I should have delayed Hillsborough kick-off admits top officer

A SENIOR officer who was in charge of policing Liverpool supporters outside Hillsborough football stadium on the day of the 1989 disaster has said he had “profound regrets” that he did not ask for the match kick-off to be delayed.

An ambulance on the pitch at the fateful match
An ambulance on the pitch at the fateful match

Former Superintendent Roger Marshall made several radio requests for three exit gates to be opened as congestion built up outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles shortly ahead of the kick-off and is said to have said somebody would be killed if the gates weren’t opened.

He told the inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool supporters that asking for the 3pm kick-off to be put back was an option open to him. Speaking at the hearing in Warrington yesterday, he said: “I could certainly have requested a delay of kick-off. I can tell you that it was one of the most profound regrets of my experience at Leppings Lane on the 15th of April that I did not do so.”

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Christina Lambert QC, counsel for the inquests in Warrington, asked him: “In what circumstances do you understand you could request a delay in kick-off?”

Mr Marshall, the most senior South Yorkshire Police officer outside the ground on the day, replied: “[Match commander David Duckenfield’s] policy was that if there had been fog on the Pennines or there had been a serious accident on the motorway which would have resulted in very, very large numbers of people being delayed, then for that reason kick-off would be delayed.

“I think it would have been possible for me to seek a delay in the kick-off given the numbers that were besieging the turnstiles.”

Exit Gate C was opened at 2.52pm on the orders of Mr Duckenfield, with the jury hearing that an estimated 2,000 Liverpool fans came through and “a significant number” headed for a central tunnel leading to the terraces directly behind the goal.

The inquest has heard evidence that the central tunnel was unmanned by police or stewards, with no one directing supporters to the flanking tunnels, and that pens three and four were the scene of the fatal crush at the match between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool.

The barrister asked if he considered upon reflection that he had made mistakes as fans began to gather in increasing numbers outside the ground, before he climbed up the parapet of the bridge over the River Don at 2.40pm and got a “really good view of the area” for the first time.

Mr Marshall replied: “Of course I made mistakes. I was in the present. I could not see into the future. I was doing my absolute utmost and very best to manage an increasingly deteriorating situation and as time progressed what options had I got left?” He added: “As time progressed I am sorry to say that the co-operation (of the fans) was not evident. Neither was self discipline. Neither was self control. Neither was a mutual respect for anybody else and these are the sorts of things we value in this country.”

The inquests began at Birchwood Park, Warrington, on March 31 and are due to conclude next July. Mr Marshall’s evidence is expected to last two days.