Hillsborough memorial (Pic: Edmund Gall/flickr)
Liverpool football fans have described “mayhem” and a “chaos” during the Hillsborough disaster in April 1989. And they have underlined the role played by the police.
Some 96 Liverpool fans died as a result of a crush at the Sheffield stadium and many more were injured. Survivors of the disaster this week gave evidence to fresh inquests into the deaths.
They described the build-up of fans outside the Leppings Lane entrance to the ground and the experience of being on the terraces.
Alison Willis was in pen 4, one of two pens behind the goal where the crushing took place. She described police officers ignoring fans’ pleas for help or telling them those trying to escape the crush to “get back in”.
Alison told jurors that she said to on officer, “Why wasn’t they letting people out? There’s people dying in there.”
She said the officer told her, “Get back in, you fucking Scouse bastard”.
Alison suffered cracked ribs and bruising as a result of the crush. She said police management of the disaster was “utter chaos”.
Alison also described giving a statement to officers 12 days after the disaster. “I was taken to a police cell, because I was told there was no room anywhere else,” she said.
“I couldn’t believe I was in a police cell. It was intimidating. It was so intimidating. They was very focused on alcohol and on fans’ behaviour.”
Liverpool fan Roger Hewstone was unable to enter the pens behind the goal because of the volume of fans stuck in the tunnel leading to them.
When questioned about fans’ drinking he said, “I didn’t see anything to make me believe that alcohol had played any particular factor”.
He described watching “hundreds and hundreds” of fans walk past him after the match was abandoned. “They were in various states of distress,” he told the jury. “I’ve used the term ‘walking wounded’.
“A lot of them were holding limbs or were walking awkwardly, and some were clearly stunned.”
Roger said some fans were “attempting to berate” police officers near the ground. “Some fans were going past and shouting at them that they were murderers,” he said. “It began to dawn on me then that the scale of what had happened must have been quite substantial.”
Sir Maurice Kay, currently a Court of Appeal judge, said there “seemed to be a lack of organisation” in police handling of the crowd outside the Leppings Lane entrance.
“Generally, in anticipation of crowds of that size, and with access such as that, one was used to seeing more control,” he told the inquests.
“There was no attempt that I could see to control the number of people getting into that area at any one time,” he said.
He said this led to people being “a bit fed up and impatient” and told the jury he thought the situation was “potentially dangerous”.
But he said he didn’t see any fans fighting, or being “unacceptably” drunk. “I saw boisterousness,” he said. “I saw nothing aggressive.”
Mark Dawson, a Sheffield Wednesday supporter who attended the Hillsborough match, told the jury that many Liverpool fans were “drinking heavily”.
But in evidence given to an earlier inquest, he agreed that 80 percent of fans on their way to the ground were not drinking. When questioned, he said he stood by that evidence.
Mark also accepted that he could not see people outside the Leppings Lane entrance from his seat inside the ground. He agreed that his claim that “drunken, late fans still on the road” caused the problems was “a belief or an assumption”.
Liverpool fan Mark Frankland described asking officers to allow his father, who was on crutches, to take a shortcut to his seat. “It wasn’t a good reaction,” he told jurors. “Apologies for the language, it wasn’t mine, I was told, ‘Fuck off, you Scouse bastard’.”
Mark said the crowd situation outside Leppings Lane was “mayhem” and “out of control”. Once he got into the ground he turned right instead of going through the tunnel into pens 3 and 4.
From this position he could see the crushing taking place. “Anyone could see that there was a major problem in the cages,” he said. “But, you know, the police definitely were treating it as a pitch invasion and they were pushing people off the fences and back into the cages.”
Liverpool supporter Andrew Ashcroft was also in pen 4. He told the inquests, “You could tell there was a problem, just because of the pain that you were in. You had to make sure that your arms were alongside you, because of fear of potentially cracking your ribs.”
He added, “There was a lot of people shouting that ‘There’s people dead in here, you’ve got to let us out,’ all this sort of stuff, and the police by that – by the fence, of which we could actually see them sort of pushing people back in, which, when you’re in absolute agony, is not a nice sight.”
The inquests continue.