Hillsborough Inquest: Retired police officer John Morgan denies he made decision to open Gate C

Mr Morgan insisted 10 times that he did not issue any instruction

Click to follow
The Independent Football

A former police sergeant repeatedly denied today that he had taken the fateful decision to open the 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 1989 Disaster, retired officer John Morgan said that supporters were pulling at his anorak and screaming: “Do something. People are getting crushed. Open the gate” as a crush of 4,000 outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles left them crushed and in pain. 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.”

In a week when the decision to open the gates will feature prominently, with match commander David Duckenfield scheduled to testify tomorrow Mr Morgan agreed there was substantial video evidence to suggest that 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 background passage of taped speech 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 has 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.

Mr Morgan today said those comments had been “unscripted” and given “off the top of my head” in a misguided determination to defend South Yorkshire Police over Hillsborough. “I was in defensive mode,” he said – defensive of South Yorkshire Police’s decision to open the gates.” One 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 some of his 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 briefly and periodically opened on a periodic basis, to relieve the crush. “I can’t remember who told me but it was my recollection that that was going to happen,” he said. “The gates were going to be opened, gradually and repeatedly, to relieve the crush.”

He had been on the inside of the gates in the half hour before they were thrown open, with such dramatic consequences, when an brief opening of the gate had allowed 200 fans in, as the turnstile crush developed. Mr Morgan described how he “froze” when he saw the “pandemonium” which followed that flood of people pouring into the ground and founding himself being flung aside.

Mr Morgan said that he was asked to provide his comments about the Disaster on blank paper and that the final version of his statement had been “sanitised…to take out criticism of senior officers.” The inquest continues.