Hillsborough 1989

97 Liverpool fans lost their lives, as a direct result of severe crushing at a football ground. They went to watch their team in the semi-final of the FA Cup and were killed because of severe crushing at the Hillsborough stadium. There are 2 major issues that should never have happened:

1.    The disaster itself

2.    The cover up

The Police made monumental errors of judgement leading up to and including the disaster. The Police and other organizations then compounded their errors by lying, diverting blame, and falsifying statements. The cover up was made worse through support from the government at the time. The lack of immediate response from the emergency services and decisions made by their respective leaders, has proven to be dreadful and inhumane.

An experienced Police Chief Superintendent who was praised for his crowd control, particularly at Hillsborough (in previous years) was removed from duty a few weeks before the game and was transferred to another area. He was transferred after an incident involving initiation pranks on new officers on probation. Two other officers were put in charge of crowd control. (Phil Scraton, Hillsborough The Truth). Arguably the transferred Police Chief Superintendent would have diverted fans into different pens, which had enough space or taken earlier action to avoid the crowd pressure outside before it happened, negating the need to open the gate. The police serials under his control in 1988 indeed restricted access to a tunnel leading to full pens and diverted them to side pens.

In 1989, a build up outside the turnstiles led to severe pressure and crushing. The inexperience of the 2 officers led to badly informed decisions to open a gate where approximately 2000 fans were waiting to be let in, which led to a rush towards the middle pen which was already more than full, with no ground staff or police in place to restrict access to that tunnel. 

In the aftermath, the Conservative government in power during the 1980s focused too much on the hooligan problem which resulted in fencing around the pitch perimeter which was a major contributing factor to fans becoming trapped in a pen at Leppings Lane.

There were several high-profile stadium disasters prior to 1989 and a few near misses. Although it is arguable that lessons were learned from previous incidents, it is clear the lessons were recognized but largely ignored.

In 1971, 66 Rangers fans died at Ibrox stadium due to crushing. The resulting 1976 report called the Green Guide highlighted many improvements and guidance on how to enhance the stadium environment for sports fans. Subsequent disasters at various grounds saw disregard for the original Green Guide.

1976 – Wolves v Liverpool saw a near miss when 1000s of fans narrowly avoided mass crushing because fans were able to escape onto the tracks and pitch.

1985 – Heysel stadium 38 Juve fans died because of a weak wall collapsing under pressure. Hooliganism was blamed for this event which was later found to be untrue.

1981 and 1987 saw the potential for fatal crushing at Hillsborough. I suffered crushing at Leppings Lane end in the quarterfinal (1987) between Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry City, whilst being pinned to a stanchion barrier on a steep slope. After the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989, I often wish I had made a formal complaint rather than a general moan. More serious incidents were noted in the semifinal (1987) between Leeds Utd and Coventry City a few weeks later.

This was the second in series of blogs about disaster that should not have happened, check back as will be posting more.

Thomas Bennett ORBD Crisis Management

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