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Courtesy of Press Association - September 30

A senior officer who was in charge of policing Liverpool fans outside Hillsborough football stadium on the day of the 1989 disaster has said he had "profound regrets" that he did not ask for the match kick-off to be delayed.

Former superintendent Roger Marshall made several radio requests for three exit gates to be opened as congestion built up outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles shortly ahead of the kick-off and is said to have said somebody would be "killed if the gates weren't opened".

Today, he told the inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool supporters that asking for the 3pm kick-off to be put back was an option open to him.

He said: "I could certainly have requested a delay of kick-off.

"I can tell you that it was one of the most profound regrets of my experience at Leppings Lane on the 15th of April that I did not do so."

Christina Lambert QC, counsel for the inquests in Warrington, asked him: "In what circumstances do you understand you could request a delay in kick-off?"

Mr Marshall replied: "Mr Duckenfield's (match commander David Duckenfield) policy was that if there had been fog on the Pennines or there had been a serious accident on the motorway which would have resulted in very, very large numbers of people being delayed, then for that reason kick-off would be delayed.

"I think it would have been possible for me to seek a delay in the kick-off given the numbers that were besieging the turnstiles."

Exit Gate C was opened at 2.52pm on the orders of Mr Duckenfield, with the jury hearing that an estimated 2,000 Liverpool fans came through and "a significant number" headed for a central tunnel leading to the terraces of pens three and four behind the goal.

The inquest has heard evidence that the central tunnel was unmanned by police or stewards, with no one directing supporters to the flanking tunnels, and that pens three and four were the scene of the fatal crush at the match between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool.

In a timeline of events presented to the jury of seven women and four men at the beginning of the inquests, Mr Marshall asked for the road near Leppings Lane, Sheffield, to be closed to traffic at 2.17pm, which it was at 2.30pm.

At 2.40pm Mr Marshall climbed on to the parapet of a nearby bridge over the River Don to get a better view of the scene. A large crowd had built up in the area immediately outside the turnstiles.

Two minutes later he called up reinforcements and asked for a Land Rover with a portable public address system to broadcast a request to stop pushing. The crowd remained tightly packed.

At 2.47pm Mr Marshall radioed the police control room and asked for permission to open the exit gates A, B and C to permit people to come in to ease the pressure and prevent injury. Mr Marshall made a second request for the gates to be opened. He repeated his request a third time, saying that somebody would be "killed if the gates weren't opened".

The Hillsborough inquests began at Birchwood Park, Warrington, on March 31 and are due to conclude next July.

The evidence of Mr Marshall, who was the most senior officer outside the ground on the day, is expected to last two days.

Working through the events of the day, Mr Marshall said he had patrolled the area around the stadium for more than two hours before returning to the Leppings Lane area from 2pm.

Miss Lambert asked him what he observed of the behaviour of fans during his patrol.

He said: "It was a lovely day, The atmosphere was carnival. A tremendous amount of drinking going on here, there and everywhere.

"Lots of people milling around, just as you would expect on a semi-final day."

Asked if he had expected to see the level of drinking he described, Mr Marshall said: "In certain areas I was a little bit saddened really that people had to drink so much so early in the day to come to a football match. I mean this was sort of half-past 11ish. I encountered people walking around with four-packs of lager and bottles of cider."

But the retired superintendent agreed that there was nothing during his patrol which caused him particular concern or he thought might lead to problems.

Back at Leppings Lane he said he was "surprised" to see some fans walking past the turnstiles rather than going into the ground.

He added that during his time on duty he had roughly estimated that between 200 and 250 people had been asking for spare tickets.

Mr Marshall said there was a "steady flow" of people going into the ground and by 2.15pm he had no concerns at that stage.

Miss Lambert asked: "Were you aware there was a club system whereby those in the club office can pretty quickly indicate how many fans were yet to go through the turnstiles?"

He said: "I don't think I was aware of that. Not until after the disaster. I'm not sure about that."

Miss Lambert continued: "If you had been aware at 2.15pm that actually there was about 6,900 fans yet to go through turnstiles A to G for taking up their position on the terraces, would you have been concerned?"

Mr Marshall said: "I think it probably would have rung an alarm bell, yes."

CCTV footage of the area in front of turnstiles A to G at 2.15pm was played to the court, and Mr Marshall was asked about his opinion on the degree of congestion.

He said: "I think there is still a lot of people in there, obviously, but there still a reasonable amount of free movement of people."

Miss Lambert said: "It may be suggested to you by others, Mr Marshall, that what we see here is representative of a fairly solid congestion of people in front of those turnstiles. Would you agree with that?"

Mr Marshall said: "Not necessarily. It's busy but before the camera ... before the film actually stopped you see people moving around reasonably freely. I mean at that stage you cannot see anybody actually pushing and shoving.

"There is free movement to the left. There is a line of police officers controlling things on the left. There are metal barriers out in the roadway. It is what I would have expected on a semi-final day."

Miss Lambert said: "Do you think it would have been appropriate at that point to have taken steps to manage the crowd?"

The witness said: "Well, that's a difficult question. Because, with hindsight, looking at the film I think that's quite a reasonable suggestion but at that time I was on foot in the crowd."

Miss Lambert asked him if it would have been helpful for him to instructed officers, mounted or on foot, to create some sort of barrier to prevent fans coming down Leppings Lane to join the back of the crowd.

Mr Marshall said that came down to "the key question of resources" as he had the use of 10 men, one sergeant, one inspector and mounted officers, but at that time did not have a full complement of mounted officers.

He did have access to reserve officers but his opinion was that it would have been "difficult" to form a cordon at that time, he said.

He added: "While the film does give a graphic indication, it does not reflect the mood of people."

The barrister asked him why he did not think of taking up an elevated position at the time to view the crowd.

Mr Marshall replied: "That, again, is entirely hindsight. At the time I was in the middle of the crowd. I was concerned about people spilling on to the roadway. I didn't want anybody to get knocked over."

His request to close Leppings Lane traffic was logged on police calls at 2.17pm, the jury heard.

Miss Lambert went on: "Did you recognise at that stage that control of the crowd up to 2.30 would or might be lost if steps were not taken to manage the crowd?"

"No," he said.

Miss Lambert asked: "Being aware, as you were, that you did not have access to the club data at 2.30pm, if you had known that there were 5,700 fans yet to enter via seven turnstiles, would you have been concerned?"

Mr Marshall replied: "Yes, I think I would."

Mr Marshall was next shown aerial video footage outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles timed at 2.30pm in which he agreed it was congested, including the area beyond the perimeter gates, with many fans yet to arrive.

Miss Lambert asked him again if he would have been assisted by taking up an elevated view at this point.

Mr Marshall agreed he would but he did not think about it at the time.

Miss Lambert asked: "Are you able to assist us as to why not?"

He replied: "Just didn't think about it."

He also agreed that by doing so he could have then called for extra help to stem the tide of people of going into the area in front of the turnstiles.

But Mr Marshall added: "Again we are in the area of hindsight, aren't we? We know what should have happened and what did happen of course. Two different things."

He said he was aware that the build-up of the crowd grew progressively from 2.30pm and he said he asked the crowd to stop pushing from 2.35pm onwards.

Mr Marshall said it was people joining the back who were pushing.

He said: "I was very concerned because there were young people among this. Lots of decent people were there as well.

"It was becoming an extremely worrying situation. The situation was becoming unmanageable, if I'm honest."

At that point he went into the middle of the crowd.

"I was waving my arms about, gesticulating," he said.

He said he did not give any instructions to any officers and did not believe they would have heard him.

"You could not hear yourself speak in there," he said.

Miss Lambert said: "What were you trying to achieve?"

Mr Marshall replied: "Trying to stop people pushing."

Again looking at aerial footage from that moment in time, he was asked to compare that view to the one he perceived.

He said: "I mean a picture tells a thousand words and that tells it all right, yep.

"You can see the mounted men. They are doing their best aren't they but people are diving past them.

"The perception I got at that time was that we were virtually in the middle of a battle that we were not going to win.

"Nobody is using any self-restraint whatsoever. "

At 2.40pm Mr Marshall climbed on to the parapet of the bridge over the River Don and said it was the first time he got "a really good view" of the area.

Miss Lambert said: "Was this the time you became really anxious?"

He said: "The congestion. The fact that people were shoving and pushing. They did not need to do so but they did."

The barrister asked him if he thought at that point the fans were going to get inside the stadium in time for kick off.

He said: "Surprisingly no. They had no chance but at the time I thought possibly they could get in."

By 2.46pm the jury heard that Mr Marshall had previously described this period as "absolute bedlam".

Mr Marshall said he did not accept he had mistaken his description of fans pushing and shoving for involuntary surges in the crowd.

He repeated that it was "a battle which we could not possibly win".

He said: "We just did not have the numbers of police officers. Neither did we have the co-operation of fans at that stage at all."

Mr Marshall said he thought "some of the fans were determined to enter the stadium come what may" - not all, he said, but "a substantial minority".

He recalled a colleague outside the turnstiles urging him to open the exit gates but he was initially reluctant.

He explained: "Here we have got a very, very substantial minority under the influence of drink, pushing and shoving without any sort of mutual respect for anybody else, without any self discipline and really determined to get into the stadium.

"I thought that well if we open the gates this substantial minority is going to end up inside the stadium ... causing a public order issue. Some of them may not have had tickets, I don't know. An indeterminate number would not have had tickets. Certainly a minority of them had far too much to drink.

"Close behind that was the absolute imperative of doing something about the situation outside because it was plain to me that unless I did something about it, people would be killed."

Miss Lambert said to him was it not likely that the majority of those fans going through Gate C would go through the central tunnel.

Mr Marshall replied: "I have to say sadly that it did not occur to me at that time. I mean, again, one of the great regrets is that I did not wire control and say 'look we need a reception committee inside for this lot'.

He said he thought he made four attempts from 2.47pm to contact the police control box over the radio up until 2.52pm when exit Gate C was finally opened.

He said he did not specify which of three exit gates to open and his intention was that all three should be opened.

Shortly after 3pm he heard a radio message which alerted officers of a major problem inside the stadium.

He said: "I think initially it was thought to be a pitch invasion or certainly a public order problem of some description."

He said he sent 30 officers through Gate C and told an inspector not to let any more fans inside.

Mr Marshall said he appreciated that something terrible had happened shortly after.

"When I went through into the concourse and realised the awfulness of what had happened, I was on autopilot. Because I linked the awful events on the terraces directly with my opening of the gates and I was really ... I really had to dig deep to bring any sort of shall we say leadership to that situation."

Miss Lambert asked: "You felt a strong sense of responsibility?

He replied: "I certainly did, yes."

He said he then went to assist other officers in dealing with casualties.

Mr Marshall said: "I mean if it is any comfort to the relatives, the police officers did their absolute best to try to revive people. They tried to look after them in a dignified manner. If they had been any chance whatsoever of reviving those people, we would have done it."

He accepted that those in the police control box inside the ground at the Leppings Lane would have made a decision to block off the central tunnel which led to the central pens and that they could have instructed officers policing the inner concourse area to do so.

He said: "It would have been very good to have done that, absolutely yes."

Miss Lambert asked: "Do you think that should have happened?"

He said: "I don't criticise the control room staff. They were doing their best I feel in extremely difficult circumstances."

The barrister asked if he considered upon reflection that he had mistakes before he climbed up the parapet of the bridge.

Mr Marshall replied: "Of course I made mistakes. I was in the present. I could not see into the future.

"I was doing my absolute utmost and very best to manage an increasingly deteriorating situation and as time progressed what options had I got left?"

He added: "As time progressed I am sorry to say that the co-operation (of the fans) was not evident. Neither was self discipline. Neither was self control. Neither was a mutual respect for anybody else and these are the sorts of things we value in this country."

Miss Lambert asked: "Do you think you could have and should have done more?"

Mr Marshall replied: "I think you can always say you could do more ... I was in an unprecedented situation there. I was doing my absolute best. I was not standing around with my hands in my pockets.

"Disasters don't happen in my view because of one individual or a group of individuals have not done their best. Disasters happen because lots and lots of different factors all come together just at their own time and this is what we got sadly."