A RETIRED superintendent who led the police response to the Hillsborough disaster faces accusations he misled football’s governing body over the cause of the crush by laying the blame on Liverpool fans.
Former South Yorkshire Police officer David Duckenfield is said to have told the Football Association that it was supporters who had forced open a gate to ‘break in’ to the ground in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.
A new inquest into the death of 96 victims crushed at the start of the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest on April 15, 1989 heard how the media then picked up on the claim.
It was hours later, during a press conference, when then-chief constable Peter Wright confirmed it was in fact police who had opened the gate.
Giving evidence Glen Kirton, the FA’s press officer at the game, said he went with Graham Kelly, then chief executive of the FA, to the police control box overlooking the terrace where he asked Mr Duckenfield what had happened.
Mr Kirton told the hearing: “Mr Duckenfield pointed to the monitors and said that there had been a break-in. I can’t recall specifically but that’s the phrase in my mind, ‘There had been a break-in.’”
A witness statement, made in 1989, was then read, where he said: “Chief Superintendent Duckenfield told us the gate had been forced and an in-rush of Liverpool supporters had caused casualties.
“He was not sure at that stage how many dead and injured there were.”
Mr Kirton said shortly after kick off he noticed from the directors’ box, Liverpool fans climbing the perimeter fence on the Leppings Lane terrace – and his first thought was crowd trouble.
But at 3.06pm play was stopped and Mr Kirton went down to the pitch.
“I spoke to John Smith, chairman of Liverpool FC, who told me there was probably fatalities,” he said.
Christina Lambert QC, counsel for the inquest, asked Mr Kirton if he heard any instructions from Mr Duckenfield in response to the emergency.
“I heard none,” Mr Kirton said.
Rajiv Menon QC, representing the families of 10 of the victims, said “not long after” Mr Kirton and Mr Kelly left the police control box, the Press, including BBC commentator John Motson, were reporting a gate had been broken into and fans forced their way in.
Mr Menon questioned where the press got the information from.
Mr Kirton said: “I did speak to John Motson the day after to check where he got that from. He said he couldn’t remember.”
The jury heard by 4.30pm BBC radio football pundit Alan Green was reporting he heard from Graham Mackrell, Sheffield Wednesday FC club secretary, that a surge of 500 Liverpool fans had forced a gate open that led to the crush.
Mr Menon asked the witness what he or Mr Kelly were telling the press in the hours up to the press conference.
Mr Kirton said: “I can’t remember specifically any information I gave to the press.
“I did not give a press conference, I was talking to journalists on an individual basis.”
Mr Menon said: “You were the FA press officer. You must have been talking to journalists. What were you telling them?”
Mr Kirton said: “I was telling them what I knew at that stage. I can’t recall anybody asking me, or me specifically replying that there had been a break-in.
“I can’t be certain I did not say anything about that.”
The hearing continues.