Socialist Worker

Police said they would divert fans from full pens at Hillsborough, court hears

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2638

A memorial to remember those who died as a result of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster

A memorial to remember those who died as a result of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster (Pic: Ben Sutherland/Flickr)


Police told a safety group that they would divert fans away from pens at the Hillsborough football ground if they became full, a court has heard.

Former fire officer Ronald Grimshaw was the second witness giving evidence to the trial of David Duckenfield and Graham Mackrell.

Duckenfield is charged with 95 counts of gross negligence manslaughter relating to the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster. He was South Yorkshire Police (SYP) match commander on the day of the disaster, when fans were crushed in pens 3 and 4 at the Leppings Lane end of the ground.

Mackrell, then Sheffield Wednesday club safety officer, faces two counts of safety breaches. Both men deny the charges.

Preston crown court heard that Grimshaw was a member of the Officer Working Party (OWP) responsible for advising on safety at the ground.

Grimshaw said he was concerned that there was “no count” of fans entering the terraces. But he said police “assured us that if there was any danger of over-density they would close the entrance off and divert spectators”.

Benjamin Myers QC, representing Duckenfield, asked whether, with hindsight, the OWP failed to guard against some safety issues, including crushing. Grimshaw said, “Nobody expected anything like this to happen.”

He said he believed that police, stewards and a loudspeaker would be able to divert people in an evacuation.

Grimshaw said he believed the practice of closing the entrance and diverting fans was recognised police procedure for controlling the flow of fans into the central pens.

Grimshaw told Jason Beer, representing Mackrell, that he felt at the time that Mackrell was “conscientious”.

The Green Guide to safety at grounds said “maximum flexibility” should be maintained in terms of existing structures at grounds. Grimshaw agreed that it would be too simplistic to say clearly what authorities had to comply with.

A report compiled by Eastwoods on ground capacity dated January 1979 said it was not possible to satisfy all the guide’s recommendations and that “reasonable compromise” was needed.

Gates

The Green Guide said there should be gates of a minimum width within the perimeter fencing. Grimshaw accepted that the OWP knew in 1986 that the gates in pens 3 and 4 didn’t meet these requirements.

There was a belief that this didn’t matter because “they were just never considered as a means of escape”.

Exit signage was not provided at either end of the Leppings Lane terrace and the tunnel.

Grimshaw agreed that one reason for this was because it was thought that police officers would be in control of the gates separating pens 3 and 4 from side pens. He understood there would “need to be somebody” at the mouth of the tunnel, and thought that would be a police officer.

Grimshaw also thought signage was unnecessary because police would monitor the pens.

No one raised safety concerns about the lack of dedicated turnstiles for each pen. When Grimshaw put concerns to the police “they convinced us they would look after the gates”. He understood this to mean that police would man the gates at all times.

James Chumley, the first witness called to give evidence in the trial, spoke to the court on Friday of last week. He attended a match at Hillsborough in April 1981 but police prevented him from going to the terraces due to overcrowding.

Chumley said it wasn’t unusual for terraces to become “overcrowded” and for supporters to be moved to other parts of the ground.

The defence concluded their opening statements last week.

Myers said it is “artificial and unfair” for Duckenfield to be “singled out” because “so many other factors and causes were at work in this tragedy”.

Design

He said the disaster was due to bad stadium design, bad planning, “some aspects of crowd behaviour”, some aspects of “police behaviour” and human error.

Beer warned of the danger of hindsight and said the jury must assess the case based on the standards of 1989.

He said Mackrell was appointed at a time when the idea of a club safety officer was relatively new. Key features, such as the layout of the ground, were already established when Mackrell became club secretary.

Beer said Dr Wilfred Eastwood of Eastwoods consultants dominated decisions over development at Hillsborough.

“The author and architect of this disaster was Dr Eastwood and these decisions had been taken before Mr Mackrell’s tenure at the club,” he said.

Dr Eastwood has passed away.

Mackrell faces a charge that he is responsible for the club failing to agree with the chief constable the methods of admission.

Beer argued that the prosecution has to prove that “methods of admission” meant the turnstile configuration. He said the prosecution must prove that police were not consulted.

Some 96 Liverpool fans died as a result of the disaster. Under the law at the time there can be no prosecution for the 96th victim, Tony Bland, as he died more than a year and a day after sustaining his injuries.

The trial continues.


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