Socialist Worker

Police blocked off full pens at matches prior to Hillsborough disaster, court hears

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2641

A memorial to remember the victims of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster

A memorial to remember the victims of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster (Pic: Ben Sutherland/Flickr)


Police blocked the tunnel leading to pens 3 and 4 at the Hillsborough football ground at games prior to the 1989 disaster, a court has heard.

Some 96 Liverpool fans died following a crush in the pens in April 1989.

Technical director Roger Houldsworth was in Sheffield Wednesday football club’s (SWFC) control room on the day. He said the build-up of fans outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles was “unusual”.

Houldsworth said it was a “surprise” when Gate C was opened a second time to relieve the crush. “It’s something that never ever happened before,” he said.

Houldsworth was asked what was the reaction in the control room. “First off was ‘Oh my God’ and then both PC Guest and myself said this—I hope they blocked off the walkway down to the pens.”

He said police or stewards had previously blocked the tunnel.

Houldsworth said he could see that the pens were full as kick-off approached.

A PC in the club control room tried to contact the police control box using his radio and landline but couldn’t get through.

The court heard that the police box couldn’t access all the club cameras, or the turnstile counts.

Houldsworth agreed that if a problem was spotted in the SWFC control room it would be expected to be passed to the police control box.

He said police radios had “virtually collapsed” on the day of the disaster.

And he accepted that his account might have had details added that he wasn’t aware of at the time.

Under questioning by Benjamin Myers QC, representing David Duckenfield, Houldsworth agreed he could not have seen the central pens of Leppings Lane from the camera he thought he had seen them on. 

He said he may have got the camera numbers mixed up.

Evidence

He agreed it is possible that his evidence that he thought the pens were full at 2.52pm might have been affected by things he had seen or heard since the disaster.

In May 1989 he made a statement that didn’t mention the discussion about closing the tunnel. He said he “wouldn’t deny the possibility” that the discussion didn’t happen on the day.

A statement from fan Andrew Watson was read to the court last week. He attended a match at Hillsborough in January 1989.

Watson said one gate was drawn halfway across the tunnel entrance and a second gate was half drawn across the other half of the entrance.

He said two police officers outside the mouth of the tunnel indicated that the area was full.

He also attended on the day of the disaster, and said there were no officers at the tunnel.

Fan Gary Gains said he was stopped from going down the central tunnel in 1988 because gates were closed across its entrance.

He also said there was a police officer on either side and a steward.

Gains said he was told the pens were full and was directed to the left hand side of the terrace.

Police match commander David Duckenfield faces 95 charges of manslaughter by gross negligence.

He can’t be charged over the death of the 96th victim, Tony Bland, as Bland died four years after the disaster.

Graham Mackrell, then SWFC safety officer, faces two charges relating to safety breaches.

Both deny the charges. The trial continues.


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