Hillsborough inquest: Countdown to tragedy as police delayed opening gates

Lord Justice Goldring
Lord Justice Goldring
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THE jury in the new inquests into the Hillsborough disaster were today told of the fatal crush that built up in and around the terraces in the minutes before 96 Liverpool fans were killed at Sheffield Wednesday’s stadium.

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Jenni Hicks arrives at Birchwood Park, Warrington, Cheshire for the opening of the inquest into the Hillsborough disaster.

Jenni Hicks arrives at Birchwood Park, Warrington, Cheshire for the opening of the inquest into the Hillsborough disaster.

Coroner Lord Justice Goldring gave the seven women and four men of the jury at the hearing in Warrington a minute-by-minute summary of the events of April 15,1989, before supporters were crushed to death on the terraces of the ground’s Leppings Lane end.

And he told them they would want to consider whether senior police officers and other emergency services staff could have dealt with the events of the day differently.

In his account of the build-up to the tragedy, Lord Justice Goldring said police became increasingly concerned as large crowds built up in the streets outside the Leppings Lane end in the minutes before kick-off.

He said Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, match commander for the day, delayed before agreeing to open the gates into the ground despite being asked three times by one his junior officers.

Trevor Hicks, arrives at Birchwood Park, Warrington, Cheshire for the opening of the inquest into the Hillsborough disaster.

Trevor Hicks, arrives at Birchwood Park, Warrington, Cheshire for the opening of the inquest into the Hillsborough disaster.

The coroner said: “You will hear very different accounts of the behaviour and nature of the supporters outside the turnstiles.

“Some officers describe them as pushing forward with a disregard for the safety of those in front. Some say those arriving in the later stages were more aggressive in pushing forward and some put this down to drink.

“By contrast, many of the fans describe a group of supporters who were keen to get into the match and found themselves in an intolerable crush.

“You will hear a range of accounts and form your own views, you will also have to consider whether such problems as were found there should have been foreseen by the police and others in their planning for the match.

“When the order was given to open the gates no instruction was given to anybody about managing the crowd which was likely to enter.”

He said the jury would “no doubt” consider the actions of the police officers in the control room in ordering the gates to be opened and whether pens three and four, where the crush occurred, were already crowded.

He said two gates leading from the terrace onto the pitch were opened asfans tried to escape the crush, but that those in the police control room did not realise why this had happened.

The coroner said: “They, as did others, appear to have thought that they were seeing a deliberate pitch invasion by Liverpool fans. You may have to consider how and why they formed that view and did not realise what was going on.”

The jury was told they “may want to consider” whether Mr Duckenfield should have been promoted to his role in overall charge of the fateful FA Cup Semi-final.

Lord Justice Goldring drew the attention of the jury to several issues he said the seven women and four men of the jury may want to look at during the year-long hearing being held in Warrington into the death of 96 Liverpool fans in 1989.

Other issues he mentioned were whether it was right to remove part of a crush barrier in the Leppings Lane terrace three years before the tragedy and whether police should have regarded their methods at a match at Hillsborough a year earlier as a success despite fans reporting being crushed.

Outlining the background to the disaster, Lord Justice Goldring said there 1,100 police officers policing the ground on April 15, 1989, representing 38 per cent of South Yorkshire Police’s manpower.

The number of officers was 19 per cent down on a match the previous April

between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the same ground, but the coroner said it was “still very substantial”.

He said: “The police operation was under the control of Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, senior officer of F Division. He was an experienced officer with a background mainly in criminal investigations.

“Although he had done some football match policing as a superintendent that was not at Hillsborough and he had not commanded a match at this ground before his promotion.

“He certainly did not have the wealth of experience of his immediate predecessor, Chief Superintendent Brian Mole.

“On March 27, Chief Superintendent Duckenfield was promoted, it was decided with that promotion that he should immediately replace Mole as the officer in charge of policing matches at Hillsborough.

“Whether that was a sensible decision may be something for you to consider.”

Speaking about policing on the day, the coroner said senior officers were “very concerned with keeping the [Nottingham Forest and Liverpool] fans apart, this was in response to concern about public order and hooliganism.”

He said: “It may be said by some that this was a reasonable concern given the extent of fears surrounding hooliganism at the time. It may be said by others that police planning was too focused on problems of disorder and insufficiently focused on issues of crowd safety.”

Earlier, the jury members were told they could make sure the memory of the victims would be “properly respected” by finding the truth about what happened.

Opening the inquest, Lord Justice Goldring told the jury of 11 that their job was to “reach the truth in a public forum and to reach conclusions on the basis of the evidence presented”.

Speaking in front of hundreds of the victims’ family members in a specially fitted office building, the coroner warned jury members to keep an open mind about the evidence during the year-long hearing.

Britain’s worst sporting disaster happened on April 15 1989 during Liverpool’s FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest as thousands of fans were crushed on the ground’s Leppings Lane terrace.

Verdicts of accidental death from the original Hillsborough inquest in March 1991 were quashed in December 2012, after the Hillsborough Independent Panel delivered its final report on the disaster earlier that year.

Lord Justice Goldring said: “We are conducting a new, fresh inquest. In doing so we are not concerned with whether what was decided at the previous inquest was right or wrong.

“As Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, explained, there were significant lines of inquiry which remain to be pursued.

“As he put it, the interests of justice must be served. Within the limits of the coronial system the facts must be investigated and re-analysed in a fresh inquest. However distressing or unpalatable, the truth will be brought to light.

“In this way the families of those who died in the disaster will be vindicated and the memory of each victim will be properly respected.

“That is now your task, ladies and gentlemen. To investigate the facts, reach the truth in a public forum and to reach conclusions on the basis of the evidence presented.”

He said the inquest was not concerned with attributing civil liability or awarding compensation, but said it could make sure “culpable and discreditable conduct is exposed and brought to public notice”, that “the suspicion of wrongdoing, if unjusitified, is allayed” and that “dangerous practices and procedures are rectified”.

He said he hoped “those who lost a relative may at least have the satisfaction of knowing that lessons learned from these deaths may save the lives of others.”

He added: “As part of your task you will have to consider the underlying circumstances that contributed to the cause of these deaths, whether opportunities would or would not have prevented these deaths or saved lives.”

He said the jury could not decide on civil liability but could “reach significant or critical judgements about the circumstances in which these deaths occurred, where that is appropriate”.

The coroner said: “It is important you approach this inquest hearing with an open mind, you must not approach it with a pre-formed case or argument. Keep an open mind as the hearing proceeds.”

Talking about the day itself, Lord Justice Goldring said the disaster, in which 96 men, women and children died, was “seared onto the memory of the very many people affected by it, most notably the families of the 96 who died”.

He said: “We as a jury and I as the coroner will, in our different ways investigate the deaths of the 96. We shall investigate the 96 as a whole, we should consider the deaths of each one of these 96 individuals. That is something we must never lose sight of.”

As they were sworn in, the 11 members of the jury pledged to “diligently inquire on behalf of our sovereign lady, the Queen, into the deaths of each of the 96 persons who died as a result of the Hillsborough stadium disaster and for each give a true determination and finding according to the evidence.”

Earlier in the morning, counsel to the inquest Christina Lambert QC read out the names of the Liverpool fans who died to complete silence in court.

As they were yesterday, today’s proceedings are being shown in an annex in the court building, as well as in a private room for relatives in Liverpool.

The inquest site in Birchwood Business Park is a specially fitted office block that includes a 4,300 square foot courtroom with seating for 286 members of the public and 92 advocates.

After the coroner has opened the case, a series of “pen portraits” of all the victims will be presented to the court over the next month.

Latest tweets from Yorkshire Post Crime Correspondent Rob Parsons, at the inquest (@RobParsonsYP)

4pm Coroner now taking jury through the aftermath of the #Hillsborough disaster, as worried relatives and friends of victims waited for news.

3.50 Hillsborough coroner said Duckenfield statement led to inaccurate reports. “You will want to consider why he said what he did.”

3.45 Hillsborough. Duckenfield said shortly afterwards that Gate C had been forced, but it was him who ordered it to be opened, coroner says.

3.40 Hillsborough jury ‘may well need to consider’ whether ambulance staff should have cleared an area of the pitch as the crisis unfolded.

3.35 Among them is why senior police thought fans escaping the fatally crowded terrace were starting a deliberate pitch invasion.

3.05pm “Marshall repeated his request a third time, saying someone would be killed if the gates weren’t opened”.

3pm “Marshall repeated his request a third time, saying someone would be killed if the gates weren’t opened”.

2.58pm Jury told how police Supt Marshall made two requests by radio for Leppings Lane gates to be opened as crowds built up at Hillsborough.

2.55 Hillsborough coroner taking jury through events leading up to tragedy, as crowds built up outside Leppings Lane terrace on

2.40 Monitoring Hillsborough on the day were 5 police point and tilt cameras, 19 SWFC fixed cameras and other BBC cameras.

2.30 Fans entering the turnstiles at Hillsborough were counted, but not which fans went into which pens and whether pens were at max capacity

2.28 Hillsborough coroner says there was no way for police to know for sure how many fans were in the two central Leppings Lane pens on the day

2.15 Inquest jury now seeing a diagram of how fans would go through the turnstiles and enter different pens at Hillsborough stadium

12.55 Hillsborough police may be said to have been too focused on disorder and not enough on crowd safety, coroner says.

12.50 Jury will have to consider whether Chf Supt David Duckenfield should have been promoted so quickly to match commander at Hillsborough

12.45 Hillsborough jury told of crushing at stadium in match a year earlier, though senior police regarded the match as a success.

12.40 Part of a crush barrier was removed at Hillsborough in 1986, jury will consider what impact this had elsewhere in the stand

21.30 Hillsborough expert evidence will show capacity figure for Leppings Lane West terrace was “susbstantially too high” jury hears.