Monday 23 October 2017

Hillsborough police chief in call for dogs, not ambulances

Shocked fans on the pitch after the Hillsborough disaster in 1989
Shocked fans on the pitch after the Hillsborough disaster in 1989

Hillsborough police chief David Duckenfield called for police dogs instead of ambulances as fans were crushed to death in the football tragedy, the inquests have heard.

But the former South Yorkshire Police chief superintendent, who was match commander on the day of the disaster, denied his mindset was focused on hooliganism rather than fans' safety.

The retired officer, aged 70, was being cross-examined for a third day by the lawyers of the relatives of the 96 who died.

He has already made, for the first time since the tragedy, a series of admissions about "mistakes" he made, confessed that he lied in the aftermath and apologised "unreservedly" to fans' families.

Yesterday he was again questioned closely about his conduct in the run-up to, during and after the crisis.

On the day of the disaster, police became overwhelmed by fans at the turnstiles as kick-off approached and Mr Duckenfield gave the order at 2.52pm to open gates to let them in.

Up to 2,000 fans poured in through Gate C, many heading straight for a tunnel in front of them - which Mr Duckenfield, as match commander, had not ordered to be closed, a "blunder of the first magnitude", the inquest jury heard.

The tunnel led directly to the already-full central pens on the Leppings Lane terrace. Ninety-six Liverpool fans died in the ensuing crush minutes later on the terraces of Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground as the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest kicked off on April 15, 1989.

Mr Duckenfield has said he at first thought the problem on the terrace was crowd disorder and only realised it was a "medical emergency at 3.04pm".

Transcripts of tape recordings made in the police control box where the match commander was stationed showed a subordinate officer calling for police dogs.

Rajiv Menon QC, for families of the victims, said: "You must have asked him to do this. Why on earth do you need dogs at the stadium?"

Mr Duckenfield said he had "no idea" other than he wanted to create a "secure area" for the rescue operation.

Mr Menon asked: "So dogs requested, ambulances yet to be requested. Correct?"

"It would appear so," said Mr Duckenfield.

The inquest heard that a request for a fleet of ambulances to attend Hillsborough was made around two minutes and 40 seconds after the call for dog-handlers.

Another lawyer for the families, Michael Mansfield QC, put it to Mr Duckenfield that he allowed the public to believe that much of the responsibility for what happened lay with the fans rather than himself.

Mr Duckenfield repeated that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and had to "bury the bad to survive."

"To the families I say this, I'm terribly sorry. It has now dawned on me what it means to you and I'm terribly sorry."

Some of the relatives of victims are believed to have walked out of the courtroom.

hnews@herald.ie

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