I wrote this 5 years ago. The truth was available 26 years ago if you knew where to look.
The Hillsborough disaster is back in the news. There is an e-petition to sign if you would like our government to release documents related to the disaster.
I used to think that the truth was self-evident about Hillsborough; it was a disaster caused by a mixture of Police negligence and Thatcher’s policies. I thought the disaster was held with the same regard by all football fans because there was the potential for something like this to have happened at certain grounds at other times. It turns out that I was a little naive about this universal attitude.
Some people think that Liverpool fans are partly, if not wholly to blame for killing their own fans. Other people don’t like the sound of ‘Whinging Scousers” from “self-pity city” spouting off. I’ve challenged one or two of them on Twitter about this attitude. They rather alarmingly, justify their view by mentioning the Heysel stadium disaster as if this was proof that “Liverpool fans caused Hillsborough”, despite the fact that Hillsborough disaster has nothing whatsoever to do with this very shameful event.
Others go on to highlight the behaviour of Liverpool fans in Athens as a further justification for their view, as if a few scallies robbing tickets off fans is equivalent to being crushed to death.
Morons will use both events to say this “just shows what Liverpool fans (and scousers) are like”. In other words they are using their petty prejudices about scousers to justify the fact that 96 people were crushed to death at a football match.
There is no greater example of the pernicious effect of Murdoch’s tabloid than this mass logic failure. Some people have swallowed the MacKenzie line about Liverpool fans hook, line and sinker. Some of these people have used other events to create a mental tapestry about Liverpool fans that justifies the death of 96 football fans.
I wonder if any of them have ever imagined what 96 people being crushed to death involves, what it feels like, what it looks like, what it sounds like, what it smells like. Have they ever thought about the guilt of the survivors? Have they fuck, if they had thought about Hillsborough like that they wouldn’t have made their comments.
These people make me ashamed to be a football fan.
For these idiots I have gone to the trouble of reading through the Taylor Report and I’ve highlighted the salient points in red. I’ve also highlighted the cause Lord Justice Taylor formulated in blue. Remember this is not some “jaundiced Scouser” writing about the disaster. The report was written by a judge employed by the government to find out what happened.
Here are the edited highlights of the “Taylor Report” (You will see that Lord Justice Taylor doesn’t blame Liverpool fans for the disaster)
36. The effect of the decision was that for this all-ticket Cup Tie, Liverpool were allotted only 24,256 places as against 29,800 for Nottingham Forest. This, although average attendance of supporters at home matches was substantially higher at Liverpool than at Nottingham. Moreover, with standing tickets at £6 and seats at £12, Nottingham Forest had 21,000 standing places compared with Liverpool’s 10,100. So, Liverpool’s allocation was more expensive as well as smaller. Understandably, Liverpool were aggrieved by the allocation of places and tickets. They sought with some support from the host club and the FA to have it changed in 1988, but the police were adamant. To switch ends would, in their opinion, have involved rival supporters crossing each other’s paths when approaching the ground thereby frustrating attempts at segregation and creating a risk of disorder. In 1989, when the same plan was proposed, Liverpool again challenged it. The police, however, maintained their view, adding that those who had attended in 1988 would be familiar with the arrangements and that any change would lead to confusion.
78. In the control room no-one noticed the overcrowding or anything amiss in pens 3 and 4 until the first fans spilt out onto the perimeter track just before kick-off. Then, the officers in command assumed that there was an attempted pitch invasion. They called up reserve serials waiting in the gymnasium and all available officers elsewhere to go to the pitch. A request was made to HQ for dog handlers.
98. At about 3.15 pm, Mr Graham Kelly, Chief Executive of the FA, Mr Kirton also of the FA and Mr Graham Mackrell, Secretary of Sheffield Wednesday, went to the control room for information. Mr Duckenfield told them he thought there were fatalities and the game was likely to be abandoned. He also said a gate had been forced and there had been an inrush of Liverpool supporters. He pointed to one of the television screens focussed on gate C by the Leppings Lane turnstiles and said “That’s the gate that’s been forced: there’s been an inrush”. Inevitably Mr Kelly was interviewed a little later live on television. He spoke of the two stories concerning the gate – the fans’ account that the police had opened it, the police assertion that the fans had forced their way in.
116. The overcrowding up to 2.52 pm was due to a number of factors which can be considered broadly under three heads.
(i) The layout at the Leppings Lane end.
(ii) Lack of fixed capacities for the pens,
(iii) Lack of effective monitoring of the terraces.
You may have noticed that the behaviour of Liverpool fans is not called into question
117. The crushing and fatalities after 2.52 pm must be considered under a number of headings.
(iv) The build-up at the turnstiles.
(v) The blunder on opening the gates.
(vi) The barriers in pen 3.
(vii) The crushing not recognised,
(viii) The response of the police.
(ix) The perimeter gates were too small.
123. As already mentioned, there was crushing at the Cup semi-final in 1981. The match was between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers. The police debriefing minutes after the incident prophetically refer, “to the late arrival of a large number of spectators who were still waiting to enter the Leppings Lane enclosure when the match started. The flash point occurred when Tottenham scored” (at the Kop end) “after only three minutes. The spectators just entering pushed forward to see what was happening and caused a crush, which resulted in the injuries”.
166. What is clear, however, is that de facto the police at Hillsborough had accepted responsibility for control of the pens at the Leppings Lane end. The evidence of the senior officers who had been concerned with policing at Hillsborough over the years was all one way on this point. Only Mr Duckenfield, who had not policed at Hillsborough for some 10 years prior to 15 April, took a different view.
183. Although the police had accepted de facto responsibility for monitoring the pens, their policy on the day was to leave fans to “find their own level” and to concentrate their own attention on possible disorder. Whilst in theory the police would intervene if a pen became “full”, in practice they permitted the test of fullness to be what the fans would tolerate.
184. By 2.52 pm when gate C was opened, pens 3 and 4 were over-full even by this test. Many were uncomfortable. To allow any more into those pens was likely to cause injuries; to allow in a large stream was courting disaster.
191. Between 2.30 pm and 2.40 pm the crowd waiting for the turnstiles swelled to over 5,000 and became unmanageable. The case made for the police was that large numbers of Liverpool supporters arrived late; a high proportion of them were drunk and unco-operative; a high proportion had no tickets; all of them were hell-bent on getting in on time. They say this was unforeseeable and explains why they lost control.
192. Whether those who arrived between 2.30 pm and 2.40 pm were “late” was much debated. The ticket simply requested its holder “to take up [his] position 15 minutes before kick-off. That may have been intended to persuade those with stand tickets to take their seats, but it would not be unreasonable for a standing spectator to arrive at the turnstiles between 2.30 pm and 2.40 pm. Whether they were “late” or not, however, there was certainly a large concentration of Liverpool fans arriving at about 2.30 pm and after.
196. Of those who arrived at 2.30 pm or after, very many had been drinking at public houses or had brought drink from home or an off-licence. I am satisfied on the evidence, however, that the great majority were not drunk nor even the worse for drink. The police witnesses varied on this. Some described a high proportion as drunk, as “lager-louts” or even as “animals”. Others described a generally normal crowd with an unco-operative minority who had drunk too much. In my view some officers, seeking to rationalise their loss of control, overestimated the drunken element in the crowd. There certainly was such an element. There were youngsters influenced by drink and bravado pushing impatiently at the rear of the crowd thereby exacerbating the crush. But the more convincing police witnesses, including especially Detective Superintendent McKay and Chief Inspector Creaser as well as a number of responsible civilian witnesses, were in my view right in describing this element as a minority. Those witnesses attributed the crush to the sheer numbers of fans all anxious to gain entry. There was no criticism of the crowd by any of the witnesses in the period up to 2.30 pm or even 2.35 pm. What happened then was not a sudden deterioration in the mood or sobriety of those assembled there. No doubt those coming behind would have had more to drink and would have included the unruly minority. But the crisis developed because this very large crowd became packed into a confined turnstile area and its very density hampered its passage through the turnstiles.
197. Superintendent Marshall and other officers criticised the crowd as unco-operative because police exhortations to stop pushing and to ease back were not heeded. How could they be? In that crush most people had no control over their movements at all. Two incidents involving police horses illustrate the point. One horse was found afterwards to have cigarette burns on its rump. Clearly that was the despicable work of a hooligan whether in drink or not. However, there were also eyewitness accounts of a horse being physically lifted off its feet by the crowd. That occurred, as the police accepted, without malice or intent but as an involuntary consequence of crowd pressure which those by the horse’s flanks could not resist any more than the horse itself.
200. It has become a fact of football life that fans do turn up at all-ticket matches without tickets. It is not possible to give an accurate figure or even a reliable estimate of the number without tickets on 15 April. Police estimates varied from about 200 to about 2,000. There were certainly frequent requests for tickets or “spares” during the hours before the build-up. Many of those warned off by the police were seen to return to the area. Some were hanging about on the bridge. Again, however, the police witnesses who most impressed me did not consider the number of ticketless fans to be inordinately large. This accords with two other sources of evidence.
201. First, there was a wide range of witnesses who observed inside the ground that the Liverpool end was at a late stage well below capacity save for pens 3 and 4. The north stand still had many empty seats and the wing pens were sparse. The match being a sell-out, there were clearly many ticket holders to come and they could account for the large crowd still outside the turnstiles. Had the Liverpool accommodation been full by 2.40 pm, one could have inferred that most or much of the large crowd outside lacked tickets.
202. Secondly, such figures as are available from the Club’s electronic monitoring system and from analyses by the HSE suggest that no great number entered without tickets. They show that the number who passed through turnstiles A to G plus those who entered through gate C roughly equalled the terrace capacity figure of 10,100 for which tickets had been sold. The Club’s record showed 7,038 passed through turnstiles A to G.
However, the counting mechanism on turnstile G was defective, so the HSE did a study using the video film and projecting figures from the other turnstiles. This gave an assessment of 7,494, with a maximum of 7,644 passing through A to G. Again, using the video, the HSE assessed the number who entered the ground whilst gate C was open at 2,240 with a maximum of 2,480. Accordingly, the HSE’s best estimate of the total entering through gate C and turnstiles A to G was 9,734 with a maximum of 10,124.1 recognise that these can only be rough checks because, for example, some with terrace tickets were allowed through turnstiles 1 to 16 and there would be other similar factors which have not formed part of the assessment. Nevertheless, the figures do suggest that there was not a very significant body of ticketless fans in the crowd which built up.
The “Conspiracy” Theory
203. On behalf of South Yorkshire police, the theory was advanced that the “late” arrival of so many Liverpool supporters was planned to buck the system. The suggestion was that fans without tickets conspired to arrive late and create such trouble as would force the police to admit them to the match. The slender evidence upon which this theory rested came from two sources: overheard conversations in public houses and the antecedent history of Liverpool supporters at away matches.
204. One witness said he heard three Liverpool supporters saying, in effect, that they would manage to get in without tickets by causing trouble so that police would open a gate, and that they had done this before. Another witness heard two of a group of Liverpool supporters say they had no tickets, that they would go to the ground just before kick-off, that no-one would stop them getting in and that they had not been stopped yet. Statements were put in relating to two other small groups talking in similar terms.
Liverpool Supporters at Away Matches
205. The South Yorkshire police prepared a dossier of reports on the behaviour of Liverpool fans at away matches with the object of showing a pattern of troublesome behaviour by large numbers either without tickets or with forged tickets. Without setting out the whole history, it can be summarised as follows.
206. On three occasions Liverpool fans without tickets were allowed into all-ticket matches upon payment. (At Watford on 13 February 1988, 1,500 were admitted; at Southampton on 24 September 1988, 150 were admitted; at Southampton again on 12 December 1988, 750 were admitted.) At Norwich on 1 April 1989, Liverpool supporters arrived without tickets but 1,272 tickets had been returned and fans from both Liverpool and Norwich were allowed to buy them for cash. A similar situation occurred at Wimbledon on 13 May 1989. There were six other occasions from 1986 to date, including the Cup finals of 1986 and 1989, when numbers of Liverpool supporters turned up without tickets or otherwise behaved badly.
207. Four points must be noted, however. On none of the occasions when ticketless fans were admitted for payment was the match a sell-out. There was therefore room in the ground on each occasion. At a sell-out fans might not expect to be allowed in, even for payment. Secondly, no trouble of the kind alleged was encountered at the 1988 semi-final when Liverpool visited Hillsborough. Thirdly, Liverpool visited Hillsborough again in January 1989 without any trouble. Finally, no forged tickets were in use on 15 April apart from three crude photocopies.
208. I have already found that there was not an abnormally large number of fans without tickets on this occasion. With one or two exceptions, the police witnesses themselves did not subscribe to the “conspiracy” theory. I am satisfied that the large concentration at Leppings Lane from 2.30 pm to 2.50 pm did not arrive as a result of any concerted plan. There were, I accept, small groups without tickets who were willing to exploit any adventitious chance of getting into the ground. They, together with the minority who had drunk too much, certainly aggravated the problem faced by the police. But that main problem was simply one of large numbers packed into the small area outside the turnstiles.
214. As to 1988, there was a very large and consistent body of evidence that, on the day, the police in Leppings Lane conducted an efficient filtering exercise designed to keep away those without tickets and control the flow of fans towards the ground. I do not believe that so many witnesses without either opportunity or reason to put their heads together could be mistaken about what they experienced on that occasion. Yet, the police maintain that no filtering exercise other than on a random basis was conducted in 1988 and that their policy and practice then were no different from those of 1989.
215. The answer to this conflict must, I think, be that whilst the policy may have been no different, in practice the policing in 1988 was more efficient and was not put to the same test and strain as a year later. There was not so large a swell in numbers approaching the ground from 2.30 pm to 2.50 pm as in 1989. Nevertheless, there had been warning signs in 1988. Detective Superintendent McKay gave the following evidence:
229. The decision to order the opening of the gates was not accompanied or followed by any other order to deal with the consequences. When gate C was opened, a steady stream of about 2,000 fans poured through it over some five minutes. Clearly they were going to go into the ground somewhere and unless they were diverted their likeliest route was through the tunnel for reasons already given. No warning was issued from the control room that the gate was to be opened. Serials on the concourse were not alerted. Neither the Club control room nor the Chief Steward at the Leppings Lane end was warned. Not even Mr Greenwood, the Ground Commander, was informed. From 2.47 pm when Mr Marshall made his first request until 2.52 pm when Mr Duckenfield acceded to it, there were five minutes in which orders could have been given as to how the influx was to be absorbed. It was not done. In evidence, Mr Duckenfield began by saying that no officer made any wrong decision but he later conceded he had erred in this regard. He said he did not consider where the people would go when the gate opened. Even after it opened, when he could see the influx on the television screen, no order was given to steer the fans to the wing pens. Mr Duckenfield said it did not cross his mind to detail officers on the concourse to shut off the tunnel. Those officers could not have known from their position how full pens 3 and 4 were. That was a matter for the control room to monitor from its own observations and using intelligence from around the ground.
230. Since pens 3 and 4 were full by 2.50 pm, the tunnel should have been closed off whether gate C was to be opened or not. The exercise was a simple one and had been carried out in 1988. All that was necessary was for a few officers to act as a cordon at the entrance to the tunnel and divert fans elsewhere. Unfortunately, the 1988 closure seems to have been unknown to the senior officers on duty at the time. It did not figure in the debriefing notes. It therefore had no influence on the planning for 1989.
Mr Hicks’ Evidence
1. Mr and Mrs Hicks’ two daughters died in the disaster. They had arrived early en famille but had tickets for different sections. The two daughters had standing tickets; they went into pen 3. Mrs Hicks had a seat in the north stand. Mr Hicks took up a standing position in pen 1 just below and to the west of the police box at about 2.15 pm From there, he had a view of the centre pens. He kept an eye on them as they filled up since he knew his daughters to be there.
2. His evidence was that by 2.50 pm he could see people were in distress. At about 2.55 pm he and others called to a senior police officer at the top of the steps to the control box to draw his attention to the crushing. Mr Hicks was only about 10 feet from the officer. He described him as wearing a flat cap with gold or silver braid and a light coloured anorak. Mr Hicks believed he was the officer who stopped the match. Mr Greenwood, who did stop the match, was certainly not wearing a light coloured anorak, as can clearly be seen on the video.
3. Mr Hicks says that he and others shouted several times to this officer in attempts to alert him to the distress in the pens. There was no reaction although Mr Hicks believes the officer must have been in earshot.
4. That officer descended from the steps and two cameramen whom Mr Hicks believed were from television came and appeared to direct their cameras towards the pens. Another senior officer appeared two steps down from the platform. He was a stocky figure; he also wore a flat cap but with black braid. Mr Hicks says that he and two or three others tried several times to capture this officer’s attention without success. Then Mr Hicks says he shouted “For Christ’s sake! Can’t you see what’s going on? We can, and you have cameras”. The officer is said to have replied dismissively “Shut your fucking prattle”.
You look at what being a football fan has become and you wonder if it’s worth bothering with any more.
It used to be about mild joshing between work mates and friends now it’s about hate and venom. A whole generation of “fans”, or “morons” if you prefer, is being led to believe that “hate” is one of the default settings – the others being “mindless banter” and “epileptic paroxysms of joy” – and there is no middle ground between these default settings.
The old ideas of camaraderie and bonhomie are further eroded by this media conditioning. Where fans may have once had a chat, they now feel compelled to denigrate by using words like “scum”. If you think this is far-fetched then why do people react negatively about the quest for justice in relation to the Hillsborough disaster, a disaster where 96 football fans lost their lives because they went to a football match. This should affect all football fans equally.
Hillsborough was not solely a football tragedy, it was a human tragedy. The families of the victims deserve justice.