Hillsborough inquests: Police chief quizzed over statement

Hillsborough disaster Image copyright Hillsborough Inquests
Image caption Merseyside Police Deputy Chief Constable Sir James Sharples watched from the directors' box

An off-duty Merseyside Police chief has denied trying to "assist" the South Yorkshire force by writing a "glowing" statement, the Hillsborough jury heard.

Sir James Sharples insisted officers were "composed", "very professional" and "outstanding" in his account of the 15 April 1989 disaster.

He watched from the directors' box.

The inquests also heard from Barry Devonside who said he "entered into a game" when police interviewed him. His 18-year-old son Christopher died.

Ninety-six Liverpool fans died after crushing at an FA Cup semi-final held at Hillsborough.

Sir James was Deputy Chief Constable at the time and he went to the ground with his wife to watch the match.

Who were the 96 victims?

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BBC News: Profiles of all those who died

The jury heard Asst Ch Con Walter Jackson was also in the directors' box and the two officers had previously worked together at Greater Manchester Police.

In his statement, Sir James described police officers as "composed" and "very professional".

One officer's contribution was "outstanding", his statement read, and the "organisation and control of events in the gym was impressive", the jury heard.

'Police playing game'

Mark George QC, a barrister who represents bereaved families, asked: "When you wrote this account, when you described the actions of the officers in the way that we have just seen, you were trying, weren't you, to assist the senior officers who you anticipated faced criticism, with your words?"

Sir James said: "No I was not."

Some Merseyside officers who helped police the Leppings Lane approach to the ground told Sir James how the crowd there was "so tight" that "police horses were literally lifted off their feet", the jury heard.

Sir James said Liverpool fans travelled to away grounds and "expected the same sort of treatment they get at Anfield" where they are "marshalled very strongly".

"There's a practice amongst many Liverpool fans - not all by any means - to go for a drink and then attend at the ground in the last 15 to 20 minutes before kick off," he said.

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Image caption Barry Devonside said were 70 to 80 police officers "just milling around" in the penalty area

Later the jury heard from Mr Devonside, who was planning to watch the FA Cup semi-final from a seat high up in the North Stand.

His son Christopher met up with friends on the terraces behind the goal.

Mr Devonside said he "became so cold with fear for Chris's life" as he watched what was happening.

He told the jury there were 70 to 80 police officers "just milling around" in the penalty area "doing absolutely nothing".

"It beggared belief as I looked down from the stand - what were they doing? They were doing nothing," Mr Devonside said.

Recalling the scene at one of the hospitals in Sheffield, he said: "People were wailing and screaming and angry against the police.

"Most of us knew that the police had cocked this up."

Describing how, after identifying Christopher's body, he was interviewed by police, he added: "We now entered into a game here and the police were playing the game."

He said he remarked to his brother and brother-in-law, who had travelled to Sheffield after the disaster, "they're blaming the Liverpool supporters".

The inquests, sitting in Warrington, Cheshire, are due to resume on Wednesday.

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