The police match commander at Hillsborough prior to the 1989 disaster was transferred weeks before for "career development reasons" rather than from the fall-out of a "prank" by officers in which a trainee constable was stripped and subjected to a fake robbery, the inquests into the ­tragedy has heard.

Chief Superintendent Brian Mole was moved to the Barnsley Division of South Yorkshire Police on March 27, 1989 ahead of the fateful FA Cup semi-final on April 15 in which 96 Liverpool fans died, and was replaced by Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, who had little experience in the footballing role.

A former chief inspector told the hearing he did not believe Mr Mole's transfer was linked to an incident in October 1988 involving a number of officers at Hammerton Road police station.

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The court, sitting in Warrington, Cheshire, heard four officers were forced to resign and seven were disciplined after the "prank", during which a probationary constable had his trousers pulled down, was blindfolded, handcuffed and led to believe he was being threatened with a gun.

The officer's His ordeal was also photographed, the inquests heard.

Patrick Roche, representing some of the bereaved families, asked former chief inspector David Beal whether the now deceased Mr Mole was moved to Barnsley because of how the ­aftermath of the incident had been handled.

Mr Beal answered: "That's not my knowledge of it. I understood he was transferred for career development reasons."

Mr Roche said: "Certainly, for whatever reasons, it was somewhat surprising that he (Mr Mole) was transferred with immediate effect from March 27 - so during the period between the selection of the game and the match itself."

Mr Beal replied: "It was surprising to me, yes."

Mr Roche added: "Because Chief Supt Brian Mole was a highly experienced officer?"

"Absolutely," said Mr Beal.

The inquests continue.