THE Hillsborough tragedy police commander has agreed that his failure to close a tunnel was the “direct cause” of the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans.
David Duckenfield, 70, accepted that he “froze” during the 1989 football stadium disaster before he ordered the opening of an exit gate to relieve congestion outside the Leppings Lane turnstile.
The now retired police chief was responding to questions from Paul Greaney QC, representing the Police Federation, during his sixth day of evidence at the new Hillsborough Inquest, taking place in Warrington.
Mr Greaney reminded Mr 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”, Mr Duckenfield said: “It appears to be a distinct possibility.”
Mr 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 Mr Duckenfield.
Mr Greaney went on: “Do you agree with the following, that people died in a crush in the central pens?”
Mr Duckenfield said: “Yes sir.”
Mr Greaney said: “That if they had not been permitted to flow down the tunnel into those central pens that would not have occurred?”
The witness repeated: “Yes sir.”
The barrister continued: “That closing the tunnel would have prevented that and therefore would have prevented the tragedy.”
Mr Duckenfield said again: “Yes sir.”
Mr Greaney said: “That you failed to recognise that there was a need to close that tunnel.”
Mr Duckenfield said: “I did fail to recognise that sir.”
Mr Greaney said: “And therefore failed to take steps to achieve that.”
Mr Duckenfield answered: “I did sir,” to which the QC replied: “That failure was the direct cause of the deaths of 96 persons in the Hillsborough tragedy.”
Mr Duckenfield said: “Yes sir.” Mr Duckenfield agreed with Mr Greaney that it would be “disgraceful” and “cowardly” to try to shift blame for his own failings onto other officers.
The retired chief superintendent of South Yorkshire Police has previously said he had expected police officers on the perimeter track of the ground and those in the West Stand overlooking the Leppings Lane terrace pens to have kept an eye on monitoring the filling of them. However, he accepted they had not received formal instructions to do so.
John Beggs QC, representing Mr Duckenfield, outlined what he said were the three failures of his client. First, to prevent congestion building up to dangerous levels at the Leppings Lane turnstiles.
Second, the failure to delay the kick-off at any appropriate time and third, the “most serious failure”, was that of failing to ensure the closing of the tunnel.
The inquest continues.
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