Hillsborough inquests: David Duckenfield 'not best man for the job'

David Duckenfield Image copyright Reuters
Image caption David Duckenfield was match commander at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final tie

The match commander at Hillsborough has told a jury he "was probably not the best man for the job on the day".

Former Ch Supt David Duckenfield was in charge of policing at Sheffield Wednesday's stadium when 96 Liverpool fans were fatally crushed in 1989.

The new inquests have also heard he had had "no recent experience" of policing at the ground before the disaster.

Mr Duckenfield, now 70, said, with the benefit of hindsight, it was a "serious mistake" to take the commander role.

'Limited' experience

When the disaster happened, Mr Duckenfield had one season's experience at Hillsborough as a chief inspector, the jury heard.

Previously, the court heard about 2,000 fans entered through an exit gate at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium after Mr Duckenfield gave the order to open it.

Many of them ended up in the central terrace pens where the disaster unfolded.

Giving evidence for the first time at the new inquests, Mr Duckenfield, who first visited the ground two weeks before the match, said he had had "no anxiety or hesitation" about taking command.

But, although "delighted at the promotion", he later came to think he "probably was not the best man for the job on the day".

Image copyright Julia Quenzler
Image caption David Duckenfield told the inquests he had "no anxiety or hesitation" in taking the match commander job

Mr Duckenfield, dressed in a dark grey suit and purple tie, replied: "With hindsight, I should have thought about my limited knowledge of the role of a commander in a major event, that was an all-ticket, sell-out, when I had not been responsible, or in that responsible position previously."

But at the time he was confident he was able to do it, and was assured he had an experienced team around him.

"I did know what the job involved, but no-one, including me, knew what might evolve on the day and what difficulties we may face," he explained.

During further questioning, Mr Duckenfield also conceded:

  • He was unaware of crowd capacities at Hillsborough set out in the safety certificate
  • He failed to recognise the risk of overcrowding caused by the existence of pens at the Leppings Lane terraces
  • Everyone in the police control box, including him, had a "good view" of the pens [in Leppings Lane]
  • His orders did not mention monitoring the pens, "I signed the order so I must accept responsibility"
  • He only found out about the fans "finding their own level" on the terraces on the day of the disaster
  • He had not heard of the "Freeman Tactic" of closing the tunnel leading to the central pens once the pens were full
  • He "should have been more flexible" about the idea of delaying kick-off
  • Operational police orders placed "more emphasis on preventing disorder than public safety"

Mr Duckenfield told the jury he was adamant his predecessor, Ch Supt Brian Mole, did not offer to help him in his new role, as had been claimed earlier in the inquests.

He described how he was expecting a "full-day" meeting with Mr Mole, including introductions to Sheffield Wednesday staff as he prepared to take over.

But he stated: "Sadly for whatever reason, that didn't take place.

"I went to see Mr Mole, expecting to have a whole day with him and he seemed, shall we say, in my view disappointed to be moving, wanting to clear his desk, jealously guarding his relationship, I thought, with Sheffield Wednesday, and offered me little or no advice."

'Ground was safe'

Mr Duckenfield said he was not told about a previous crush at Hillsborough during the 1981 FA Cup semi-final between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Had he known about what had happened at that game, he said more attention could have been paid to the Leppings Lane terraces.

He said action could have been taken to "monitor very closely the pens and the influx of supporters to those pens."

Mr Duckenfield told the jury: "Prior to the game, every piece of information I received was 'the ground's safe, the Operational Order caters for our needs, the staff are efficient, you have no concerns, whatsoever'. Because of that, I didn't go searching for something because I didn't know it existed."

Image caption Ch Supt Duckenfield (far left) admitted he should have been 'more flexible' about delaying the match kick off

Earlier in the inquests, former Supt Roger Marshall told the jury he may have mentioned the 1981 crush to Mr Duckenfield.

But Mr Duckenfield denied this, adding: "If he had brought it to my attention prior to the match, I'm sure I would have focused on that and taken the necessary action."

He confirmed to the jury he was familiar with the Green Guide - the government-issued sports ground safety manual.

Mr Duckenfield said he "had knowledge" of South Yorkshire Police's major incident plan but not the codeword to initiate it.

"My knowledge of the codeword - well, I didn't know the name and I'm surprised if any of my colleagues did."

He added: "From my point of view, and I'm not being dismissive of the document, the better way, and it's just my way, is: 'this is a major incident' full stop, which means the same and it's better in my view."

The hearing, being held in Warrington, Cheshire, continues.

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