The Hillsborough disaster would not have happened if a senior match commander had not been replaced three weeks before, a jury heard yesterday.

A former club secretary at Sheffield Wednesday told the inquest into the deaths of 96 Liverpool supporters that he regarded experienced football policing officer chief superintendent Brian Mole as "the best" at his job.

Mr Mole, who is now deceased, was replaced with immediate affect following the promotion of chief superintendent David Duckenfield on March 27, 1989 - ahead of the fateful FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest on April 15.

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The jury has heard previously that Mr Duckenfield was given the responsibility, despite having a background in criminal investigations rather than public order.

Yesterday the court heard that Richard Chester, club secretary at Sheffield Wednesday between 1984 and 1986, had told detectives from Operation Resolve - the criminal investigation into the disaster - that he thought the tragedy would not have occurred if Mr Mole had stayed at the helm.

In response to a suggestion from John Beggs QC, representing Mr Duckenfield and two other match commanders, that Mr Mole was "exceptionally experienced" in football policing, Mr Chester said: "I had involvement with several senior police people throughout my time and I would rate him as the best."

Mr Mole had commanded the 1987 and 1988 FA Cup semi-finals staged at Hillsborough and had also been in charge of policing in "many league matches" at the ground, the court heard.

Mr Beggs asked Mr Chester, who was previously club secretary at Lincoln City and Sheffield United, what his view would be if a match command expert with direct experience of semi-final matches was removed a matter of weeks before the next big semi-final.

Mr Chester replied: "I would want the best people in the best position at all times." He added that Mr Mole had been "very concerned" with public safety.

The inquests continue.