Socialist Worker

At Hillsborough ‘We were all pleading for our lives,’ court hears

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2640

A memorial to the 96 dead

A memorial to the 96 dead (Pic: Ben Sutherland on Twitter)


Police were more interested in crowd control and searching for alcohol than safety during the Hillsborough football disaster, a court has heard.

Ninety-six Liverpool fans died as a result of the 1989 disaster, when a crush built up in pens 3 and 4 of the Leppings Lane end of the Hillsborough stadium.

Iain Crawford was in pen 3. He said people were “screaming” at police to do something and “essentially we were all pleading for our lives”.

But he said police were more interested in crowd control and searching for alcohol than safety.

Crawford described being “crushed from every side” and said there was “somebody under my feet”.

“Knowing somebody was underfoot and not being able to help was one of the worst things,” he said.

Liverpool fan Ian McDermott was also in pen 3 and was later taken to the gym where he was given oxygen. He described how bodies were “laid out in lines and I got put next to them”.

Disaster

David Duckenfield, police match commander on the day, faces 95 charges of manslaughter by gross negligence. He cannot be charged over the death of the 96th, Tony Bland, as he died four years after the disaster.

Graham Mackrell, then Sheffield Wednesday club safety officer, faces two charges relating to safety breaches. Both deny the charges.

Retired judge and Liverpool fan Sir Maurice Kay was in pen 4. He recalled officers on the pitch telling fans to move backwards “and people shouting back ‘we can’t, we can’t’.”

Ben Myers, representing Duckenfield, questioned Kay.

Kay didn’t recall seeing many officers outside the turnstile area. After seeing footage he accepted it showed officers he couldn’t remember seeing.

He saw an officer with a radio at around 2.50pm. His impression was that the officer had received a message – and so was able to use his radio at this time.

Christopher Parsonage said there was no control over the area outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles, but there had been queuing there the year before. He was “pushed through” the tunnel by “a huge press of people” and ended up in pen 3.

He recalled an officer shouting at people to get back, but people couldn’t move.

Criticism

Peter Robinson, former chief executive of Liverpool FC, had asked the FA to take into account criticism that Nottingham Forest had been given more tickets than Liverpool for the 1988 semi-final.

He asked for the game not to be held at Hillsborough in 1989 with the same ticket allocation.

Robinson was later told the match would be at Hillsborough with the same ticket plans as 1988. He publicly called the decision “unjust”.

Robinson made his way onto the pitch as the disaster unfolded and could see police officers but couldn’t see anyone in charge. He was concerned that there had been no PA address.

The court heard that Duckenfield was concerned that making a public announcement would “interfere” with the approach of emergency services attending the stadium.

Stephen Sewell was liaison officer with SWFC at the time of the disaster.

His role included preparing orders for football matches, taking over from Inspector Calvert. He said Calvert didn’t mention any safety issues at the ground. He never heard such issues raised with Duckenfield.

Sewell agreed that Duckenfield didn’t have recent experience of policing Hillsborough in 1989. He agreed that the 1988 semi-final at Hillsborough was considered a success and the 1989 order followed similar lines.

Sewell agreed that the main planning for the match would have been done before Duckenfield became divisional commander.

Sewell agreed that Duckenfield had many officers with experience of policing games at Hillsborough around him.

Announcement

The operational order said that if a partial or full evacuation of the stadium is needed, the announcement, “The attendance of Mr Meadows is urgently required at police control” would be given over the PA.

Sewell agreed that this would not necessarily be used in other circumstances.

Sewell said he hadn’t any knowledge of the tunnel being closed off before the disaster – and had been in his position around 18 months by that point.

He agreed that Duckenfield was match commander because of “rank rather than experience”.

A letter dated 11 May 1987 from chief superintendent Mole to Mackrell thanked him for the cooperation between police and the club. It says this is “in no small measure” due to Mackrell’s “positive direction”.

The court heard that crowd control was police responsibility.

The trial resumes on Monday.


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