HILLSBOROUGH police chief David Duckenfield called for police dogs instead of ambulances as fans were crushed to death in the football tragedy, the inquests heard yesterday.
But the former South Yorkshire Police chief superintendent, who was match commander on the day of the disaster, denied his mindset was focused on hooliganism rather than fans’ safety.
The retired officer, aged 70, was being cross-examined for a third day by the lawyers of the relatives of the 96 who died.
He has already made, for the first time since the tragedy, a series of admissions about “mistakes” he made, confessed that he lied in the aftermath and apologised “unreservedly” to fans’ families.
Yesterday he was again questioned closely about his conduct in the run-up to, during and after the crisis.
On the day of the disaster, police became overwhelmed by fans at the turnstiles as kick-off approached and Mr Duckenfield gave the order at 2:52pm to open gates to let them in. Up to 2,000 fans poured in through Gate C, many heading straight for a tunnel in front of them – which Mr Duckenfield, as match commander, had not ordered to be closed, a “blunder of the first magnitude”, the inquest jury heard.
The tunnel led directly to the already-full central pens on the Leppings Lane terrace.
Ninety-six Liverpool fans died in the ensuing crush minutes later on the terraces of Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough ground as the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest kicked off on 15 April 1989.
Mr Duckenfield has said he at first thought the problem on the terrace was crowd disorder and only realised it was a “medical emergency at 3:04pm”.
But at that time transcripts of tape recordings made in the police control box where the match commander was stationed showed a subordinate officer calling for police dogs.
Rajiv Menon QC, representing families of the victims, said: “You must have asked him to do this. It’s a medical emergency. Can you explain that? Why on earth do you need dogs at the stadium?”
Mr Duckenfield said he had “no idea” other than he wanted to create a “secure area” for the rescue operation.
Mr Menon asked: “So dogs requested, ambulances yet to be requested. Correct?”
The witness replied: “It would appear so.”
The inquest heard that a request for a fleet of ambulances to attend the Hillsboroughdisaster was finally made around two minutes and 40 seconds after the call for back-up from dog-handlers.
Jurors were also told that an officer at the scene of the disaster made a call at 3:13pm for fire crews equipped with cutting gear to attend the scene.
Mr Menon pointed out to Mr Duckenfield that the request for fire service assistance came up to eight minutes after the semi-final was halted.
Mr Duckenfield agreed that the eight minutes represented a “serious amount of time” lost in the effort to save lives but said he was making decisions in a “very critical” swituation.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS