THE top police officer at the Hillsborough disaster told football chiefs Liverpool fans forced open a gate to “break in” to the ground, the inquest has heard.
Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield of South Yorkshire Police, claimed there followed an “in- rush” of spectators which had caused the casualties during the disaster.
Reports of fans breaking in and causing the fatal crush were then carried by the media, until hours later when police confirmed they had themselves in fact opened the gate, the inquest jury heard.
Ninety six Liverpool fans were crushed to death at the start of the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest on April 15, 1989.
The fans died after an entry and exit gate, gate C, was opened at 2.52pm on the orders of Mr Duckenfield, the match commander on the day, allowing an estimated 2,000 supporters 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 already packed central pens behind the goal where fans were crushed.
Glen Kirton, the Football Association’s (FA) head of external affairs and press officer at the game, told the inquest football in the 70s and 80s was “riddled with hooliganism” and the FA was “preoccupied” with the problem.
He 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.
He went with Graham Kelly, then chief executive of the FA, to the police control box, overlooking the terrace, asking Mr Duckenfield, “What’s happened?”
Mr Kirton continued: “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.’”
The witnesses’ 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 he looked down on the pitch and the scene was “chaotic” with fans carrying dead or injured fans on advertising hoardings.
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 6.45pm that night when, at a bad tempered press conference, Peter Wright, chief constable of South Yorkshire Police, confirmed police had opened the gate.
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 continued: “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.
“I have answered as straightforwardly as I can.”
At the press conference later Mr Menon said the police chief Mr Wright had been subjected to aggressive questioning by journalists after he revealed police, not fans, opened the gate, “because for the previous three hours this entirely different, false narrative had been peddled to the Press,” he added.