Sunday 25 February 2018

Police chief call 'led to 96 deaths at Hillsborough'

The Hillsborough disaster in 1989
The Hillsborough disaster in 1989

Martin Evans, Warrington

A newly promoted police officer with little experience of public safety took the decision to open a gate that led to 96 football fans being crushed to death at Hillsborough, a fresh inquest has heard.

Chief Supt David Duckenfield initially claimed the gate had been forced by Liverpool fans, but the inquest heard yesterday there was "no question" of that having been the case.

It was one of a number of mistakes which will be at the centre of the hearing. In his opening statement, Lord Justice Goldring, the coroner, said the tragedy was "the worst ever disaster at a British sports stadium".

Men, women and children who had set off in spring sunshine to watch the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest, on April 15, 1989, died against metal fences erected to deter hooliganism.

Almost 25 years later in a purpose-built coroner's court in Warrington, the families wept as the names were read at the start of proceedings.

The inquest, which could last a year, would "investigate the disaster as a whole and consider the experiences of each of the 96", Lord Goldring said. The findings in the original inquests were quashed in 2012.

The jury heard that the official 10,100 capacity of the Leppings Lane End at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield was "substantially too high". As 2,000 fans poured through the gates opened by police, those ahead of them were swept off their feet with the force of a train.

In the aftermath it was reported that many Liverpool fans had been drunk and without tickets, something the coroner said caused the bereaved "great offence".

He said blood samples had been taken from the dead at the time. "Over half the victims had either no alcohol in their blood or an amount that was entirely negligible. Most of the others had levels that were consistent with only modest social drinking."

Chief Supt Duckenfield, who was in charge of policing the match, had been promoted the month before and did not have a "wealth of experience" of big games.

As the number of fans outside began to swell, an officer asked him three times to open gates near the turnstiles, or "someone was going to be killed". Eventually Chief Supt Duckenfield ordered that Gate C be opened, Lord Justice Goldring said.

Police in front of the stand saw what was happening and were able to let some supporters on the pitch.

The game was stopped at 3.06pm and shortly afterwards Graham Kelly, the head of the FA, was told by Chief Supt Duckenfield that Liverpool fans had forced Gate C, the jury heard.

The inquest continues.

Irish Independent

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