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Former police chief accepts failure led to deaths at Hillsborough

Former police chief superintendent David Duckenfield arrives at the coroner's court in Warrington, north-west England, on March 10, 2015.
Image: David Duckenfield: Former chief superintendent

Former police chief superintendent David Duckenfield has accepted that his failure to close a tunnel "was the direct cause of the deaths" of 96 Liverpool fans at the Hillsborough disaster.

Duckenfield was facing a sixth day of cross-examination by lawyers of the relatives of those who died in April 1989.

On the day of the tragedy, police became overwhelmed by supporters at the turnstiles as kick-off neared, prompting Duckenfield to give the order at 2.52pm to open a side gate allowing them entry to the stadium.

Around 2,000 fans poured in through Gate C, many heading straight for a tunnel in front of them, which Duckenfield had not ordered to be closed. That tunnel led directly to the already full central pens on the Leppings Lane terrace.

The 96 Liverpool fans died in the ensuing crush minutes later, as the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest started.


Duckenfield accepted he "froze" during the disaster before he ordered the opening of an exit gate to relieve congestion outside the Leppings Lane turnstile.

The 70-year-old was responding to questions from Paul Greaney QC, representing the Police Federation, when giving evidence at the new Hillsborough inquests in Warrington, Cheshire.

You know what was in your mind and I will ask just one last time. Will you accept that in fact you froze?
Paul Greaney QC

Greaney reminded Duckenfield of his earlier evidence to Christina Lambert QC, counsel for the inquest, about his state of mind after the opening of Gate C when he told her: "It was a momentous decision and your decision is such that you do not think of the next step. My mind for a moment went blank."

Asked again if he had "froze", Duckenfield said: "It appears to be a distinct possibility."

Greaney said: "You know what was in your mind and I will ask just one last time. Will you accept that in fact you froze?"

"Yes sir," said Duckenfield.

Greaney enquired further if "people died in a crush in the central pens and had they not been permitted to flow into those central pens that would not have occurred?" to which Duckenfield replied: "Yes sir."

In further questioning, Greaney asked Duckenfield if "closing the tunnel would have prevented that and therefore would have prevented the tragedy?" and again, Duckenfield replied: "Yes sir".

In response to Greaney's claims "That you failed to recognise that there was a need to close that tunnel?" Duckenfield agreed saying: "I did fail to recognise that, sir."

"And therefore failed to take steps to achieve that?" added Greaney which brought the response: "I did, sir," from Duckenfield.

"That failure was the direct cause of the deaths of 96 persons in the Hillsborough tragedy," said Greaney, and Duckenfield said: "Yes sir."

During his earlier evidence, Duckenfield denied he had "bottled it" and "simply froze" during the FA Cup semi-final tie.

He claimed he was unaware of the geography of Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground, this being his first match in charge. 

Greaney said: "Do you agree that never mind a competent match commander, it might only take a child of average intelligence to realise what the consequences of your actions might be?"

Duckenfield replied: "I did not think of it on the day, sir, because of the pressure I was under."

The inquests have heard that Duckenfield told the 1989 Taylor Inquiry into the disaster that he had made the right decisions on the day but he now accepted that he had made errors - some of which were "grave".

He has told the jury that his serious failings were due to his lack of experience and that others also played their part in the cause of the deaths.

Duckenfield agreed with Greaney that it was "totally unacceptable" that a match commander "did not have a grip on the geography of that ground sufficient to enable you to understand the consequences of your decision-making".


He also accepted that, when giving evidence to Lord Justice Taylor, it appeared that he was aware that the congested Leppings Lane turnstiles did lead to the central tunnel.

Duckenfield said he did not want to go into detail about his "personal circumstances" - he has previously said he suffered post-traumatic stress - but he may have been "confused" when giving evidence in 1989.

Greaney told the court that another officer who was in the police control box, who was operating the CCTV cameras, had earlier told the jury that he thought Duckenfield was "not a leader in that control room during that critical period".

Greaney asked Duckenfield: "Do you agree that (the officer) was describing a match commander who had frozen?"

Duckenfield said: "It is a possibility, sir, but that is his view and I cannot comment further."

Greaney said: "Can you not tell us whether on that day in that situation you simply froze?" to which Duckenfield replied: "Sir, I think it is fair to say that we were all in a state of shock." 

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