Po­lice chief who never stepped up to give ev­i­dence

Scottish Daily Mail - - The Brexmas Election - By Liz Hull

IT took David Duck­en­field the best part of three decades to apol­o­gise for his role in the Hills­bor­ough dis­as­ter and the dis­grace­ful lies that fol­lowed. The re­tired chief su­per­in­ten­dent had been or­dered to give ev­i­dence to fresh in­quest hear­ings in March 2015 and claimed it had taken him 26 years to face the truth – and even then only with the help of doc­tors.

His lawyers told his trial that Duck­en­field had been di­ag­nosed with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der soon after the crush that killed 96 fans and could not give ev­i­dence be­cause he would make an un­re­li­able wit­ness. They said he had been tak­ing anti-de­pres­sants for 27 years, suf­fered night­mares, high blood pressure and self­med­i­cated with whiskey to cope with flash­backs. He was said to suf­fer de­pres­sion and mem­ory lapses.

One ex­pert told the court he would likely feel ‘re-trau­ma­tised’ if forced to an­swer ques­tions about the dis­as­ter again.

But when giv­ing ev­i­dence to the in­quests in 2015, Duck­en­field ad­mit­ted he lied about fans forc­ing open an exit gate to en­ter the ground and added: ‘I apol­o­gise un­re­servedly to the fam­i­lies.’ Duck­en­field, the court heard, told the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion that fans had gained en­try by forc­ing open a gate. In fact, he had given the or­der to open the gate him­self.

Duck­en­field, the son of a steel­works fore­man, joined the South york­shire force in Sh­effield, his home town, from gram­mar school at 16.

Within five years was the youngest de­tec­tive ever re­cruited into CID.

By the age of 30, he was an in­spec­tor. At the time of the dis­as­ter, Duck­en­field, 44, was a chief su­per­in­ten­dent.

Al­though he had never com­manded a match at Hills­bor­ough be­fore, he had po­liced ma­jor games there and was on duty for the 1981 FA Cup semi-fi­nal when 38 sup­port­ers were in­jured in a crush.

Duck­en­field had also looked after other large crowd events, in­clud­ing a Bruce Spring­steen con­cert and a rally by US evan­ge­list Billy Gra­ham. So when match com­man­der Chief Su­per­in­ten­dent Brian Mole was moved side­ways for dis­ci­plinary rea­sons, Duck­en­field was the nat­u­ral choice to take over.

His ap­point­ment was un­pop­u­lar among the rank and file, who viewed him as a bully and sus­pected his mem­ber­ship of the Freema­sons had in­flu­enced his pro­mo­tion. Duck­en­field ad­mit­ted he was a ‘dis­ci­plinar­ian’ and of­fi­cers in the sec­tion he took over from Mole, claimed he told them their unit was a dis­grace, that they were ‘use­less, no good’ and ‘it was go­ing to be his way’ and no other.

The sec­ond in­quest had heard how Duck­en­field briefed his of­fi­cers at 10am on the morn­ing of the semi-fi­nal, telling con­sta­bles on the perime­ter track that un­der no cir­cum­stances should they open the gates to the ‘pens’ – fenced off sec­tions of ter­rac­ing be­hind the goal – with­out per­mis­sion from a se­nior of­fi­cer.

By 2.45pm, thou­sands of Liver­pool fans were still try­ing to get into the ground and pressure was grow­ing out­side the turn­stiles. But Duck­en­field failed to de­lay the kick-off. His bar­ris­ter told the trial he even­tu­ally ac­ceded to re­quests to open the gates to save lives.

‘It is ar­guably one of the big­gest re­grets of my life,’ Duck­en­field told the in­quest jury. He said he ‘froze’ rather than take charge of the ter­ri­ble tragedy as it un­folded. His first thought was to call for po­lice dogs and more man­power, in­stead of re­quest­ing am­bu­lances.

Duck­en­field was suspended on full pay four months after the dis­as­ter. He re­tired two years later on ill health grounds on an in­dex-linked pen­sion re­port­edly worth £23,000-a-year, which meant he avoided any dis­ci­plinary in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the then Po­lice Com­plaints Au­thor­ity.

He and his wife Ann, 76, who ac­com­pa­nied him ev­ery day of the trial, had moved to a £425,000 de­tached home, 230 miles from Sh­effield, in Fern­down, Dorset.

There, Duck­en­field kept a low pro­file for the best part of 15 years, play­ing golf and avoid­ing re­porters who oc­ca­sion­ally vis­ited to ask for com­ment as the cam­paign for jus­tice gath­ered mo­men­tum with the pub­li­ca­tion of the In­de­pen­dent Panel’s 2012 re­port and sub­se­quent

quash­ing of the orig­i­nal in­quests. The Duck­en­fields, who have two grown-up daugh­ters have, in their own way, have served a kind of sen­tence. That is of lit­tle com­fort to the fam­i­lies of the 96. Three other men – for­mer Chief Su­per­in­ten­dent Don­ald Den­ton, 80, for­mer De­tec­tive Chief In­spec­tor Alan Foster, 71, and re­tired solic­i­tor Peter Met­calf, 68, who acted for South York­shire po­lice – are due to stand trial in April charged with per­vert­ing the course of jus­tice in re­la­tion to the al­leged po­lice cover-up fol­low­ing the tragedy.

Day of tragedy: Fans are lifted out of the crush at the Lep­pings Lane terrace

Si­lence: David Duck­en­field at court this week. In­set In 1989

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