Hillsborough inquiry: Chief police officer David Duckenfield admits he caused disaster

70-year-old simply says 'yes, sir'

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The Independent Online

For more than a quarter of a century, the senior police officer in charge during Britain’s worst stadium disaster has never admitted direct responsibility for the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans.

But almost 26 years after the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989, the former chief superintendent David Duckenfield acknowledged his culpability in just two words:

“Yes, sir.”

They came after six days of testimony at the new inquests in Warrington, Cheshire – at times watched by around 200 relatives of those who died.

The 70-year-old was responding to questions from Paul Greaney QC, a barrister for the Police Federation who asked if Mr Duckenfield’s failure to close the tunnel was “the direct cause of the deaths of 96 persons in the Hillsborough tragedy”.

Previous testimony had heard that his order to open Gate C allowed thousands of fans onto already overcrowded terraces via a tunnel directly in front of them, leading to the fatal crush.

But his evidence had so far fallen short of accepting direct responsibility for the deaths, as he maintained he was one of a number of people who bore responsibility – including some fans, he had said.

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Severe overcrowding resulted in 96 Liverpool fans losing their lives (PA)

But yesterday, Mr Duckenfield accepted that closing off the tunnel would have prevented the disaster and he “failed to recognise” the need to do this.

The barrister suggested a “child of average intelligence” may have realised the consequences of his actions. Mr Duckenfield said he did not think of it “as a result of the pressure he was under”.

The inquests heard of what he called his “terrible lie” on the day of the disaster to the FA chief executive, Graham Kelly, that fans had forced open the gate, which was widely reported in the press.

Mr Duckenfield told his barrister, John Beggs QC, that he was not “thinking correctly” when he said it.

When giving evidence to the Taylor inquiry later that year, he said he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and was drinking half-tumblers of whisky in order to read statements.

He acknowledged that he and others in the police control box were in a state of shock, but denied claims he’d failed to show leadership.

 

Last week, he unexpectedly apologised to the families of those who died as a result of his mistakes and failings, some of which had been “grave”.

He accepted Mr Beggs’ suggestion that he could have done more when it became obvious that there was a disaster unfolding.

He said he had buried his head in the sand and only recently been able to come to terms with his mistakes, during “the most difficult period of my life”.

He said he did not reveal his mistakes to officers from Operation Resolve – the criminal investigation into the disaster – during an interview in March 2014 as it was not the right time.

Mr Duckenfield also denied claims he froze and “bottled it” as the disaster unfolded. And he said he had no idea that Liverpool fans would head for the tunnel once the gate was opened.

He acknowledged that some people would be of the view that he’d been incompetent on the day of the disaster. He denied concealing his full knowledge of the geography of the Hillsborough ground to the jury.

The inquests were told of his diagnosis of severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and medical retirement from South Yorkshire Police in November 1991. He said he had not wanted to retire.

The inquests continue, and Mr Duckenfield will return to the witness box for a seventh day.