by Martin Odoni

The Hillsborough Disaster of April 1989 ultimately took ninety-six lives as a direct result of the physical injuries it inflicted – and an uncertain number more in the years that followed due to the psychological injuries. The main cause of all these injuries was severe overcrowding of two tightly-fenced enclosures on the Leppings Lane terrace of the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield. That terrace, as has been highlighted elsewhere, was a health-hazard. Entry and egress were a confused, unco-ordinated business due to an overcomplicated stadium lay-out. The capacity of the terrace had been over-estimated by a substantial margin. Piecemeal installation of radial fences onto the terrace had created more and more pressure points, while restricting evacuation routes. The evacuation routes themselves were insufficiently accessible in relation to the crowd-density of a full-capacity attendance. The concrete surface of the terrace was set at too flat a gradient. The tunnel leading under the West Stand into the central pens was set at too steep a gradient. The crush barriers – intermittent metal rails up to ten metres in length that divided up the terrace horizontally so that people right at the front would not be forced to take the weight of the entire crowd behind them – were set too low in the concrete, and their layout was so haphazard and poorly-thought-out (see below) that some barriers had to withstand far more weight than others.

And crucially, one of these barriers broke during the Disaster.

The wreckage of the crush barrier that collapsed in pen 3.

The wreckage of the crush barrier that collapsed in pen 3.

The collapse of the barrier, believed to have happened either around kick-off time, or about three minutes into the game (putatively caused by crowd movements in response to Liverpool player Peter Beardsley striking a shot against the opposing crossbar), undoubtedly upped the death-toll of the Hillsborough Disaster. A little like the opening of Gate C, it did not play a central role in causing the Disaster, but it had a substantial exacerbating effect. With the collapse of the barrier, scores of Liverpool supporters suddenly fell forward en masse. Anyone at the bottom of the ensuing pile-up was certain to be very badly injured, and the odds on their survival would not have been high.

The crush barriers at Hillsborough each had an alphanumeric identity number. The one that collapsed was designated 124a; it was a little under eight metres long, supported by four iron struts, and, viewed from the pitch, was near the front-left corner of pen 3.

An HSE rough diagram of how barrier 124a would have looked

As no detailed photos appear to exist of how barrier 124a would have looked before it collapsed, the HSE provided a rough diagram.

Sheffield Wednesday Football Club’s chief safety consultant was Dr Wilfred Eastwood, of Eastwood & Partners. He went on television over the next couple of days to state with almost cocksure firmness that all the crush barriers in the stadium were ‘very adequate’, and that they were subject to annual visual checks and stress-testing. For the barrier to collapse in the way it had, he insisted, it must have been subjected to an extraordinary weight-load.

It appears that much of what Eastwood said was technically true so far as it went, but it later became apparent that his statements were somewhat misleading. For instance, yes, it is true that the barrier was subjected to an extraordinary weight-load during the crush, but it eventually became clear that that was not enough on its own to cause it to give way.

And yes, it appears that annual inspections of crush barriers at Hillsborough were indeed carried out, as Eastwood said, but what we cannot be so confident about is how attentively or rigorously the results of these inspections were considered. For, as one might expect, the wreckage of the barrier was closely analysed by the Health & Safety Executive in the weeks that followed the Disaster, and the conclusions arrived at were disapproving at best.

The HSE found that the ‘elasticity’ of the barrier supports i.e. their capacity to return to their starting position after a heavy load was placed against them was clearly below what was stipulated in guidelines. Worse, substantial corrosion that was visible to the naked eye was found on one of the struts and on the joint connecting it to the surface of the terrace.

The fallen barrier viewed from the back of the pen.

A view from the back wall of pen 3 of the crush barrier that collapsed.

Perhaps most unsettling of all during this examination, however, was not the crush barrier or its components, but what was discovered inside it. The barrier rail was a hollow metal pole, open at either end, and in amongst various bits of predictable litter that had built up inside were several pieces of old newspaper. On inspection, one of these was found to be from an issue of the Yorkshire Telegraph & Star, dated from the 24th October, 1931.

To put that in perspective, the newspaper had been printed almost a year-and-a-half before Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of the Weimar Republic, over thirty-two years before John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dealey Plaza, and almost fifty-eight years before the Hillsborough Disaster itself.

The exact date when this item of litter was first ‘binned’ inside the crush barrier, we shall never know, but on balance, it seems highly unlikely to have been long after its publication, which would immediately date the barrier’s creation to no later than 1932, and probably quite a bit earlier. Whatever the reality of that, it seems incontrovertible that the barrier was extremely old, an impression reinforced by analysis of its surface, which indicated that there had been no fewer than thirteen coats of paint applied to it during its years of employment. And for such ancient litter just to have been left to rot inside it for about three generations perhaps tells a story about the casual attitude Sheffield Wednesday had to stadium maintenance. For if the club had really been as on-the-spot about such matters as Eastwood had claimed, such a crush barrier would surely have been replaced long before 1989. (The fact that so many layers of paint had been applied makes it sound doubly suspicious – it is even possible that paint had sometimes been applied in the intervening years to conceal corrosion damage).

broken barrier support

The crush barrier 124a, which collapsed during the disaster, was extremely old, and had very visible corrosion damage. A piece of newspaper found discarded inside indicated that the barrier was probably constructed in the 1920’s.

The age and decayed condition of the barrier thus may well have played a critical role in its collapse, but the ill-advised positioning and removal of other barriers in pen 3 also played a part. A few yards behind barrier 124a was barrier 136, which had for some years been a continuous rail nearly ten metres in length crossing the left-middle half of the central pen (this was in the days when the Leppings Lane terrace was divided into only three enclosures, and the two central pens had yet to be separated off from each other by a middle fence). The piecemeal introduction of radial fences through the 1980’s had meant that for any police officer trying to intervene with any troublemakers who were stood behind the goal, this long crush barrier was proving to be quite an obstacle to movement. It was therefore decided in 1985 to remove its middle section, dividing the barrier into two parts – barrier 136, and barrier 136a. This action did have the effect desired of it in allowing easier movement through the pen, but it also had an undesired effect that nobody at the club appears to have considered. Given the whole purpose of installing the barriers in the first place, it was a serious oversight.

The layout of the crush barriers and fences on the central pens.

The layout of the crush barriers and fences on the central pens. The removal in 1985 of a segment in the middle of barrier 136 opened up an uninterrupted diagonal channel running straight back to the entry tunnel, increasing pressure on front-left barrier 124a.

The problem effect was that, once the middle segment of barrier 136 had been removed, it now opened up a clear, uninterrupted channel of narrow space running in a diagonal line from the mouth of the central tunnel all the way down to barrier 124a at the front. When that channel was over-filled with people, there were no longer any extra lines of barriers to break up the consequent weight-load. Prior to 1985, barrier 136, which had been larger, had taken the brunt of the weight in the back-left quarter of the central pen, while fans between 136 and 124a would only put weight on the front barrier.

But during the crush in 1989, the partial-weight of hundreds of spectators crammed inside that now-unbroken channel was transmitted onto barrier 124a, adding to the full weight of scores of people propped up immediately behind it. As new arrivals entered pen 3, they would immediately enter that channel, and add their weight to the numbers. Already weakened by decades of use and the onset of corrosion, the supports holding up the barrier could not withstand that amount of pressure, and they finally buckled.

A side-view of barrier 124a in the central pens of the Leppings Lane terrace.

A side-view of the collapsed barrier 124a in pen 3 of the Leppings Lane terrace. Note how one of the support struts has moved completely out of alignment with all the others.

As mentioned above, it was a startling blunder that the club missed the danger implicit in removing part of a crush barrier, as was its failure over the course of four long years to make a proper assessment of the other barrier that was most likely to be affected by the change. As has been highlighted previously, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club had been guilty of failing to keep its ground’s safety certificate up-to-date for fully ten years before the Disaster – the process involved in updating a certificate would have included an assessment of the crush barriers. The club in fact made many piecemeal changes to the Leppings Lane end of the stadium without properly considering the safety implications, or getting the certificate updated accordingly. In light of the generally abysmal safety record of the Leppings Lane terrace*, including near-disaster at the FA Cup semi-final of 1981 caused by excessive containment of spectators, it says a lot that most changes made to the terrace through the 1980’s increased the containment of spectators while reducing the safety facilities. More and more new fences, for instance, were added to hem people in, while the crush barriers designed to protect people from injuries were either allowed to rot or were even removed altogether.

It all fitted into the wider pattern of poor safety all over the Leppings Lane end of the stadium. Turnstiles were too few in number, and some were in a decrepit shape. The entry lay-out was confusing and poorly signposted. Gates in the perimeter fence between the terrace and the pitch were undersized.

While there is no doubt that prime culpability for the Hillsborough Disaster lies with the South Yorkshire Police, the unsafe nature of the stadium was the failing of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. The newspaper lodged inside an aged and dilapidated crush barrier is the crucial evidence that shows that, like so many football clubs of the time, it was an institution that did not really care.

There may not have been any deliberate murder, and there may have been no bullet fired. But the collapsed crush barrier is a smoking gun, and the fingerprints of Sheffield Wednesday’s negligence are all over it.


* It has been highlighted elsewhere on this blog that safety worries at FA Cup semi-finals at Hillsborough were almost a matter of routine in the 1980’s. But the dangerous history of the Leppings Lane terrace is not limited to that decade by any means, nor to FA Cup fixtures.

For instance, crushes developed at various semi-finals there as far back as the 1950’s, including the 1957 fixture between Birmingham City and Manchester United, while the following eye-witness account, from Ian Lavery MP, identifies familiar misfortunes at a league fixture between Sheffield Wednesday and Newcastle United from 1985; –

“We turned up as normal, but we could not get into the ground. And what happened? The gates were opened, we were hurled into Hillsborough like cattle and forced through the tunnel at the Leppings Lane end. People were climbing the perimeter fences to get over and climbing up to the upper stand. People panicked, yet there was no operational support from the police. I was pushed back against the wall – and I am a fairly big sort of guy – only to feel a policeman’s forearm across my windpipe. I was told to stop pushing, but people could not move. This was a league game at Sheffield Wednesday. I was evicted from the stadium. Supporters were terrified: there was utter chaos and no control. The police approach at that time was to treat supporters like animals. There was no regard whatever for the safety or health of anyone.

“Frankly, it was appalling.”


Other essays about the Hillsborough Disaster; –

The Myths

Ticketlessness Was Not A Factor And This Is How We Know

Discursive Types

In Its Correct Historical Context

Pushing And Shoving? What Pushing And Shoving?

Changing Statements

Anne Williams – A Real World Heroine

After A Year The Sun’s Apology Is Still Not Accepted – And Nor Should It Be

Pleeeeeease Stop Obsessing Over Norman Bleedin’ Bettison

A Brief Review Of The Jimmy McGovern Docu-Drama From 1996

Where Was I?

The Name That Became A Moment

Oh, It’s The Drunken Fans Chestnut Again, Is It? Don’t Even Go There

Covering up inconvenient information seems to be Shapps’ hobby. This is just the latest chapter in a lengthening story.

the void

Grant ShappsInternet con-man and Tory Party Chairman Grant Shapps has closed down his spam website company following a police investigation which acknowledged that he ‘may’ have committed an act of fraud.

All mention of the Trafficpaymaster software which led to the investigation has been removed from the internet, whilst Shapps’ two alter-egos, Michael Green and Sebastian Fox, have deleted all posts advertising the product on the Warrior Internet Forums.

According to The Guardian any allegation of criminal behaviour has been strongly denied with a spokesperson for Shapps saying: “Any suggestion of illegality would be completely improper and malicious and would be treated as such.”

Shapps’ company sold software with the express intention of it being used to breach google’s terms and conditions to generate income from google ads.  The software did this by ‘scraping’ (stealing) content from other people’s websites, spinning it – which means changing a few words round so…

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Not that the recovery is real – it’s based on yet another debt-bubble that is certain to burst soon. And yes, the ‘Making Work Pay’ cliche is an absolute lie. Most of the changes to the benefit system have negatively impacted on people in work more than the unemployed.

Vox Political

Just one day after the TUC leader said the Coalition has broken the historic link between economic growth and rising household incomes, Labour has proposed a way to restore it.

Since the recovery began, earlier this year, Vox Political has been pointing out its lack of impact on the poorest households in the UK – readily evidenced by the rise and rise of food banks across the country. This is because any profits are being funnelled up to those individuals who are already earning the most and – thanks to our bizarrely-slanted tax (avoidance) system – into tax havens.

According to the BBC, Frances O’Grady told a conference yesterday that “households are being excluded from the benefits of growth. Unless this changes, the recovery will be meaningless to the vast majority of people across Britain.

She said the government was “desperately short of solutions”.

A Treasury spokesperson said the…

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Diary of an SAH Stroke Survivor

Permission given by those concerned in this article

They have request that this be blogged and that I help in making it go viral so I ask if you agree with what has been published here you too share, blog and retwit as this is a new low of Iain Duncan Smith and I for one am truly disgusted not only with his reply letter that did not even touch base with the issues raised he also chose to pass the buck this smacks of total incompetence.

The person this refers to is a BRITISH CITIZEN indeed she has lived here all her life, was born in Chingford LONDON and is a UK Passport Holder. She has worked here paid her taxes here, however this Govt want to send her to Holland.

The letter I will copy and paste below is a letter sent to Iain Duncan Smith by the…

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Hillsborough: Where Was I?

November 1, 2013

by Martin Odoni

FOREWORD: I do not wish the many essays I have written on the subject to give a false impression of my ‘relationship’, for want of a better word, with the Hillsborough Disaster. I must reiterate categorically that I was not present at Hillsborough, and to the best of my knowledge, nobody I knew at the time was there either. Nor have I ever had more than the most fleeting contact with any of the Disaster’s most prominent campaigners for justice – the late Anne Williams once shared a couple of my essays on her Facebook Timeline, but I would say that that is about the biggest direct link I have ever had, and, honoured though I was to learn that she thought highly of my work, it isn’t much of a link really.

While I have supported the campaigns against the British Judicial system repeatedly over the last twenty-four years, and I have also frequently been caught up in vehement arguments with those who insist on propagating the apocryphal stories about how the Disaster happened, my own personal stake in it is minimal, and very much ‘from-a-distance’.

A few months ago, I wrote to the Independent Police Complaints Commission to point out to them a serious issue raised in a recent Panorama documentary about the Disaster, and from the response I got, it seemed the person replying was under the impression I had actually been at Hillsborough when it happened. So it is in order to make sure that no false impression is given as to my position that I have written the following account.


Every so often in my life, I’ve been accused of being a ‘glory-hunter’. The reason for this is that I am from the city of Exeter in Devon – “capital of the south-west and Jewel in the Crown of the West Country!!!!” as it is sometimes referred to by older generation locals too misty-eyed to know better – and yet for most of my life as a football fan, I have been a supporter of Liverpool FC. Merseyside and Devon are both in the western half of England, but that’s about as close as you can ever really get to finding a geographic parallel. So why do I support Liverpool?

Well, my family does have links to Merseyside; my mother and father lived there for a while in the months after they married in the early-1970’s. But my main reason for supporting Liverpool is probably less sentimental than that. The simple reality is, I first started watching football in the early-1980’s, when Liverpool had been the most dominant team in the country for some years. The team were on TV more often than any other, so they were the team I’d first heard of, and I quickly developed a familiarity with them. So I always looked up and paid attention as a six and seven year old whenever I saw them mentioned on the news. “Yes! I know them!” I sort of just started supporting them because I knew who they were. Kind of like imprinting, I guess.

My poor neglected local club of minnows, Exeter City, I am embarrassed to say, did not register with me at all until about a year after I became a football fan. My reaction when finally one of my friends told me about the club was one of genuine surprise. “What?” I gasped in my quaint yokelly accent, which, yes, I still have today. “We have a football club in Devon?” That can come as a real brow-raiser even now, given Devon’s long status as a cricket and rugby union stronghold, but in fact we have three clubs in my home corner of the world. Exeter City, pride of the West Country of course, Plymouth Argyle, who wear green because they make me sick, and Torquay United, who wear yellow because they’re such cowardly…

Nah, too easy. (Answer back if you dare, Helen Chamberlain!)

From that point on, I became a supporter of both Exeter City and Liverpool, and that is still my position today. (It was a very surreal experience for me when the two clubs played against each other in the League Cup a couple of years back, I can tell you.) Rather annoyingly, the year my family moved to Glasgow was the very year that Exeter City finally tasted a bit of success by clinching the then-Fourth Division Championship, just as I was no longer there to see it happening. But as a consolation, there was a guy at my new school in Bearsden who was a Carlisle United fan, whom Exeter pipped for the title, so I gave him plenty of stick and wind-ups about that.

That year was 1989-90, but in the April of 1989, my family had still not moved north. I was still very much an Exonian – that is the demonym for people from Exeter in case you were wondering – living as a gloomy teenager with a slow-to-fade fondness for Transformers comics, and a detestation of the vainglorious private school I had been sent to. At the time, my family were living around the corner from City’s home stadium (read: tumbledown veranda with a grass field attached to it), St. James’ Park, but I seldom went to watch them play, because, after a handful of experiences of watching a game from the terraces of various grounds in the early-1980’s, I’d come to find it a grimy, uncomfortable, nervous business for someone so small. I would probably have coped far better by the time I was a teenager, but as is so often the case with kids, I didn’t really notice any of the changes in myself until puberty set in.

So, on that date of 15th April 1989, when the worst stadium disaster in British history sent shockwaves around the country, while I would like to claim that I was doing something profound, or at least heavily football-related, when the news reached me, the truth is extremely mundane. In fact, all I was doing was messing around with a video recorder – oh, how advanced that technology seemed then. About a month earlier, being a naive thirteen-year-old, I was under the impression that the bi-annual Comic Relief telethon, Red Nose Day, was genuinely funny. No really, I did. So I had irritated the rest of the family by taping about four hours of it on the VCR for posterity. On this Saturday afternoon a month on, I was sat in the living room with my brother (then a chatty, rosy-cheeked five-year-old playing with Starcom toys – remember them? They had magnets in their feet) and father, watching the Red Nose Day recording back, and trying to persuade myself that all the chaos and poorly-staged set-pieces weren’t excruciating to watch. I found a videolog of Billy Connolly reuniting a father with his two lost children in the civil war for Mozambique genuinely heart-wrenching. And we all found the magic trick by Paul Daniels that went wrong because of curdled milk – it would take much too long to explain here – amusing for entirely the wrong reasons.

And it was around this point, if I remember rightly, that my mother came running into the living room. I don’t recall what time it was, but I think it must have been some point between 3pm and 4pm. She couldn’t stand Red Nose Day, so she had been in the dining room, listening to the radio instead.

I had been aware, of course, that Liverpool were playing in an FA Cup semi-final that day, but it hadn’t really been on my mind that much. I was very confident Liverpool would win, and in any event, at the time I was rather ‘taking a break’ from being a football fan, probably through having watched too much of it on TV in previous years and grown slightly bored.

But when my mum came running in, I leapt to my feet with a guilty start, thinking I must have done something wrong, and trying desperately hard to think what it might have been. But she zipped straight past me to the television and switched the video recorder off. “Turn on the other channel!” she cried, fumbling with the poorly-designed controls on the front of the TV. “There’s been a crush at the football!”

I didn’t quite understand what she meant, and knowing that she didn’t like football any more than she liked Red Nose Day, I spent a brief moment trying to figure out what could possibly interest her in what was happening at the game. But then she managed to switch the TV to BBC1, and within seconds, to my abject horror, I understood all too well.

I can’t remember exactly what images I saw. For some reason, memories from long ago have a strange tendency to turn into mirror-images in my head. For instance, in my mind, I always have an image of the Heysel Stadium Tragedy happening at the opposite end of the terrace from where it really happened, and similarly with Hillsborough, my actual memories of it from the day seem to have the crush occurring at the Kop end of the stadium rather than Leppings Lane, so in my head all events appear to be happening to the right of the main BBC camera’s position and not to the left. But what I do seem to remember is the sight of various people in a seated upper tier hauling stricken fans up out of a standing area, and a football pitch full of people, some of them being carried away on what appeared to be stretchers. (We know now that the ‘stretchers’ were in fact advertising hoardings that had been torn down.)

As a ten-year-old, I had seen numbing chaos on the TV screen as I sat through Heysel. And through the intervening years, I had become almost desensitised to disaster, so frequent a feature had it become during the mid-to-late-1980’s e.g. the Valley Parade Fire, the Clapham Junction Rail Crash, the Zeebrugge Ferry Disaster, the Piper Alpha Explosion, the Lockerbie Bombing*, and on and on. It is in fact terrifying just how disaster-prone Britain had become during that period, and I had half-stopped noticing it. It was simply part of the way the world must be, I had come to assume, which is scary in itself.

But this time it really hit me. I couldn’t take in much of what the presenters on TV were saying – I assume from re-watching some of the footage in recent years that they were Bob Wilson and John Motson – but one thing I remember very distinctly is that I kept hearing numbers. One of them was an emergency telephone number for relatives. The other was a death-toll. “People are dead?” I muttered. The number fifty seemed to keep filling my ears, and so I assumed, correctly as it turns out, that I was hearing the then-current estimate for how many had died. That immediately carried my thoughts back to the fire at Bradford City four years earlier, where over fifty had also died. With my limited, juvenile mind of the time, this new tragedy sounded impossible to me. These people were apparently dying because too many of them were in a tight space? How could a tight space be as dangerous as a runaway fire? Alas, the naivety of youth.

Little did I know that the death-toll wouldn’t stop there, but at that point I was feeling quite different from how I had felt witnessing previous disasters. After Valley Parade, after Heysel, after Zeebrugge, after Lockerbie*, and others, I had felt genuinely very saddened, but not personally affected. This time, I felt connected to what was going on, even though I had not been there. Indeed I had never set foot in Sheffield in my whole life at the time.

The reason I felt personally involved of course is that I was a Liverpool supporter, and the people dying were Liverpool supporters too. It’s a shallow, almost tribal reason to care more, but it was still true. So I kept watching, the horror greater than I probably had any right to feel.

The rest of my memories of that sombre evening are dominated by newsflashes on the TV, each one reporting a death-toll higher than the previous newsflash, which made the whole experience a dizzying, out-of-control blur. I can’t remember all of the exact figures that I heard, but I seem to recall one newsreader saying fifty-three, another channel saying no it was fifty-seven, establishing the disaster as the worst in English sporting history, then another newsflash updating to say it was something like sixty-six, equalling the Ibrox Disaster of 1971, before finally (or at least I had thought it was finally) Moira Stuart, with her eternally big hair and android-like, unblinking facial movements, announcing that the figure was now set at seventy-four, thus making it the worst disaster in British sporting history. I think that must have been the point when my brain just couldn’t process anymore. Any number higher than that just would not go into my head, I half-consciously decided, so that had to be it, that had to be the final total. There could not have been any more people killed. Not just by watching a football match.

Alas, a couple of hours later, Martyn Lewis appeared on the screen and announced that the death-toll was ninety-three. My memory may be wrong on this, but I seem to recall myself actually arguing with the TV set at this point, so little could I process the ever-growing total. “No!” I cried, somehow convincing myself that the earlier report was definitive and that the later report was somehow the result of a silly miscount. “It’s seventy-four! It’s seventy-four!”

It wasn’t seventy-four. It was ninety-three. And soon it was ninety-four. And a couple of days on it would be ninety-five. (Four years later, Tony Bland’s life-support machine would be switched off and it would be ninety-six. Although I shudder to speculate how many the real total is, when we consider those who have died after being unable to cope with the mental trauma of the Disaster.)

I seem to remember hearing at some point in the evening about the rumour of an exit gate being broken down by ticketless fans – which for loyalty reasons I reflexively dismissed – and the subsequent refutation of that, but I can’t recall exactly when I heard either of them.

And that is just about my whole memory of the day itself. As you can see, I was not closely or intimately involved in it at all, but even so, the Hillsborough Disaster has had a strong effect on me in a very indirect way ever since. And even if, at the time, my reasons for defending the supporters and criticising the police were more about club loyalty than intellect, study of the real story of the Disaster over the next few years showed me that I happened to be right. I’ve occasionally been in really bitter fights over the Disaster with uninformed people while living in Scotland, and later in Manchester (how predictable) since then, and I still don’t know whether to be proud or ashamed of that.

Before I finish, one other memory from April 1989 bears mentioning.

Being a schoolkid, I had a pre-school newspaper round at the time, posting the national dailies to houses in the St. James/Stoke Hill parishes of Exeter. Around 7am on the 19th April, I was poised to deliver my first copy of that day’s issue of The Sun, and saw on the bundle of sheets in my hand the words “THE TRUTH. Some fans picked pockets of victims. Some fans urinated on the brave cops. Some fans beat up PC giving kiss of life.” (I didn’t memorise them word-for-word at the time of course, although in later years they became indelibly etched on my cerebellum.) Even at that young age, I could already work out in my head how implausible some of the accusations in that notorious article were, but I also knew straight away that these accusations were now going to be all over the country, and once publicised in this way, they could never be ‘un-publicised’. I was so shocked that even our poisonous British tabloids could print anything so vile that I wanted to throw the ‘newspaper’ in the nearest bin. In hindsight, I probably should have, but I was afraid of getting into trouble if I did so, so I delivered it.

I finished my round in an angry daze – the newsagent who employed me was angry with me that evening because I’d become so distracted by those headlines that I’d gotten several deliveries wrong – and I was very quiet in school all day. I never spoke of it to my parents when I got home either, but I had spent most of the day honestly wanting to set fire to something, as though that could somehow burn the lies away.

I don’t know whether anything above really conveys why the Hillsborough Disaster matters so much to me. I’m not even sure if I know why myself in fact; I don’t think it’s just club loyalty anymore. I do feel a wider hostility towards corruption in the police and media in general, which have undoubtedly played huge roles in the history of the Disaster, so it may have something to do with that. But in a way it doesn’t matter why, and questioning such feelings on the basis of “Well I wasn’t involved, so why should I care?” encourages both selfishness and myopia. What matters is that it did matter then, and it has exposed other issues that still very much matter now, issues of the unaccountability of the British legal system, and the money-dominated motivations of the media, among others. And in truth, the needless deaths of nearly a hundred people by bungling institutional incompetence can never stop being important just because time has passed.

Surely those are good enough reasons for it to matter to anyone. And the reasons it should matter to everyone.


*A fellow pupil at my school in Exeter was one of the victims at Lockerbie in fact, although I didn’t know her personally as she was a couple of years my senior. Sadly I do not recall her name, but I know that she had started boarding at Exeter School about a year earlier. She had failed to settle in the West Country, and being homesick, she had travelled back to Scotland for the Christmas holidays. Her house was apparently one of the ones that was destroyed when the Boeing crash-landed on the village. At the time of the bombing, I was in hospital with a broken leg, but I remembered seeing photographs of the girl in a local newspaper, and pictures of some of her classmates in tears when the news was broken to them. Again, I did not feel personally affected by Lockerbie, but I probably should have.

EDIT: Some of my memories of Lockerbie are wrong, I’ve discovered. I’ve just checked this link to the website of Exeter’s main local newspaper, and it turns out the schoolgirl, whose name was Melina Hudson, was on board the plane itself and didn’t live in Lockerbie – indeed, she wasn’t from Scotland at all. She was also only in Devon as part of an exchange program, and not as a long-term student. Apologies for the misinformation there.

ANOTHER EDIT: My mother has read the above, and she has sent me the following supplementary details; –

“A vivid memory Martin. I can tell you the time you learned about it: I was listening to the 3pm News and it was, of course, the first item, so I dashed into the living room a few seconds after 3. As you say, the carnage was already well established by the time we saw the live broadcasting.”

I’m not sure this is accurate though, as the game wasn’t stopped until 3:06pm, and hardly anybody outside the Leppings Lane end of the stadium even knew anything was wrong until just before that moment. I suspect it was a 4pm news bulletin she was listening to.

Me at the Hillsborough Disaster Memorial, Anfield.

Me at the Hillsborough Disaster Memorial at Anfield in October 2013.


Other articles about the Hillsborough Disaster:-

The Myths

“I’m Entitled To My Opinion!” The Polite Man’s Ad Hominem

The Air Of Shock Should Itself Be Shocking

Is Thatcher Guilty? If So, What Of?

Changing Statements

A Brief Review Of With Hope In Your Heart by Christopher Whittle

The Toppling Gate

Discursive Types

Anne Williams – A Real World Heroine

In Its Correct Historical Context

A Brief Review Of The Jimmy McGovern Docu-Drama From 1996

After A Year The Sun’s Apology Is Still Not Accepted – And Nor Should It Be

The Institutional Guilt Lies Not Only With The Police

Hillsborough, Heysel, Valley Parade and Ibrox: Why Are Stadium Disasters Always Prone To Urban Mythology?

The Name That Became A Moment

Forged Tickets? Only If You Think Star Wars Is A Documentary