Police officers who had prepared themselves for violent confrontation with football fans at the Hillsborough disaster were told to “wipe the smiles” from their faces when they faced dying people, the inquest heard yesterday.
Reinforcements had been looking forward to dealing with pitch invaders before they learnt they were dealing with a fatal crush on the terraces, according to a barrister representing some of the families of the 96 Liverpool fans who died.
Stephen Simblet suggested to an officer on duty at the 1989 match, Richard Barnes, that the officers were expecting confrontation with fans after they were told of a “critical incident” at Hillsborough following fighting on the pitch.
Sgt Barnes told the inquest: “As we travelled in the van, yes: fight or flight.”
The officer had been on duty in Rotherham on the day of the disaster when all available units across the South Yorkshire were called to the stadium. The officer’s unit first went to Hammerton Road police station, close to the stadium, the inquest was told.
The inquest heard earlier this week from another police officer who described chaos and a lack of control as the disaster unfolded.
Mr Simblet said: “It would appear that the impression was given ... that some among you were expecting some form of confrontation because somebody said words to the effect, ‘You had better wipe the smiles off your faces because people are dying’.”
Sgt Barnes said: “Certainly not looking forward to confrontation, but obviously the reason we attended there was totally different to what we were informed.”
The jury has heard the match commander Ch Supt David Duckenfield ordered an exit gate at the ground to be opened shortly before kick-off for the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989.
Supporters were still massed outside the ground at the Leppings Lane turnstiles with the central pens already filling up. An estimated 2,000 fans came in when the gate was opened and a “significant number” headed for the tunnel under the seated tier above, leading directly to the central pens of 3 and 4 behind the goal, where 96 fans were crushed to death.
The hearing, in Warrington, was adjourned until Monday.