Duckenfield had opportunity to change Hillsborough match plans, court told

Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield was not involved in plans for the FA Cup semi-final but “had the opportunity” to change them, his trial has heard.

Former South Yorkshire Police inspector Stephen Sewell told Preston Crown Court on Thursday that the operational order which set out the plans for the match, where a crush on the terraces killed 96 Liverpool supporters, was prepared before Duckenfield  took up the role of divisional commander.

The court heard the former chief superintendent had taken on the new role on March 27 1989, just weeks before he would take charge of the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on April 15, 1989.

Mr Sewell said the operational order was largely based on the plans from the previous year’s semi-final and was put together by Duckenfield’s predecessor, Brian Mole, and other senior officers.

Asked if Duckenfield, 75, made any significant changes to the order once he took on the role, Mr Sewell said: “No. Mr Duckenfield would have had the opportunity to alter anything if he wished.”

He added: “Mr Duckenfield signed it so he must have read it.”

The court heard there was a reduction in police manpower compared with 1988 and there were no specific instructions in the order for monitoring the number of fans in pens on the terrace, manning the exit gates to the ground or for contingency plans for supporters arriving late in large numbers.

The jury of eight women and four men also heard from Edward Higgins, a sergeant who had been duty on the Leppings Lane turnstiles at the day.

The court has been told that Duckenfield gave an order to open exit gates to the ground after crowds built up outside.

Liverpool supporters who entered through exit gate C once it was opened then went down a tunnel to the already full central pens of the Leppings Lane terrace, where the fatal crush happened.

Mr Higgins, who was deployed to the turnstiles at about 2.45pm on the day, said fans complained of being crushed outside as they entered the ground.

He said: “They were carrying the youngsters over the top (of the turnstiles) to get them in quickly and safely.

“There was a lady in a red dress that was complaining that somebody would get killed outside.

“They were getting crushed and she had a real go, saying something should be done.”

Mr Higgins said he asked for exit gate A be opened and ordered officers to form cordons, through which fans would pass as they entered.

He said: “It was to stop the fans from rushing in and so they couldn’t get into the west terrace.”

Mr Higgins told the court that supporters were “relieved” to get inside the stadium.

He said: “A lot of them were waving tickets in the air just to show us they were proper, bona fide ticket-holders.”

Duckenfield, who sat in the well of the court, denies the manslaughter by gross negligence of 95 Liverpool supporters who died in the crush.

Under the law at the time there can be no prosecution for the death of the 96th victim, Anthony Bland, as he died more than a year and a day after his injuries were caused.

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