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,
  • (c) 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.