SPAIN’S former interior minister, who was in charge of law enforcement at the time of the Catalan independence referendum, has denied giving the order to sending in the National Police and Civil Guard to stop the poll – a move that left 1000 civilians injured.

Juan Ignacio Zoido was giving evidence at the trial of 12 pro-independence leaders on trial for rebellion in Madrid for their role in the October 2017 vote. His remarks came after former prime minister Mariano Rajoy claimed on Wednesday that no referendum had taken place.

Zoido pinned the blame for deploying 6000 officers to Catalonia on Diego Pérez de los Cobos, who was coordinating law enforcement agencies at the time. He was asked by lawyer Xavier Melero, representing former Catalan interior minister Joaquim Forn: “[To] send 6000 men to more than 2000 voting points, was not it to send them to the slaughterhouse?”

Zoido blamed the Catalan police – Mossos d’Esquadra – saying they had not complied with judicial orders to stop the vote. He added: “It was ... impossible after what I had organised and there were some real human shields that prevented access. In many schools there was an active and organised resistance to prevent the security forces from fulfilling their responsibility.”

Zoido went on to defend the number of reinforcements sent to halt the vote as “proportionate”, given a sizeable protest the previous month when police raided public offices for evidence that officials had been organising the referendum. Earlier, Ada Colau, the mayor of Catalan capital Barcelona, responded to questions from Javier Ortega Smith, lawyer for the far-right party Vox, with some unease.

“I need to transfer to the court my deep discomfort in having to respond to an extreme right group that threatens fundamental rights,” she said.

Colau said the September protest outside the economy ministry was “passive and peaceful”. “The situation was worrying and there was a great social alarm,” she said. “There was the feeling, to summarise in some way, of a state of emergency. Remember that the events of September 20 were not isolated, but in a context where abnormal things were happening that we had not seen before.

“For example … the previous day, officials of the National Police or the Civil Guard entered the [offices of the] media.” She said she was not an “independentist” and went on to praise Jordi Cuixart, the independence activist who is one of the accused.

Colau said: “My heart breaks when I see that Mr Cuixart is here today in a preventive prison situation, with the rest of the defendants, with whom I can have political discrepancies, but if we are here for the October 1 vote, we should have millions of people.”