Hillsborough: What We Know Now
The findings of the Hillsborough Independent Panel were published today. Now we know that, before the match:
- Following the 1981 FA Cup Semi Final, “the issue of congested access to the turnstiles outside the stadium remained unresolved” and although “the safety of the existing maximum capacity for the Leppings Lane terrace was questioned repeatedly yet the decision was taken by the Club and the safety engineers not to revise the figure”;
- Police planning before the 1989 FA Semi Final “concentrated primarily on the control and regulation of the crowd with no appropriate reference to crowd safety, crushing or evacuation of the stands/terraces”;
- There was “clear evidence in the build-up to the match, both inside and outside the stadium, that turnstiles serving the Leppings Lane terrace could not process the required number of fans in time for the kick-off”. Moreover, “when the request to delay the kick-off eventually was made, it was considered too late as the teams were on the pitch”;
- Superintendent Roger Marshall, who “requested the opening of exit gates to allow fans into the stadium and relieve crowd pressure” at the Leppings Lane End, possessed no “knowledge of the uneven distribution of fans” at that end of the ground;
- Those inside the Police Control Box had a clear view via CCTV that “serious problems of overcrowding were occurring at the turnstiles and in the pens”, but “decision-making was hampered by poor communications, a malfunctioning radio system and the design of the Control Box”.
The Panel then concluded the following regarding the response to the overcrowding:
- The police “interpreted crowd unrest in the Leppings Lane terrace central pens as a sign of potential disorder, and consequently were slow to realise that spectators were being crushed, injured and killed”;
- Ambulance Service officers “were slower than police to identify and realise the severity of the crush despite being close to the central pens”;
- “Communications between all emergency services were imprecise and inappropriately worded, leading to delay, misunderstanding and a failure to deploy officers to take control and coordinate the emergency response”;
- In the absence of effective leadership, “many junior ambulance staff and police officers attempted to resuscitate casualties and transfer them to the designated casualty reception point in the gymnasium”, aided by “many fans, some of whom were injured”;
- Given the evidence disclosed to the Panel of “more prolonged survival of some people with partial asphyxiation, however, a swifter, more appropriate, better focused and properly equipped response had the potential to save more lives”.
Regarding the 3:15pm cut-off on the generic inquest and the repeated assumption that the emergency services’ response could not have helped:
- On the basis of evidence disclosed to the Panel, “it cannot be concluded that life or death was inevitably determined by events prior to 3.15pm, or that no new fatal event could have occurred after that time”;
- “The implicit and explicit use of a blood alcohol level of 80mg/100ml as a marker was unjustified”, and “the weight placed on alcohol levels, particularly in the Coroner’s summing up at the inquests, was inappropriate and misleading” since “the pattern of alcohol consumption among those who died was unremarkable and not exceptional for a social or leisure occasion”.
Concerning statements given to previous inquiries from the police:
- Police officers initially gave statements as handwritten recollections, which subsequently underwent “an extensive process of review and alteration of the recollections and their transition to multi-purpose statements”;
- Some 116 of the 164 statements identified for substantive amendment were amended “to remove or alter comments unfavourable to South Yorkshire Police”;
- In addition, “the review and alteration of statements extended to the South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service and its solicitors”. These amendments “deflected criticisms and emphasised the efficiency of the SYMAS response”.
Regarding The Sun’s allegation that Liverpool supporters had “assaulted and urinated on police officers resuscitating the dying, stolen from the dead and verbally sexually abused an unconscious young woman”:
- White’s News Agency, a Sheffield-based company, filed these allegations based on “meetings over three days between agency staff and several police officers, together with interviews with Irvine Patnick MP and the South Yorkshire Police Federation Secretary, Paul Middup”;
- Mr Patnick “based his comments on a conversation with police officers on the evening of the disaster while the officers were in considerable distress”, but that the “four separate police sources plus the interview with Mr Patnick” were considered “sufficient verification for the story to be considered factually accurate and it was distributed accordingly”;
- However, “no evidence among the vast number of disclosed documents and many hours of video material to verify the serious allegations of exceptional levels of drunkenness, ticketlessness or violence among Liverpool fans. There was no evidence that fans had conspired to arrive late at the stadium and force entry and no evidence that they stole from the dead and dying. Documents show that fans became frustrated by the inadequate response to the unfolding tragedy. The vast majority of fans on the pitch assisted in rescuing and evacuating the injured and the dead”.