South Yorkshire Police’s second-in-command on the day of the Hillsborough disaster today told an inquest that he had never come across “a similar example of deceit by a senior officer” as that shown by match commander David Duckenfield when he lied about fans forcing open the exit gate.
Peter Hayes, the force’s deputy chief constable on the day of the tragedy, told the court in Warrington that he did not know that the opening of exit gate C to relieve congestion outside the turnstiles was made on police direction until his boss, Chief Constable Peter Wright, gave a press conference on the evening of the disaster on April 15.
He added he could not recall when he learned that match commander David Duckenfield had actually given the order and then lied that fans had “stormed” the gate.
Mr Hayes, who was off duty on April 15, 1989, went to South Yorkshire Police headquarters at Sheffield as he learned of the disaster and later met Mr Duckenfield and two other senior offices but said he “could not recall” their conversation.
During questioning today, Peter Wilcock QC, representing bereaved families, said Mr Duckenfield’s lie was “a terrible untruth because it blamed the people who died for their own deaths”.
“Yes,” replied the witness.
Mr Wilcock then asked him: “Have you ever come across a similar example of deceit by a senior officer in your long career within the police?” Mr Hayes replied: “No.”
Mr Wilcock asked: “Is the reason you don’t want to say when you found out Mr Duckenfield had lied because you want to give wriggle room to yourself and your colleagues as to why you continued to protect David Duckenfield after April 15?”
Mr Hayes said: “No, that is not the reason.”
He told the hearing that it was “an error of the first magnitude” when supporters were not stopped entering the tunnel and on to the already overcrowded central pens of the terraces.
Pete Weatherby QC, said in the force’s legal submissions to Lord Justice Taylor there was no suggestion that SYP bore any responsibility for either of the above failures.
No mention was made either of Mr Duckenfield’s lie or of any previous contingency plans to close that particular tunnel in the event of overcrowding, he said.
Mr Weatherby asked: “Can you explain why South Yorkshire Police failed to take responsibility for any of these events to Lord Justice Taylor?”
Mr Hayes said: “In one sense, no I can’t. I don’t think I ever saw the final submissions that we are talking about.”
The inquest continues.