As the longest inquest in British law biography unfolded, a picture emerged of a callously careless police force led by an inexperienced captain whose wars directly led to the deaths of 96 people

It was a year into these investigations, and 26 years since David Duckenfield, as a South Yorkshire police chief superintendent, took bidding of the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, that he eventually, devastatingly, admitted his serious omissions directly caused the deaths of 96 people there.

Duckenfield had arrived at the converted courtroom in Warrington with marks of his former authority, but over seven airless, agonisingly tense daylights in the witness box last March, he was steadily worn down, surrendering slowly into a crumpled heap. From his concession that he had inadequate know-how to oversee the safety of 54,000 people, to finally countenancing responsibility for the deaths, Duckenfields admissions were shockingly complete.

David
David Duckenfield arrives to testify in March 2015. Photograph: Dave Thompson/ Getty Images

He also acknowledged at the investigations that even as the occurrence was descending into horror and extinction, he had infamously lied, telling Graham Kelly, then secretary of the Football Association, that Liverpool love were to blame, for gaining unauthorised enter through a large depart gate. Duckenfield had in fact himself told the gate to be opened, to relieve a crush in the bottleneck approach to the Leppings Lane turnstiles.

The chief constable, Peter Wright, had to state that evening that police had authorised the opening of the gate, but as these investigations, at two years the longest jury example in British biography, learn in voluminous detail, Duckenfields lie weathered. It set the template for the South Yorkshire police stance: to deny any mistakes, and instead to virulently project blame on to the people who had paid to attend a football match and been immersed into hell.