Hillsborough match commander 'a fish out of water'

The Hillsborough disaster Ninety-six fans died as a result of the crush at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final

The newly-promoted match commander at Hillsborough was a "fish out of water" who did not provide "true leadership", inquests into the disaster have heard.

Former PC Trevor Bichard was on duty in the police control box on the day of the tragedy and worked closely with the commander, Ch Supt David Duckenfield.

He said former commander Ch Supt Brian Mole would have been alert to issues of an influx of people to the ground.

He was confident Mr Mole would have reacted "significantly differently".

Mr Mole was replaced by recently-promoted Ch Supt Duckenfield three weeks before the disaster.

The inquests in Warrington are looking into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans following a crush at the Liverpool v Nottingham Forest FA Cup semi-final at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough stadium on 15 April 1989.

Mr Bichard, one of five officers who were in the control box, is continuing to give evidence.

He told the jury on Monday no-one inside the box was monitoring the central pens where the crush took place.

There was a lack of organisation and control in the police box following a request to open exit gate C at the Leppings Lane end of the ground, he said.

He told the inquests it was up to Mr Duckenfield to regain that control.

'Shell-shocked'

Paul Greaney QC, representing the Police Federation, said: "The simple reality is that Mr Duckenfield was not a leader in that control room during that critical period, was he?"

"I don't feel he was," Mr Bichard said.

Asked if he believed Mr Duckenfield did not offer true leadership on the day of the disaster, Mr Bichard said: "In my opinion, yes."

Mr Greaney asked: "Once he [Mr Duckenfield] was there in that control room on that day, did he seem to be a fish out of water?"

"Indeed," Mr Bichard replied.

Police control box Retired PC Trevor Bichard was one of five officers who were in the police control box at the ground

On Tuesday the jury was shown a log by Mr Bichard in which he recorded that at 14:55 GMT he overheard the message on the police's personal radios.

His log noted: "From officers rear [sic] of Leppings Lane terrace 'shut the gates at the back of the tunnel'."

Mr Bichard said after reflecting overnight, he thought the note referred to shutting an exit gate, which had been opened to allow fans who had massed outside into the ground.

On Tuesday, the court heard it referred to gates across a tunnel that led to pens three and four on the Leppings Lane end.

Mr Bichard said: "When that was raised yesterday and I'm sure you could see from my reaction, I was rather shell shocked by it."

Exit gate C was opened on the orders of the police at 14:52 GMT that day.

It is estimated more than 2,000 fans went through it during the five minutes it was open.

Asked if Mr Mole would have allowed gate C to be opened "without making some contingency", Mr Bichard said the former commander would have "been down there and been on the ground".

He said he was "fairly confident" he "would have been alert" to the issue of a sudden influx of people into the ground.

'Bolts were bent'

On Tuesday, Fiona Barton QC, who represents South Yorkshire Police, showed Mr Bichard CCTV images of the crowd outside the Leppings Lane end which, it was claimed, showed an operation by mounted officers to close perimeter gates.

At 14:52, an exit gate C was opened followed by a sudden influx of fans and the fatal crush on the Leppings Lane terraces. Two minutes later, the CCTV showed the perimeter gates open.

Ms Barton asked: "Do you maintain your view that so far as you're concerned that the crowd outside forced its way through the outer gates?"

Mr Bichard replied: "That's what it appears to be on there, yes."

The jury also saw photographs taken after the disaster showing bolts used to close the gates were bent. The inquests continue.

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