Police reinforcements racing to the Hillsborough disaster - in which 96 Liverpool fans died - to stop ‘fighting on the pitch’ were told to ‘wipe the smiles off your faces because people are dying’, the inquest heard.
With ‘adrenaline pumping’ it was suggested officers were ‘looking forward’ to dealing with the pitch invaders as initially they thought they were being called to a public order incident, not a fatal crushing on the terraces.
Stephen Simblet, representing some of the families of the 96 people who died, questioned Richard Barnes, a police sergeant with South Yorkshire Police, but at the time of the 1989 disaster, a PC with less than two years’ service.
Sgt Barnes told the hearing he was on duty in Rotherham on the day of the disaster when they got the call for all available units across the force to be scrambled to the stadium.
They were told it was a ‘critical incident’ at Hillsborough of fighting on the pitch and left Rotherham for Hammerton Road Police Station near the stadium.
Mr Simblet suggested the officers would have ‘adrenaline pumping,’ expecting confrontation.
Sgt Barnes replied: “As we travelled in the van, yes: fight or flight.”
Mr Simblet continued: “It would appear that the impression was given by someone at Hammerton Road Police Station that some among you were looking forward to expecting some form of confrontation because somebody said words to the effect: ‘You had better wipe the smiles off your faces because people are dying’.”
Sgt Barnes replied: “Certainly not looking forward to confrontation, but obviously the reason we attended there was totally different to what we were informed.”
Previously the jury has heard match commander Chief Supt David Duckenfield ordered an exit gate at the ground to be opened shortly before kick-off of the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on April 15, 1989.
Supporters were still massed outside the ground at the Leppings Lane turnstiles with the central pens already filling up.
An estimated 2,000 fans came in when the gate was opened and a ‘significant number’ headed for the tunnel under the seated tier above, leading directly to the central pens of 3 and 4 behind the goal, where 96 fans were crushed to death.
Sgt Barnes said he worked at Hillsborough at the FA Cup semi-final the year before, also between the same two teams.
He said at the 1988 cup tie his unit was positioned at the tunnel when another officer came from the terraces reporting space was ‘very tight’ and ‘said something about struggling to breathe’.
The sergeant in charge of the unit then decided to stop more people entering by positioning his men across the tunnel entrance and directing fans to the other entrances further along the terrace.
The hearing, in Warrington, was adjourned until Monday morning.