Hillsborough sergeant John Morgan denies giving order to open Gate C

“No. No. At no point did I make any instruction to anyone"

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The Independent Online

A former police sergeant repeatedly denied that he had taken the fateful decision in 1989 to open Hillsborough Gate C through which hundreds of Liverpool fans funnelled into the Leppings Lane turnstiles, where 96 people died in a crush.

In evidence which goes to the heart of the disaster, retired officer John Morgan told an inquest that supporters were pulling at his anorak and screaming, “Do something. People are getting crushed. Open the gate,” as 4,000 people massed outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles.

But Mr Morgan insisted 10 times that he had not issued the instruction to open the concertina gate, and rejected any idea that a steward may have done so on his orders.

“No. No. At no point did I make any instruction to anyone, any officer, any steward, anyone else, that [the gate] should be opened or closed,” Mr Morgan told the Hillsborough inquests at Warrington. “I didn’t do it. I would have to seek guidance from an officer senior to myself: in other words, an inspector or above.”

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Scarfs and balloons are placed in front of the Kop stand on the Anfield pitch to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster in Liverpool in April last year (Getty)

In a week when the decision to open the gates will feature prominently, with the police’s match commander, David Duckenfield, scheduled to testify today, Mr Morgan agreed that there was substantial video evidence to suggest the decision to open Gate C was part of the “execution of a plan”, with officers moving into position and making signals which suggested that the strategic decision had just been made.

The jury has heard that Mr Duckenfield made that decision. A new recording from the police, discovered by the Operation Resolve criminal investigation into the disaster, include the words: “Open the gates, open the gates at Leppings Lane.”

 

The jury heard that Mr Morgan had asked police officers to open Gate C to allow in several Liverpool supporters whom he was concerned had returned to the crush. This had been a “request” rather than a “command.” He expected the officers to “respond” but did not have the authority to make an order to that effect, he said.

Video footage shown to the jury revealed Mr Morgan to be close to Gate C at the time when it was opened. He admitted making a number of errors in earlier testimony, claiming his memory had been “scrambled” by the trauma of the day. He told both the Taylor inquiry into the disaster and a 1990 First Tuesday TV documentary that he believed Gate C should have been opened, and implied that he had the authority to make the order. “I had already formed the impression that if those gates had not been opened, I would have opened them myself on my initiative because of the problems outside,” he told the documentary.

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The jury heard that match commander Ch Supt David Duckenfield ordered an exit gate at the ground to be opened (PA)

Mr Morgan said those comments had been “unscripted” and given “off the top of my head” in a misguided determination to defend South Yorkshire Police.  A member of the force’s communications team had asked him to speak to the documentary, in defence of the force, he said.

Mr Morgan said he had expected fellow officers to allow small groups of Liverpool supporters in through Gate C because of his own mistaken impression that a command had been given to allow it to be briefly and periodically opened. Mr Morgan said he was asked to provide his comments on blank paper and that the final version of his statement had been “sanitised … to take out criticism of senior officers”.

The inquest continues.