22 of the bereaved families, accused Mr Duckenfield of "desperately trying to stick to denying any responsibility" until just before the new inquests opened.


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The jury heard Mr Duckenfield gave a nine-page prepared statement to Operation Resolve, the ongoing criminal inquiry, on 5 March 2014.

In it, he said his previous evidence to past inquiries was "the best that he could do", save for some "minor amendments", according to Mr Weatherby.

Mr Weatherby said: "The truth is that shortly before these inquests opened, you were still desperately trying to stick to denying any responsibility, Mr Duckenfield, weren't you?"

"Sir, I have said I was in denial," he replied.

Mr Weatherby continued: "And the truth is that you have followed these inquests and you have seen that evidence that's emerged over the months and you have seen that the writing is on the wall and you are now driven to accepting responsibility. That's the truth of it, isn't it?"

Mr Duckenfield then said: "Sir, I agree."

Mr Weatherby also asked the retired officer about the apology he made on Friday, suggesting it was a "politician's apology".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ninety-six Liverpool supporters died following a crush during the 1989 FA Cup semi-final

Asked what he was apologising for, Mr Duckenfield said: "It's for the heartache that the families suffered, not only as a result of the tragedy, but for my less than candid comments to [the then chief executive of the Football Association, Graham] Kelly."

The court has earlier heard Mr Duckenfield admit to lying about fans forcing an exit gate open to enter the ground.

Mr Weatherby said: "Are you apologising for your responsibility for the deaths of 96 people on April 15, 1989?"

Mr Duckenfield said: "I must take some part of that responsibility, sir."

Mr Weatherby then asked: "Or is it a politician's apology that sounds rather better than the reality?"

"Sir, I'm not a politician," Mr Duckenfield replied.

He said Mr Duckenfield had told the jury about a number of "ifs, buts, maybes and caveats".

They included maintaining that the fans contributed to the disaster, that he did not get a proper handover from his predecessor, and that he "hoped" officers would close off a tunnel that led into the central enclosures on the Leppings Lane terraces, Mr Weatherby said.

But Mr Duckenfield disagreed with Mr Weatherby's assertion that he was trying to "off-load" responsibility on to others.

He said: "Sir, the buck stops with me. I was looking to those people to provide assistance."

Another of the barristers representing the victims' families, Terry Munyard, said Mr Duckenfield had retired from the police two years after the disaster, aged 46 or 47, on a full pension.

Mr Munyard said that by doing so, the former chief superintendant had avoided the disciplinary procedures being brought by the Police Complaints Authority.

"Something like that," Mr Duckenfield replied.

Image copyright Hillsborough inquests
Image caption Mr Duckenfield was inside the police control box during the match

The court was later shown a transcript of calls made from the police control box, where Mr Duckenfield was stationed, as the disaster unfolded.

It showed dog handlers were called for at 15:05 BST, a fleet of ambulances was requested at 15:07 and a call for cutting equipment was made at 15:14.

Mr Duckenfield agreed with Mr Weatherby's assertion that it had been "a hopeless response to an emergency".

The barrister also spoke of a large build-up of fans outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles, which led to Mr Duckenfield agreeing to a senior officer's request to open an exit gate.

About 2,000 fans went through the gate after it was opened at 14:52.

Mr Weatherby said if "sufficient resources had been deployed" 30 minutes earlier, "you could have maintained or regained control of the situation" making the gate opening unnecessary.

Mr Duckenfield said he and other officers had done "our best considering the circumstances as they were developing".

The jury was also shown footage of the turnstiles before the 1988 FA Cup semi-final, which Mr Weatherby said showed how perimeter gates were used to "filter" fans.

"The point I make is that it's perfectly possible to safely police large crowds at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium area, but there was simply a hopeless plan on April 15," he said.

Mr Duckenfield said: "I agree with you sir."

The inquests are due to resume on Tuesday.

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