Hillsborough Revisited — 1989. — George Clark — 21st July 2014.

In 1989 George Clark was the doctor in charge of intens­ive care at the Northern General. The dis­aster was not the only one to have occurred at Hillsborough – there were two pre­vi­ous incid­ents of crushes and cas­u­al­ties in the 1980’s.

How did it happen?  Could it have been fore­seen?  Why did it happen?  Who was to blame? On the fate­ful day the main object­ive was to keep the fans from Nottingham Forest and Liverpool apart and they used the same arrange­ments as in the pre­vi­ous crush of 1988. The Notts. Fans were alloc­ated the east and south stands and Liverpool fans the north and west stands.  This was to pre­vent the meet­ing of fans before the match.

There was only one train bring­ing Liverpool fans to Sheffield and they also had less tick­ets alloc­ated than the Nottingham fans. There were just 23 turn­stiles  and all fans were fun­nelled into a con­fined area.  There was con­fu­sion with the turn­stile tick­ets – Liverpool fans had 1000 tick­ets per turn­stile.  Once through the turn­stiles there was con­fu­sion due to bad sig­nage.  Areas were des­ig­nated A, C, and B.  Access B was through the tunnel which sloped down into the ground so that most of the fans chose this way in.  On the west ter­races there were radial fences to con­fine the fans into pens and there were also crush bar­ri­ers and small gates into the pens.

Chief Superintendent Duckenfield was in charge and, as in other semi-finals, it was stated that fans would “find their own level.”

Liverpool fans were drink­ing up to 12 noon and, rumour had it, if you arrived late you could push and get in.  By 2.20 p.m. a large number of fans were at Leppings Lane and they all went through the tunnel.  Pens 3 and 4 were very full.  At 2.44 p.m. there was a call for rein­force­ments as the crowd out­side Leppings Lane was estim­ated at 8,000.  A call was made to bypass the turn­stiles and the police author­ised the open­ing of gate C.  The gate was opened at 2.52 p.m. and 2,000 fans passed through into the tunnel.  At 2.54 p.m. teams were on the pitch.  At 3 p.m. the game star­ted and there was a surge and bar­rier 124A col­lapsed. Eventually the police real­ised the dilemma but they were not allowed to let people onto the pitch.  Confusion reigned and a pitch inva­sion com­menced because of people being crushed and injured in the pens.

At 3.06 p.m the game was stopped and at 3.13 p.m.ambulances arrived but were not allowed onto the pitch.  There were not enough stretch­ers so hoard­ings were used to carry cas­u­al­ties to the gym for  treat­ment. Twenty doc­tors were present and at 4.15 p.m. cas­u­al­ties were trans­ferred to hos­pital. Eighty nine males and seven females died.  The major­ity were in pen 3.  The first inquest stated that it was purely acci­dental incid­ent and the cas­u­al­ties died from crush asphyxia.

At the Northern General there were only nine empty ICU beds.  At 3.21 p.m. a major incid­ent plan was put in place.  By 3.50 p.m. the cas­u­alty depart­ment was sat­ur­ated and by 4 p.m. many other staff arrived after seeing the incid­ent on T.V.  The anaes­thet­ist played a major part in the resus­cit­a­tion of patients.  They were anaes­thet­ised and vent­il­ated.  162 patients were admit­ted to the hos­pital.

Why did it occur?

  1.  Lack of mon­it­or­ing of pens
  2. Failure to close pens when full
  3. The “find their own level” policy was flawed.
  4. Culture of crowd con­trol rather than safety aspects
  5. Extra fans enter­ing tunnel
  6. Opening of gate C

Build up fans at Leppings Lane was due to:-

  • (a) small number of turn­stiles,
  •  (b) con­fu­sion with tick­ets,
  • © Liverpool fans arriv­ing late,
  • (d) warm weather and
  • (e) drink­ing in pubs.

The F.A. was not par­tic­u­larly con­cerned with safety in those days.  If ded­ic­ated turn­stiles and account­ing for each pen had been in place things might have been dif­fer­ent.  (The capa­city for pen 3 was 822) and the actual number on the day was 1567).

The Taylor Report included lots of recom­mend­a­tions regard­ing safety at all sports events and the issue of safety cer­ti­fic­ates. The DDP’s decision not to pro­sec­ute any  indi­vidual or any cor­por­ate body was taken in August 1990. The coroner’s report had a cut-off of 3.15p.m. and any­thing after that was not deemed rel­ev­ant.  The police admit­ted that state­ments were changed as recol­lec­tions were dif­fer­ent in the light of day.  C.I. Duckenfield had author­ised the open­ing of gate C.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel was set up as many bereaved fam­il­ies con­sidered that the true con­text, cir­cum­stances of the dis­aster had not been made public.

The Hillsborough Family Support Group pro­ceeded with a private pro­sec­u­tion against C.Supt. Duckenfield and Supt. Murray.  Murray was acquit­ted and the ver­dict against Duckenfield was unde­cided.

Many thanks to George Clark for a very inform­at­ive and inter­est­ing talk on a sub­ject which still festers on.