Socialist Worker

Safety and environmental health experts expressed concerns before Hillsborough disaster, trial hears

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2639

A Hilllsborough memorial

A Hilllsborough memorial (Pic: Edmund Gall/Flickr)


Former police constable Robert Ainsworth said the situation on the pitch during the Hillsborough football disaster was “bedlam”.

Ainsworth was giving evidence at the trial of David Duckenfield and Graham Mackrell at Preston Crown Court.

He was on duty during the 1989 disaster, which saw 96 Liverpool fans die following a crush at the Leppings Lane end of the Hillsborough stadium.

Ainsworth was recalled to Hillsborough to deal with what he was told was a “pitch invasion”.

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

He got onto the pitch between 3.15pm and 3.20pm. He said a senior officer told him “to face the North Stand and make a line”.

Ainsworth said the crowd was baying at him to move and being hostile. He took this to mean it was “futile” being where he was.

Ainsworth went to the Leppings Lane goalmouth and saw fans lying on the grass and crying. He said it was “chaos”.

He said up to that point he had received no instructions at all. “I was working on my own initiative,” he said.

Ainsworth agreed that he remembers some things better than others. He said he was “traumatised”.

He agreed there were some serious problems with fans in the 1980s, often linked to drinking. He was unsure whether there were problems with people attending games without tickets.

Concern

He agreed that, if fans got onto the pitch, there would be concern they could head towards opposing fans.

But he said fans on their way to the match on the day of the crush were “great, very good”.

Ainsworth described Duckenfield as “very experienced” at policing football matches in April 1989.

Duckenfield is charged with 95 counts of gross negligence manslaughter relating to the disaster. He was South Yorkshire Police (SYP) match commander on the day.

Graham Mackrell, then Sheffield Wednesday Football Club (SWFC) safety officer, faces two counts of safety breaches. Both deny the charges.

The trial has heard from a number of witnesses throughout the week.

John Strange, who worked for engineering firm Eastwoods, said in February 1987 that the capacity of 10,100 for the Leppings Lane end “needs to be adjusted”.

But the court heard that Dr Eastwood said it should stay “as it is”. Strange said it was “virtually impossible” to tell him he was wrong.

Hillsborough’s safety certificate from December 1979 shows 7,200 for the West Terrace and 2,900 for the North West Terrace.

Strange agreed that Eastwoods were responsible for calculating the figures. He said they didn’t reflect the safe capacity of the ground.

Benjamin Myers QC, representing Duckenfield, said that in November 1989 there was serious overcrowding on the North West Terrace.

Following this the West Stand capacity was changed to 4,465 and the North West Terrace to 1,500.

Disaster

There was no figure for the West Terrace as it was closed after the April disaster.

Strange said the plans Eastwoods used to calculate capacity were not to scale. Dr Eastwood had not checked they were to scale.

The court heard that expert John Cutlack had since recalculated capacities. Cutlack said the 1979 capacity for the West Terrace should have been 5,689. In April 1989 he said it should have been 5,425 because of changes to the terraces.

The court heard that Strange felt the turnstile arrangements needed improving in 1981, and thought dedicated turnstiles for specific pens would help. SWFC didn’t take this up.

A meeting in 1985 discussed plans from Eastwoods for new turnstiles and fencing at the Leppings Lane end. Strange said the work wasn’t carried out.

Strange agreed that gates in the pitch perimeter fence at the West Terrace were probably too narrow to meet Green Guide standards.

Strange remembered Mackrell as “conscientious and diligent”. He agreed that in 1981 no one at Eastwoods, to his knowledge, advised SWFC to adopt the turnstile plans he had sketched out. He agreed that in 1985 no one at Eastwoods, to his knowledge, advised SWFC it should provide dedicated turnstiles for dedicated pens.

Strange accepted that issues around radial fences, turnstiles and the removal of crush barrier 144 were all resolved before Mackrell arrived at SWFC in December 1986.

He said there seems to be “no evidence” that anyone from Eastwoods visited Hillsborough to carry out detailed capacity calculations.

David Moore was employed by Sheffield City Council in the mid-1980s as a senior environmental health officer.

In 1986 the ground safety certificating authority became Sheffield City Council.

A memo from Moore to Mr Bownes, former chief licencing officer for Sheffield City Council, in August 1987 includes concerns over “informal” first aid arrangements. Moore recalled that there had been “resistance” initially by SWFC to appointing a safety officer, so advised Bownes to make it a formal condition of the safety certificate.

A note made by Moore refers to a meeting with Mackrell and Eastwood on 15 August 1987. Moore asked Mackrell, then SWFC club secretary, whether a safety officer was in place.

He described Mackrell’s response as “flippant”. Mackrell suggested he could be safety officer and Moore asked if he was prepared to carry out Green Guide responsibilities, including on match days.

Moore said Mackrell’s response was that “he would be too busy entertaining corporate clients”.

Moore said there was not strong evidence that there was a formally documented arrangement for a certain number of trained safety stewards to be on site.

A memo from Moore to Bownes said the inspection of Hillsborough showed “excellent standards of maintenance and upkeep”. Moore said this was about ground management, not safety management.

Moore accepted that he only met Mackrell on a few occasions. He accepted that, after Mackrell confirmed he was safety officer in October 1987, he raised no objection.

The court heard that Bownes believed in May 1986 that the SWFC certificate needed to be replaced.

Myers suggested that the failure to revise or amend the safety certificate between then and March 1989 was a breach of duty.

Bownes said he couldn’t see what the cause of delay was without files from the time.

Hillsborough’s safety certificate said that the holder should arrange for the stadium to be inspected by a suitably qualified chartered engineer at least once a year.

The engineer should supply a certificate to the council. Bownes agreed that no certificate had been issued from 1984 to 1986. There was no certificate issued in 1987. The 1988 certificate was submitted on 10 May 1989.

Inadequate

Bownes agreed that the attention given to this area was “woefully inadequate”.

A report believed to have been written by Bownes said safety conditions in South Yorkshire grounds “appear to be inadequate or inappropriate in some areas”.

Bownes said he is unsure what he meant by this. He agreed that if any conditions are unclear then safety may be at risk and a criminal offence may be being committed.

Bownes sent new draft certificate conditions to the chief constable of SYP and other organisations on 7 July 1987.

One section said no fan should be admitted unless methods of admission have been approved by the chief constable. The SYP responded on 4 August 1987 suggesting the ability to require a game be all-ticket.

Bownes replied to the police letter on 30 March 1989. He said there doesn’t seem to be any evidence to explain the delay. The 1989 letter encloses new proposals with no mention of a condition requiring police to agree admission methods in advance of a specified activity.

This condition was in a guidance note for safety certificate holders.

The proposals included the same capacities for Leppings Lane as in the 1979 certificate.

Bownes wasn’t sure how the council interpreted the phrase “methods of admission to be employed”. He said it is “a bit ambiguous”.

Following the May 1988 inspection of Hillsborough, Health and Consumer Services suggested some changes to the West Stand. This was not passed onto SWFC.

Bownes accepted that the club would have assumed that experts had found nothing wrong with the ground.

Brian Ellis, now deceased, worked for South Yorkshire County Fire Service. He was present at an Officer Working Party meeting on 11 September 1981, where radial fences going into the West Terrace were first discussed.

The fences were to be approved proving conditions were met, including that gates to be installed at the top of those fences would be under police control.

In a statement in May 1989 Ellis said he believed the gates gave “lateral egress” between pens and would be manned by police at all times during games.

He said, “We would not have expected anything less because it was important that an officer be there to give guidance” in the event of an emergency.

The trial continues.


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