THE police chief on the day of the Hillsborough disaster “apologised unreservedly” to the families of the 96 victims yesterday after admitting a “terrible lie” and misleading others minutes after the disaster unfolded.
Former chief superintendent David Duckenfield, who had been the match commander at the game, agreed to a request to open exit gates to prevent crushing at the turnstiles outside the ground, the inquest in Warrington heard.
What I did not say to Mr Kelly, I did not say I have authorised opening of the gates. I did not tell him that.David Duckenfield
But after Gate C was opened on his orders at eight minutes before kick-off, an estimated 2,000 fans poured in, heading straight for a tunnel leading directly to the already packed central pens three and four, behind the goal.
Ninety-six Liverpool fans died in the ensuing crush minutes later on the Leppings Lane terrace of Sheffield’s Hillsborough ground as the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest kicked off on April 15, 1989.
Mr Duckenfield, 70, said not thinking through the consequences of giving the order to open the gates is “arguably one of the biggest regrets of my life”. His second day of evidence was watched by dozens of relatives of the victims, who listened in silence in rows of seats behind the witness box.
And Mr Duckenfield went on to admit that at a 3:15 pm meeting with FA boss Graham Kelly, his press chief and club officials in the police control box, he did not admit it was he himself who had authorised the opening of the gates. He instead said fans had “got in through gates”, while other witnesses claim he used the word, “stormed”.
He added: “What I did not say to Mr Kelly, I did not say I have authorised opening of the gates. I did not tell him that.”
Christina Lambert QC asked if he was “trying to communicate” that unauthorised access to the stadium by fans was either the cause or part of the cause of the disaster.
“No Ma’am,” Mr Duckenfield replied.
Miss Lambert said: “Do you consider now you told Mr Kelly a lie?” “Yes, Ma’am,” he replied again. Mr Duckenfield said he knew what he had done as soon as Mr Kelly left the meeting but did nothing to correct it. He continued: “I was probably deeply ashamed, embarrassed, greatly distressed and I probably did not want to admit to myself or anybody else what the situation is.”
Miss Lambert continued: “So what motivated you to lie?” “I have no idea,” he said. Miss Lambert said: “It may be people lie to obscure true facts, might that be the reason you told this lie?” He said: “That was a terrible lie in that everybody knew the truth, the fans knew the truth, the police officers knew we had opened the gates and…
“Did you know the truth?” Miss Lambert interrupted, asking again if at 3:15pm he thought his decision to open the gates may have contributed to or caused the disaster.
Mr Duckenfield said it was “highly likely” that he did but at that point he did not know there were, “dead bodies”. He will resume his evidence today.
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