Hillsborough inquests: Duckenfield 'not experienced enough'

David Duckenfield Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Former Ch Supt David Duckenfield was in charge of policing at Hillsborough stadium in 1989

The appointment of David Duckenfield as police match commander at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final that ended in the Hillsborough disaster, was a "step too far for him", a police expert has said.

Douglas Hopkins told the inquests he did not think the chief superintendent had enough experience for the role.

He also described as "incompetent" the decision not to put cordons in place outside the ground, which would have filtered fans towards the turnstiles.

Ninety-six people died in the disaster.

Mr Hopkins told the inquests the kick-off for the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest should have been delayed.

The court heard how Mr Hopkins, a retired police officer, had attended more than 1,000 matches as a risk assessor for the England team and was one of three safety officers at the London Olympics.

John Beggs QC, representing Mr Duckenfield, said he was, in footballing metaphors, a "Champions League player".

He added: "If Mr Duckenfield was a Conference North player, you would be a Real Madrid player."

Mr Hopkins agreed with the barrister it might have become obvious after the tragedy that commanding massive football events required occupational competence.

Mr Hopkins said a "competent" police match commander would have reacted to the build-up of fans outside the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough stadium by delaying the match.

Image caption Douglas Hopkins said not using cordons outside the ground was incompetent

Turnstile figures showed up to 5,800 Liverpool supporters had still not entered seven turnstiles to the Leppings Lane terrace, with just 30 minutes left to the 15:00 BST kick-off.

He told the inquests it was "obvious" from footage of congestion outside the turnstiles, between 14:35 and 14:40, the game had to be delayed.

Instead the game started on time but was stopped at 15:06 as fans were crushed in the central pens after Mr Duckenfield ordered the opening of an exit gate.

Earlier this week, Mr Duckenfield admitted, while giving evidence at the inquests, his failure to close the tunnel leading to the central pens after opening Gate C, was the "direct cause" of the 96 deaths.

The court has previously heard Mr Duckenfield began his new role only 15 days before the disaster.

He policed some matches at Hillsborough in the 1979-1980 season but had no further experience at the stadium, before the day of the disaster.

Mr Hopkins told the court he did not believe Mr Duckenfield had enough experience to "take on that particular match at that particular time" and "should never have been put in that position".

He said it was common in the Met, at the time, for new match commanders to "shadow" a senior officer while they learned about the job.

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He told the court the assistant chief constable of South Yorkshire Police at the time, Walter Jackson, could have recommended another officer take charge of the FA cup semi-final.

Asked who he thought should have been given the job, he said the obvious choice was the man who had been match commander at the semi-final the previous year, Ch Supt Brian Mole.

Mr Hopkins, who worked as a match commander at Arsenal's former Highbury stadium for the Metropolitan Police between 1987 and 1991, was questioned about his views on the policing operation on the day of the disaster.

He told the court he thought the command structure was a "little bit clumsy".

Jonathan Hough QC, on behalf of the coroner, also asked him about the arrangements outside the stadium.

"Would you have expected any competent match commander to have instituted some form of cordons?" he asked him.

Mr Hopkins replied: "I would have done."

Mr Hough then asked: "If you were told that someone was planning to police an event of this kind without instituting a cordon, would you say that was consistent with competent match planning?"

"I would say that was incompetent, in particular in this case," Mr Hopkins said.

The inquests in Warrington, Cheshire, continue.

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