Superintendent Roger Greenwood was the “ground commander” responsible for touring the stadium perimeter track monitoring the crowd when 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death on the Leppings Lane terrace as the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest began on April 15, 1989.
Today Mr Greenwood, who ran onto the pitch to tell the referee to stop the game, became emotional as he agreed he “did his best” but as with many officers that day, this was “not good enough”.
The fans died after an entry and exit gate, gate C, had been opened at 2.52pm allowing an estimated 2,000 fans crowded at the turnstiles on Leppings Lane into the ground.
Many headed straight down a tunnel, below the seated upper section, leading directly into the packed central pens behind the goal on the Leppings Lane terrace.
Mr Greenwood said the police followed a policy of “find your own level” - that fans would distribute themselves along the terraces, if one pen got full, they would go to another.
In previous years the central tunnel had been closed by police if the central pens were becoming full, the inquest jury has heard.
Mr Greenwood agreed such a policy would mean police would have to monitor the number of fans in pens and take action if necessary.
Jonathan Hough QC, counsel to the inquest, asked the witness: “If you allow very large numbers of people into the ground, hundreds or thousands, in one go, can you see that policy would break down?”
Mr Greenwood said: “Yes, that’s possible yes.”
However the witness agreed with his lawyer, John Beggs QC, that he had “no notice” that gate C would be opened and the fans flood in but if he had, he would at least have had the opportunity to “take measures”.
Mr Greenwood, giving evidence for a third day, had previously faced criticism from lawyers representing victims’ families, claiming he was responsible for a “failure of leadership” and his contribution on the day of the disaster was a “shambles”.
Mr Beggs asked if such accusations made him angry.
The witness replied: “I can think of no worse criticism on somebody’s professional acumen that I received yesterday that have created sensationalist headlines.”
Earlier Mr Greenwood told the Warrington jury an incident of crushing at the 1981 semi-final at Hillsborough had played on his mind in subsequent years.
And he also wanted to keep a “strong lookout” for any public disorder after an incident when he claimed Liverpool fans “went wild” and tried to get at home fans during a league game at Hillsborough in 1985.
He said: “Yes, that era of hooliganism, public order was a major concern.”
On the day of the disaster he said 20 minutes before kick off there was a “carnival atmosphere” on the Leppings Lane terrace.
He said the “ultimate responsibility” for monitoring the numbers of fans in the pens was that of the police control box overlooking the terraces, where his boss and overall match commander Superintendent David Duckenfield was stationed.
Mr Greenwood said at 3.02pm he realised fans were in distress, and clambering on the perimeter fence made “frantic” shouting and hand signals for fans to move back.
Criticised as a “hopeless” response as disaster unfolded, the witness agreed with his lawyer Mr Beggs that it was, at the least, an “honest and heartfelt” attempt to do something and the best thing he could do immediately to try to help.
After his police radio failed as he tried to contact the police control box he ran on to the pitch to tell the referee to stop the match, timed at 3.06pm.
Mr Greenwood conceded though he did his best on the day - his best, along with that of other officers, was not good enough.
Mr Beggs continued: “Is that a matter of profound regret that’s lived with you since 1989?”
Mr Greenwood replied: “Absolutely.”
Mr Beggs continued: “Is that why you were overtaken by emotion giving evidence on the first day?”
Again Mr Greenwood looked close to tears, before answering: “Just pause for a moment please...yes, is the answer.”
Mr Greenwood agreed for a man of his “age and generation” it was difficult to show emotion.
He added: “Yes. I feel as if I should apologise but that’s the way it is.”
Mr Beggs continued: “In those fateful moments, one or two minutes past three, what you were experiencing was in truth, utterly horrifying?”
The witness replied: “Yes. Yes it was.”