THE role of the policeman in charge on the day of the Hillsborough disaster – who later moved to Dorset – will be a key part of new inquests into the deaths of 96 football fans, jurors were told yesterday.
In an opening statement, Lord Justice Goldring explained the tragedy was “the worst ever disaster at a British sports stadium”, when hundreds of people were hurt and dozens killed in a “terrible crush”.
Among the questions the jury will have to consider is whether a decision to promote chief superintendent David Duckenfield, who was in charge on match day and later moved to Ferndown, was the right choice, the coroner said.
Taking the jury through different areas of evidence, Lord Justice Goldring said Mr Duckenfield had only been promoted to his role on March 27.
He was given responsibility for Hillsborough over a more experienced officer, the jury was told, despite his speciality being criminal investigations rather than public order.
Lord Justice Goldring told the jury: “Whether that was a sensible decision may be something for you to have to consider.”
He said jurors would have to consider “whether opportunities were lost which might have prevented the deaths or saved lives”.
Superintendent Roger Marshall, who was responsible for the Liverpool fans’ section, was becoming “very worried” and at around 2.47pm requested that exit gates A, B and C should be opened to permit people to enter the ground to “ease the pressure”, the coroner said.
Mr Duckenfield took “some minutes” to make a decision, the jurors were told, and Mr Marshall later made a second request to open the exit gates.
By the time of his third request, he warned that “somebody would be killed if the gates weren’t opened”, Lord Justice Goldring told the court.
Mr Duckenfield eventually decided to open the gates.
The jury was told he said: “If there is likely to be a serious injury or death I’ve no option but to open the gates. Open the gates.”
In the five minutes that one of the three gates was opened, some 2,000 supporters entered the stadium, the court heard.
By 3.12pm fans began to be pulled out of pen three and ambulance station officer Paul Eason told control he wanted to declare a major incident, although the coroner said the major incident procedures were not fully enacted.
At 3.15pm, Mr Duckenfield told the-then chief executive of the Football Association Graham Kelly that one of the three gates that had been opened was forced.
This claim was repeated in a radio interview by Mr Kelly, and then picked up by several media outlets.
The coroner said: “There is no question of Gate C having been forced. This early account resulted in some seriously inaccurate reporting of events. You will want to consider why Chief Superintendent Duckenfield said what he did.”