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Hillsborough chief called for dogs instead of ambulances


Former chief superintendent David Duckenfield arriving at the Hillsborough inquest

Former chief superintendent David Duckenfield arriving at the Hillsborough inquest

Former chief superintendent David Duckenfield arriving at the Hillsborough inquest

Hillsborough police chief David Duckenfield called for police dogs instead of ambulances as fans were crushed to death in the football tragedy, the inquests have heard.

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.

Today 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 April 15 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."

At 3.06pm Mr Duckenfield called for operational support, a request for all available officers in the force area to go to the stadium.

Mr Menon asked: "Why more manpower?"

Mr Duckenfield replied: "To help the rescue."

Mr Menon responded: "What rescue? You have yet to call for ambulances or fire crews."

Mr Duckenfield suggested the situation was different and simply looking at documents was "flat and tells you nothing".

Mr Menon said police records did not record him declaring a major incident, which would have triggered a disaster rescue plan by emergency services.

Mr Duckenfield insisted he had done so and there was an "omission" in the records.

Mr Menon responded: "This is a transcript of the tape."

The inquest heard that a request for a fleet of ambulances to attend Hillsborough was 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" situation.

During the closing minutes of his questioning of the retired officer, Mr Menon asked him if he felt it necessary to be present on the pitch.

Mr Duckenfield replied: "Not at all. The incident commander remains in the control room because if I am not in the control room I can't make decisions."

Accusing Mr Duckenfield of showing little, if any, organisation or control while in the control box, Mr Menon asked the witness: "Your leadership and co-ordination and emergency response was woefully inadequate from start to finish?"

Mr Duckenfield answered: "I disagree, sir."

Rejecting claims that he was involved in "building" South Yorkshire Police's case that drunken fans caused the disaster, the former policeman said: "After the disaster I was marginalised and I took no part in anything like that at all."

Mr Menon then asserted: "Your mistake (in failing to foresee where fans would go or close the tunnel) was the most terrifyingly bad mistake that fell woefully below the standard to be expected of a reasonably competent match commander, wasn't it?"

Mr Duckenfield responded: "Sir, I have made my admissions, I take it no further."

Mr Menon continued: "It was gross negligence and ultimately it caused the disaster and the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans, didn't it?"

Mr Duckenfield answered: "No, sir. My view is it was an oversight, a mistake."

Mr Duckenfield was next questioned by another lawyer representing victims' families, Michael Mansfield QC, who suggested the match commander could have taken a number of steps to prevent the disaster, including delaying the kick-off.

The exchanges became heated when Mr Duckenfield spoke of Liverpool fans drinking and arriving late for the match.

Mr Duckenfield said: "If Merseyside Police had been more forthcoming with the knowledge, where the former chief constable Mr Sharples gave evidence to the inquest, that it was common knowledge that Liverpool fans arrived late, have had a drink and expected to get in at the last minute, I might have acted differently, but that knowledge and that intelligence was not available."

Mr Mansfield said: "But that's not what happened."

Mr Duckenfield replied: "Sir, I think you and I will have to disagree."

Mr Mansfield questioned whether there were any reports on the day that police were having trouble with drunken Liverpool fans.

He said: "On the day, did you get any information that they were having to deal with hordes of Liverpool fans who were drunk?"

Mr Duckenfield said there were police reports of fans "taking cans of beer" from a local supermarket and officers were called to a local pub.

Mr Mansfield continued: "Were you getting any information that police outside were getting trouble with Liverpool fans drinking?"

Mr Duckenfield said: "I can't recall, sir."

Mr Mansfield replied: "The answer is no, if you want to be honest about it.

"You had absolutely no indication that any Liverpool fans approaching Leppings Lane, coming down Leppings Lane, were causing trouble, that you would need to be warned about, were you?"

Mr Duckenfield replied: "Not that I recall, sir."

Mr Duckenfield said he was aware of a general evacuation plan for Hillsborough before the disaster but not of any specific contingency plans.

"If there were difficulties that caused us concern, we would pass out a coded message to all police officers to go to their respective exit doors, evacuation points and be on standby for any further instruction," he told the court.

A photograph of the interior of the Hillsborough control box was presented to Mr Duckenfield, showing a plan of the stadium on top of a desk.

It was then put to Mr Duckenfield that he had stated on a number of occasions that he had a problem with the "geography" of the stadium.

Mr Duckenfield told Mr Mansfield: "I think what I said, if my memory serves me correctly, is that I did not connect the opening of an exit gate with the tunnel."

Mr Mansfield then asked the former officer: "All you had to do was look at the plan, wasn't it?"

Mr Duckenfield responded: "Yes, sir."

Asked if he did look at the plan to establish where the gate was, Mr Duckenfield told jurors: "No, because I was not in that position."

Under further questioning from Mr Mansfield, who suggested Mr Duckenfield was only "three paces away" from the plan, the officer acknowledged that he could have looked at it.

Disputing that his actions constituted a serious omission, Mr Duckenfield said: "I was in that control box and whilst it looks empty (in the photograph shown to the court) Mr Murray (another superintendent) was sat probably with his arms and elbows on the plan."

The ex-officer, who took infrequent sips of orange juice during his evidence, disputed claims that he deceived his own assistant chief constable by failing to inform him that he ordered an exit gate to be opened.

The assistant chief constable had been informed at the earliest opportunity, said Mr Duckenfield.

Giving his account of a visit to brief senior officials in Hillsborough's boardroom on April 15, Mr Duckenfield said: "All I can remember is a sea of faces and someone asking me how many were dead.

"I didn't respond because someone jumped in before me. Those are my recollections."

But he agreed that he had deceived Football Association chief executive Graham Kelly and two other people by saying "words to the effect that Liverpool fans broke down or forced open a gate".

According to his account to the jury, Mr Duckenfield was "in a trance" by the time he arrived at South Yorkshire Police HQ on the evening of the disaster.

Mr Mansfield then began what he called the "last chapter" of his questioning on the final topic of the last session of the week of evidence.

He put it to Mr Duckenfield that he "knew the truth from the beginning" but allowed the public to believe that much of the responsibility for what happened lay with the fans rather than himself.

"You chose to remain silent about all these matters you have told the jury," Mr Mansfield said.

The witness said he "could not bear the word Hillsborough and could not bear to think about it".

Mr Duckenfield again repeated that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and had to "bury the bad to survive."

He added: "But then two years ago I had to force myself to look at matters and, as a result, I could only do so with the assistance of doctors. I think it is fair to say that since I have made great progress.

"Over this period, I have come to terms with reality, and that is why, over the period, you might say, I dug my head in the sand, didn't admit things to myself, but I am now very much older, very much wiser, and very much more understanding of the events of the day and have decided to tell the whole truth."

Mr Mansfield continued: "What about the families. Did you ever think about them?

Mr Duckenfield replied: "Sir, it is only now that I have thought very seriously about the families.

"I have seen a video, a very distressing video and for the first time I have seen what it means to a mother to lose a loved one, to lose a loved one not only in these tragic circumstances but to have to say their goodbyes so unexpectedly, in a gymnasium, on a dirty floor, cuddling that person tearfully and you can't share with that person your grief, your sorrow and your sadness.

"It's the most moving thing I have ever seen.

"And it struck me that if it was my child or grandchild, I would have hoped there could be some more privacy, care and support because there must be nothing more undignified than having to say your loving goodbyes in such a tragic situation and such a public environment.

"To the families I say this, I'm terribly sorry. It has now dawned on me what it means to you and I'm terribly sorry."

Some of the relatives of victims are believed to have walked out of the courtroom as Mr Duckenfield spoke.