THE match commander in charge of policing during the Hillsborough disaster has denied taking part in a “cover-up” that left fans facing the blame for decades after the tragedy.
Former chief superintendent David Duckenfield told an inquest into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans that there had been “no conspiracy” to hide the truth about senior officers’ failings.
Giving evidence for a third day to an inquest jury in Warrington, Mr Duckenfield said he could not explain his decision not to admit to Football Association chief executive Graham Kelly that he had authorised an exit gate to be opened, allowing around 2,000 fans into already overcrowded pens.
The 70-year-old former senior officer was watched by around 150 relatives of the victims, who sat listening to charged exchanges as the witness was questioned closely about his account of events on the day of the disaster.
Mr Duckenfield apologised unreservedly to the families of the victims on Wednesday after admitting a “terrible lie” and misleading others minutes after the disaster on 15 April 1989.
Answering questions by Rajiv Menon QC, representing the families of 75 Hillsborough victims, Mr Duckenfield said that at the time he spoke to Mr Kelly in the police control box, he was concentrating on mounting a rescue operation.
Mr Menon put it to Mr Duckenfield that there had been a “false narrative” after the disaster which sought to blame Liverpool fans for what had happened and conceal the truth about police failings.
After pausing to consider his answer, Mr Duckenfield replied: “I disagree. There was no conspiracy as far as I am concerned.”
Rejecting claims that he suspected there were fatalities by the time he spoke to Mr Kelly, Mr Duckenfield added: “I don’t think I was involved in any cover-up whatsoever.
“My main objective was a rescue operation and to do the very best I could for all concerned. It was chaotic, hectic, stressful.” After claiming that no-one in the courtroom would understand the position he found himself in, Mr Duckenfield was asked why he had concealed the truth from Mr Kelly.
“Sir, I said yesterday, I don’t know,” Mr Duckenfield responded.
Mr Duckenfield, facing hours of close questioning, denied that his memory only faded when it “suited him”. And there were audible groans from relatives of the 96 when he said he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mr Duckenfield admitted at the inquests yesterday that he was wrong to open exit gates allowing thousands of extra fans into already packed terraces and not taking action to block a tunnel to prevent the crush on the central pens.
Mr Duckenfield gave the order to open Gate C at 2:52pm, allowing an estimated 2,000 fans in. Many headed straight for a tunnel leading directly to the already packed central pens behind the goal.
Ninety-six Liverpool fans died in the ensuing crush minutes later at Sheffield’s Hillsborough ground as the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest kicked off.
Mr Menon told the court Mr Duckenfield had now accepted he lacked the necessary experience and knowledge to do the job of match commander.
He continued: “I want to explore what reasons, independent of merit, that resulted in your promotion to chief superintendent and commander of F Division. Mr Duckenfield, were you in April 1989, a Freemason?”
“I was sir,” he replied.
The hearing continues.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS