Hillsborough inquests: 'Lack of leadership' during disaster

Hillsborough Memorial The inquests will not finish until July of next year

A "lack of leadership" exacerbated problems as the Hillsborough disaster unfolded, a journalist covering the 1989 FA Cup match told the inquests.

David Walker, who was working for the Daily Mail, was giving evidence at the inquests into 96 deaths as a result of a crush at the semi-final in Sheffield.

Ch Insp David Beal who wrote the game's operational order also gave evidence.

He said it should have had an order to block the tunnel leading to central pens if they were full with hindsight.

Mr Walker, who was chief northern sports writer at the time, told the inquests he could see from the press box the side pens at the Leppings Lane end were not full prior to kick off and thought the start of the match would be delayed.

'Absolute chaos'

The match did go ahead but when it was stopped at 15:06 BST, he went on to the Sheffield Wednesday pitch to find out what had happened and then to help with casualties, the jury was told.

He said the issue that sticks with him to this day about the disaster "beyond the terrible tragedy of the 96 fans dying" was "the absolute chaos, the lack of leadership around me".

He told the jury he had been surprised to hear Liverpool fans, some without tickets, had been allowed in through an exit gate, to watch the game.

As the disaster unfolded a story, started by police, was leaked that Liverpool fans had "broken in" to the game by either forcing the door or picking the lock, "which they had not", Mr Walker said.

He said he spoke to between 12 and 20 fans who told him they had made it into the ground without tickets, he said.

"They were saying 'I didn't have a ticket but we got in there and we were trying to get in', that's when the comparison immediately struck me that in previous major Sheffield Wednesday games and also semi-finals, to my knowledge you wouldn't have got in to that Leppings Lane courtyard without a ticket," he explained.

He told the jury he had known exit gates to be opened at previous games but only when there was "enough space in the ground to safely allow them to enter".

On Wednesday, the jury heard from a South Yorkshire Police sergeant who had policed the Leppings Lane end at the 1988 semi-final.

'Officers at tunnel'

Sgt Howard Cable described how he and his officers blocked off the entrance to the tunnel and directed fans to the sides of the terrace.

The now retired Ch Insp Beal, who also wrote the operational order for the 1987 and 1988 FA Cup semi-finals at Hillsborough, said the use of this tactic had not been fed back to him at match debriefings before the 1989 match but said it "should have formed part of the operational order".

Asked why by Christina Lambert QC, counsel to the inquests, he said: 'Because then the officers on duty in that particular area would be alert to the fact they may be called upon to do it."

Ch Insp Beal said: "Were I drafting the order today, but under those circumstances, no change in the geography of the ground or the structures, there should be a dedicated serial (a group of police officers) there available to do just that precise thing on semi-final days."

The jury were told the inquests, originally scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, will not finish until July of next year.

The inquests at Birchwood Park, Warrington resumes on Monday.

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