THE fatal crush at Hillsborough happened after an exit gate was opened to alleviate crowds outside, the jury in the trial of match commander David Duckenfield has heard.

Opening the trial of Duckenfield and former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell at Preston Crown Court on Tuesday, Richard Matthews QC, prosecuting, said all of the 24,000 Liverpool fans due to attend the semi-final on April 15 1989 had been directed to the Leppings Lane end of the Sheffield Wednesday ground.

He said "almost inevitably" pressure to get through the limited turnstiles built up in the bottleneck outside the stadium ahead of the kick-off at 3pm.

An exit gate, known as Gate C, was opened to alleviate the crush outside the ground following requests for Duckenfield, then a South Yorkshire Police chief superintendent, to do something before people were crushed or injured outside.

Mr Matthews said: "He did not, at any time, cause the start of the match to be put back with a view to thereby avoiding any crush at the turnstiles."

The court heard that, once through the gate, fans were met with a sign which read "Standing" above the tunnel leading to pens three and four on Leppings Lane terrace - fenced enclosures which were already full.

Mr Matthews said: "At no time during, prior to or even after the opening of Gate C did David Duckenfield do anything to ensure that the capacity of those pens, which were beneath the police control box, were monitored; that the crowd were directed in any way into emptier pens; or that, most importantly, access to the tunnel was stopped or even inhibited to prevent the inevitable crush of fans effectively carried away down the slope of the tunnel.

"In short, once in and beyond Gate C, the crowd was naturally drawn down the slope of the tunnel and into the confined area of the central pens, and David Duckenfield gave no thought to the inevitable consequence of the flood of people through Gate C, nor did he make any attempt to even monitor what was occurring let alone avert the tragedy."

Duckenfield, 74, denies the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans at the FA Cup semi-final, while Mackrell, 69, denies contravening a condition of the stadium's safety certificate and failing to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety Act.