April 29, 2016
by Martin Odoni
Originally written 12th May 2015
We frequently hear people who want discussion of the Hillsborough Disaster just to ‘go away’ (whatever that means), arguing that the only reason that it has not already disappeared into history is that it happened to the people of Liverpool. “Liverpool,” these people say, “is a self-pity city. Scousers just can’t get over it, and they won’t stop going on about it.”
This is a classic example of using lazy, Music-Hall stereotype as a substitute for evidence, of course, but even if that were a legitimate method-of-analysis, it would still not fit the scenario very well. This is because of one of those little details about the Disaster of which surprisingly few people are aware; only just over a third of the victims – thirty-seven – were themselves from Liverpool. It was the largest proportion, yes, but by and large, the breakdown of home-towns among the victims was very wide indeed.
You can widen the definition of ‘Liverpool’ to include the rest of Merseyside, if you are in the stubborn mood to keep making cynical, snide remarks about the supposed ‘maudlin’ outlook of Liverpudlians, but even then, the total proportion of the victims is still below two-thirds, at fifty-seven.
Mancunians – many of whom for reasons of petty historical rivalry are loud voices among the ‘Self-Pity-City’ jeers – should perhaps pause to consider that three of the victims were from the close fringes of Manchester – one from Bury, one from Stockport, one from Leigh. Sixteen others were from other parts of Lancashire and Cheshire, and could therefore be seen as being as much Mancunian as Liverpudlian. (Or even, dare I say it, people from Lancashire or Cheshire in their own right.)
People from Yorkshire, many of whom for reasons of geographic loyalty would like to push blame for the Disaster away from the local police force and onto the victims, might equally pause to consider that a further three of those who died were from Sheffield. Tony Bland, the last of the 96 to die, was also somewhat local, being from Keighley in West Yorkshire. (Also, two of the other victims were from Pinner in Middlesex, but they were the daughters of former chairman of the Hillsborough Families’ Support Group, Trevor Hicks, who is himself a Yorkshireman.)
Two victims were from Wales, two were from Staffordshire, two were from Leicestershire. One was from St. Albans, one from Worcestershire, one from Gloucestershire, one from Derbyshire. There was also one each from Bristol and Essex.
One of the victims, Colin Sefton of Skelmersdale, was not even a Liverpool supporter. He was actually a Tottenham Hotspur fan, and had only tagged along to the semi-final because a number of his friends were going, and they needed someone to drive them to Sheffield. By a bitter-sweet irony, Colin’s friends all survived.
Another victim, Inger Shah, was not even British by birth. She was born in Denmark, and although she spent much of her life in England and became a season ticket holder at Anfield, she was more an adopted-Londoner than a Liverpudlian.
(A full rundown of the 96 can be read here.)
Quite a cross-section of the nation, is it not? Far from encouraging idiotic prejudgements of people entirely on the basis of where they come from, this should only emphasise what should have been obvious to our myopic little country anyway, right from the opening minutes of the Disaster. It was not a tragedy just for Liverpool, either club or city, nor was it just a tragedy for the north-west of England. It was a national tragedy that had implications for families all over England and Wales. A great many of the bereaved relatives of those who died, while enduring the malicious accusations of being “whinging scousers” are neither whingers nor actually from Liverpool. Many of them are not Liverpool supporters, quite a few of them are not even football fans; some would not be able to tell a long throw-in from a lace throw-over.
The Hillsborough Disaster was not specifically about Liverpool, and it was scarcely at all about football. Those who say, “Get over it” are often making the mistake of assuming it is about both, and in doing so, they are potentially jeopardising themselves. What happened at Hillsborough – the state carelessly losing lives of people in its care – and in the years that followed – the state trying to hide its culpability – could have happened to anyone from anywhere in the country. So if the false conclusion of the original Coroner’s Inquest were simply left to stand, it would not only establish the precedent that Liverpool lives are expendable. It would have established the precedent that any lives in the care of the British state are expendable. Among the people jeopardised would be many of the same fools who kept crying, “Will you get over it?!?”
Be grateful, fools, that, so far, the bereaved and the traumatised survivors of Hillsborough have not followed your short-tempered instruction. Their campaign was not about a perceived chip on the shoulder of Liverpool, it was about reminding the state that ‘ordinary’ people still matter, and that when they die due to the bungling of authorities, those authorities can and should be held to account.
In forcing the state to be a good deal more careful with people’s lives in future, those people wronged by the Hillsborough Disaster may just have made your own lives that little bit safer.
by Martin Odoni
In light of the almost tragi-comic week the South Yorkshire Police Service is currently enduring, with two changes of leadership in 48 hours, and, thanks to the Inquest verdict on Tuesday, the force is now almost certain to face long overdue criminal charges over the Hillsborough Disaster, I found myself unable to resist writing the following; –
[Applicant sat in the waiting room of a police recruitment centre, dressed in a hole-ridden raincoat, sniffing and picking his nose. A recruitment officer with a clipboard walks up.]
RECRUITMENT OFFICER: Ah, Mr Bollux, thank you for attending this recruitment event today. Now, we’ve gone over your C.V. and we’re sorry to inform you that we will be unable to recommend you for the role of Police Constable on this occasion…
APPLICANT: Wuh-….? Why not?
RECRUITMENT OFFICER: Well your record does seem to include a few… unfortunate incidents that lead us to question whether you are of suitable character…
APPLICANT: Oh dat’s fu’in’ typical, dat is. I makes one small mistake and they never lets me forget it…
RECRUITMENT OFFICER: Er, well, it’s not so much one mistake we’re looking at as…. the other thirty-seven.
APPLICANT: Can’t be dat many.
RECRUITMENT OFFICER: Well the incident of peeping tommery on your part does seem to have been replicated on several occasions.
APPLICANT: Oh, you’re counting them that way are ya?
RECRUITMENT OFFICER: You mean the actual number of times you did it? Yes, we are. That may be seen as pedantic, but comprehensiveness is the surest path to accuracy. And while the six months you spent in prison for low-level embezzlement might be argued is a debt to society that you have already repaid, the other three cases of embezzlement you boast of on your application do not appear to have been penalised as yet.
APPLICANT: What, you mean I have to be punished for every crime I commit before we’re square?
RECRUITMENT OFFICER: It is traditional. And then there are the drug offences….
APPLICANT: Oh look, it wasn’t cocaine, I doesn’t know how many times I has to say it!!
RECRUITMENT OFFICER: Oh, we accept that the substance wasn’t cocaine, Mr Bollux. It’s just we can’t accept that the orifice of the cow you smuggled it through customs in can be used in precisely that way without also violating several bestiality laws….
RECRUITMENT OFFICER: Yes. “Oh.” You can also count the incest charge as a minus to your application, even though you were able to prove that she only shared one parent with you, and that you weren’t actually aware of it at the time of entry.
APPLICANT: Yeah, exac’kly! I though she was my nan…
RECRUITMENT OFFICER: As for the fraud you committed to con pensioners into buying cheap gas from you…
APPLICANT: Which was cylindered burps after I had a three-course Madras, yeah. I was proud of that wheeze, thought it were right clever…
RECRUITMENT OFFICER: Yes, well we might have let you off for that, but the fact that you threw lit matches through the pensioners’ windows after the sales were completed, and they actually detonated the gases in the cylinders seems unforgivingly cruel and needlessly ruthless.
APPLICANT: Well, stupid old fogies deserved it, din’t they? Dumb enough to buy burps, the gene-pool’s better off without them, innit?
[Applicant hawks back some mucus and gobs it all over the floor with a loud retching cough.]
RECRUITMENT OFFICER: No, I’m sorry, Mr Bollux, you are clearly a man of absolutely no empathy or conscience, possessed of a one-track, unprincipled, manipulative mentality. You are self-serving bundle of appetites and baser instincts that lead you to sacrifice anyone and anything to advance your own myopic interests. You lack consideration, you are unpresentable, you are lewd, avaricious, corrupt and perverted, and you have all the eloquence of a clockwork sewing machine, all of which means you are completely unsuited to the role of a Police Constable.
[Applicant looks downcast.]
RECRUITMENT OFFICER: So I’m putting you forward for the post of Chief Superintendent in South Yorkshire instead.
April 26, 2016
by Martin Odoni
At the time of writing it is the 25th of January 2016. The Coroner of the ‘re-booted’ Inquest into the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989, has begun his sum-up of evidence, and is about to send the jury to deliberate on their verdict of the ninety-six deaths.
The questions the jury must consider for such a verdict are as follows in bold type. The responses I would give, were I on the jury, follow in normal type; –
a) Do you agree with the following statement which is intended to summarise the basic facts of the disaster: “On 15 April 1989 96 people died at the disaster as a result of crushing in the central pens of the Leppings Lane terrace following the admission of a large number of supporters to the stadium through exit gates.”
More or less agree, although there is a misleading element in the statement as worded. The opening of exit gate C is implied to be the immediate cause of the tragedy, when it was more a contributory factor than the decisive cause. For reasons I list here, my position is that, even without the opening of the gate, a disaster would still have occurred.
b) Police planning for the semi final match – was there any error or omission in police planning or preparation for the semi final which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed on the day of the match?
Emphatically yes. There were serious problems with crushing and overcrowding in Leppings Lane and on the terrace below the West Stand in the three previous semi-finals held at Hillsborough in the 1980’s, and the warning signs therein were completely ignored. The police duty plan for the 1989 semi-final was identical to the one used in 1988, up to and including the same spelling mistakes. For some reason, the 1988 plan was never updated to include the technique of ‘filtering‘ in Leppings Lane (see next question), which implies that the indicators of what was working and what was failing in 1988 were not really being taken on board by the police. The appointment of newly-promoted Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield to be the match commander was also an astonishingly myopic start to preparations, given he had no experience of policing a football match in over ten years, and was completely ill-prepared for trying to run the operation of an FA Cup semi-final.
c) Policing of the match and the situation at the turnstiles – Was there any error or omission in policing on the day of the match which caused or contributed to a dangerous situation developing at the Leppings Lane turnstiles?
Strongly yes. There were nowhere near enough officers in Leppings Lane during the last two hours prior to kick-off, and the ‘filtering’ system deployed the previous year, to get spectators organised into queues up the road from the stadium, was not re-used. This oversight led to enormous confusion and chaos in the entry concourse to the stadium.
d) Policing of the match and the crush on the terrace – Was there any error or omission by commanding officers which caused or contributed to the crush on the terrace?
Firmly yes. No officer, even in the control room with its multiple CCTV screens, monitored the build-up of spectators arriving on the terrace. As the terrace was divided by fences into pens, areas could become over-full long before the terrace as a whole was full. Thus when the central pens were already packed, no officer was instructed to close off access to them.
e) The opening of the gates – When the order was given to open the exit gates at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium was there any error or omission by the commanding officers in the control box which caused or contributed to the crush on the terrace?
Strongly yes. The match commander was correct to order the exit gate be opened, but he did not pause first to assess where many hundreds of extra people were likely to go once beyond the turnstiles if they were not given any guidance. By far the likeliest place most of the new arrivals would head towards would be gangway 2, the tunnel heading below the West Stand, leading into the central pens, as it was immediately opposite the gate. It also had a sign saying ‘STANDING’, and as the new arrivals would in the main have tickets for standing room, they would mainly have assumed this applied to them. Because the match commander did not take this into account, he did not check to make sure that the central pens had sufficient space for hundreds of extra spectators; in the event, they had no remaining space at all.
f) Are you satisfied so that you are sure that those who died in the disaster were unlawfully killed?
Yes. The series of blunders were evidently the result of lazy complacency (hence the bit about copying spelling mistakes in question b)), which is negligence. Except in cases of murder, negligence is one of the central features of an Unlawful Killing.
g) Behaviour of the supporters – Was there any behaviour on the part of the football supporters which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles? If yes was that behaviour unusual or unforeseeable?
No. This is not meant to imply that the behaviour of the spectators was immaculate, as it was not. But what bad behaviour there was was isolated, infrequent, unremarkable, played no role in causing or contributing to the disaster i.e. the disaster would still have happened if every single spectator had behaved impeccably, and was largely in response to the situation instead of what was triggering it. Examples of bad behaviour that eye-witnesses have cited were entirely foreseeable, as they were quite in-keeping with the general behaviour of football crowds of the time; often unpleasant, but easily policed.
h) Defects in Hillsborough stadium – Were there any features of its design, construction and layout which were dangerous or defective and which caused or contributed to the disaster?
Emphatically yes. The decision to divide the terrace into three pens – and then subsequently into five – was one of the most bewildering decisions Sheffield Wednesday Football Club ever made. The club did it in response to a serious crush that developed on the terrace in 1981, when 38 Tottenham Hotspur fans suffered injuries as they were pinned against perimeter fences. The idea that the problem of crushing against fences could be solved by adding more fences is like trying to save a drowning man by sending more water in his direction. Equally, 24,256 fans all had to enter the stadium via the West Stand, through a narrow concourse that had only 23 turnstiles, which was a glaring bottleneck. Furthermore, the signposting at Hillsborough was appalling, and it was entirely possible for a spectator who was new to the stadium never to realise that the wing-pens of the west terrace had entirely separate entrances from the tunnel. Furthermore again, the lay-out of crush barriers on the terrace had changed quite a bit over the years, and one of the changes meant that barrier 124a became exposed to very high pressure levels during the crush, leading it to collapse (see question j).
i) Licensing and Oversight of the stadium. Was there any error or omission in the safety certification and oversight of Hillsborough Stadium that caused or contributed to the disaster?
Cautiously yes. I cannot be definite about this as regards to directly contributing to the disaster, but there is no doubt that the maintenance of Hillsborough Stadium was atrocious, and the safety certification was shockingly out-of-date. The turnstiles at the west end of the stadium were quite dilapidated, slowing rate-of-entry, while the safety certificate for the ground was issued in 1979. Since that time, the West Stand had had radial fences installed on the terrace, extra dividing walls had been installed in the turnstile areas, limiting movement, and the Spion Kop End had been fitted with a new roof. None of these changes had been assessed for their safety implications, and were therefore completely unmentioned in the certificate, and so evacuation procedures for the stadium were long out-of-date.
j) Conduct of Sheffield Wednesday FC before the day of the match. Was there any error or omission by SWFC and its staff in the management of the stadium and/or preparation for the semi final match on 15 April 1989 which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed on the day of the match?
Cautiously yes. The standard of maintenance and preparation, as mentioned earlier, was not good, but again we need to assess it in terms of whether it contributed to the disaster. I would say it probably did, although not decisively. Shortage of medical equipment in the stadium suggests complacency, although in fairness, a disaster on this scale would have been a difficult proposition for which to prepare. The key area of concern is that a crush barrier near the front of pen 3 collapsed during the disaster, upping the death toll. Subsequent analysis of the wreckage showed signs of corrosion on the joints securing it to the surface of the terrace, and at least 13 different coats of paint. Meanwhile, an old bit of newspaper was found stuffed inside the barrier as litter, and was found to be dated from 1931. This all strongly implies many, many years of casual neglect, which almost certainly contributed to the barrier collapsing.
k) Conduct of Sheffield Wednesday FC on the day of the match. Was there any error or omission by SWFC and its staff on 15 April 1989 which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed at the Leppings Lane turnstiles and in the west terrace?
No. Nothing the club staff did on the day seems to have contributed to the disaster in any way, although they might have requested that the police delay the kick-off. It is highly questionable whether that would have made any difference though. For one thing, the police do not appear to have been willing to carry out such a request. For another, even if they had, the crushes both at the turnstiles and on the Leppings Lane terrace were already in progress, and simply moving the kick-off back would not have magically made extra space for the people caught up in them.
l) Conduct of Eastwood & Partners (SWFC engineers) – should Eastwood and Partners have done more to detect and advise on any unsafe or unsatisfactory features of the stadium which caused or contributed to the disaster?
Emphatically yes. Eastwood & Partners showed all the signs when routinely testing the crush barriers down the years of ‘going through the motions’, and of not really paying any attention to what they were examining. Year after year, they had missed the corrosion on the crush barrier that collapsed (see question j)), but Professor Eastwood himself showed great arrogance when interviewed in the days after the disaster, insisting that standards of maintenance were rigorous.
m) Emergency response and the role of South Yorkshire Police – After the crush in the West Terrace had begun to develop was there any error or omission by the police which caused or contributed to the loss of lives in the disaster?
Firmly yes. Police officers were just yards from spectators who were crying out to them for help from behind the perimeter fence, and in the main just ignored the appeals. Then, the knee-jerk police response to spectators pouring out of the central pens was to assume hooligans were invading the pitch. So slow-on-the-uptake were some police officers that they actually stopped desperate spectators from escaping the crush and pushed them back into the pens. The emergency response plan was never, at any stage, put properly into effect. There is no doubt that the police response was completely inappropriate, and if anything, made deaths more likely to occur than if they had just stood back and done nothing at all.
n) Emergency response and the role of South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service (SYMAS) – After the crush in the west terrace had begun to develop, was there any error or omission by the ambulance service SYMAS which caused or contributed to the loss of lives in the disaster?
Cautiously yes. There appears to have been a significant delay on the part of the ambulance staff present at the stadium in cottoning onto what was happening. However, it is possible that, even had they reacted sooner, the number of lives lost would have been the same, so caution is required.
Now, before assuming that David Duckenfield was responsible for any negligence, the Coroner stipulated that the jury must be satisfied that the following conditions hold good; –
- Firstly, that as match commander, he owed a duty of care to the 96 who died.
- Secondly, that he was in breach of that duty of care by analysing his conduct before and on the day.
- Thirdly, they must be sure his conduct caused or contributed to the deaths “not merely in a minimal way”.
- Finally, the jury must be sure that, as match commander, Mr Duckenfield’s conduct was so bad it amounted to “gross negligence”, so bad it was equal to a criminal act or omission.
My assessment of these points is as follows; –
- Firstly, yes of course he had a duty of care to the people who died; he was a member of the police. All officers sign up to a duty of care to the public on the day they join the force, so this is not even up for debate.
- Secondly, by failing to learn enough about the peculiarities of Hillsborough Stadium in the weeks beforehand, by declining an offer of help from his predecessor Brian Mole, by failing to control the ingress of the spectators to the stadium, by failing to monitor crowd build-up in individual enclosures around the ground, by not pausing to consider where large numbers of spectators would go were the exit gate opened, by failing to put the emergency plan properly into effect when disaster broke, and by failing to take command of the emergency-response, his preparation for the event and conduct during it were clearly lax and semi-conscious. The safety of the people attending the stadium that day depended on Duckenfield being alert, pro-active and aware of the dangers.
- Thirdly, Duckenfield’s actions did not contribute to the deaths in a ‘minimal way’, they were directly and unambiguously the immediate cause.
- Fourthly, the sheer number of duties Duckenfield failed on, as listed above, clearly add up to gross negligence when put together. This would be true even if the singular blunder of not giving guidance to the spectators arriving through the exit gate were not enough to constitute gross negligence on its own. But the scale and consequences of that unthinking mistake are so huge that it did anyway.
My conclusion therefore, were it for me to say instead of the jury, is that the victims who lost their lives at the Hillsborough Disaster were all Unlawfully Killed due to gross negligence on the part of David Duckenfield, aggravated by further negligence on the part of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, Eastwood & Partners, and the wider South Yorkshire Police.
EDIT ON DAY OF PUBLICATION: Remarkably, the jury’s conclusions, when announced, matched mine almost eerily closely.
by Martin Odoni
(Originally written 21st March 2015; publication delayed for the duration of the Hillsborough Inquests.)
I have written elsewhere, and stand by, an essay arguing that the critical mistake that triggered the Hillsborough Disaster of April 1989 was not the one many people think. The frequent assumption is that the decision by Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield of the South Yorkshire Police to open an exit gate to relieve pressure on the turnstiles at the west end of the stadium was the blunder that caused the Disaster, but in reality it was the right thing to do in circumstances where high crowd-pressure on the turnstiles had become a danger to lives. The blunder Duckenfield was guilty of was his failure to keep tabs on the crowd build-up on the terraces, and thus failing to close access to any enclosures (‘pens’) when they became full. The central pens behind the goal at the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough were already over-crowded even before the gate was opened, with access to them still being left wide open, and so even if the gate had remained closed, there was still likely to be some kind of disaster.
Now during the last week or so (at the time of writing), Duckenfield himself has been giving testimony to the re-booted Coroner’s Inquest into the Disaster. He has managed to remain an infuriating, evasive and contrary witness throughout, while at the same time conceding far, far more than he did at the original Inquest in 1991. The landmark moment was when he finally admitted, after twenty-six long and painful years, that his failure to close the tunnel leading into the central pens when they were full was the direct cause of the Disaster, a moment of confession that was genuinely worthy of the unreal confines of a Hollywood courtroom drama.
But in among all the excited back-and-forth on social media about that moment, I had been paying attention to other things that Duckenfield had been saying, especially on the subject of the moment that he had to decide whether or not to open Gate C. He stated to the Inquest that he was “shocked and taken aback by [the request to open the exit gates] and thinking, ‘Where are these people going to go if I open the gates?” ‘, but his mind went blank trying to calculate the answer.
What is intriguing about this part of his statement is that it shows that Duckenfield was trying to think of the consequences of what he was ordering, but just did not have the knowledge to answer his own question. But further than that, this appears the nearest he came at any time that day to contemplating the crowd build-up on the terraces. At no stage to this point had he given the slightest thought to how densely packed any of the pens were becoming, just assuming that the fans would ‘find their own level’ even though the lateral fences on the terrace made that impossible. Paradoxically, therefore, this means that the emergency in Leppings Lane was, in the strangest way, a missed blessing; it forced Duckenfield to consider what might be about to happen on the terraces, and if only he had swallowed his pride and asked his colleagues in the Police Control Box to advise him, he would surely have been told to close the tunnel under the West Stand. Without the request to open Gate C, he would probably never have given the crowd build-up on the terraces any thought at all, and a disaster would have been completely inevitable. Alas, he did not ask for that advice, and so a disaster set in anyway, but the need to make a decision over the exit gate had at least had the potential to avert it.
But all of this does raise a couple of interesting questions; what if Duckenfield had asked his colleagues where the fans might head to if the exit gate were opened, and what if they had warned him to close off the tunnel? Would that mean that there would definitely have been no disaster that day?
Sadly, I suspect that the chances of a disaster occurring would still have been no lower than fifty-fifty. While opening the exit gate was not central to the causes of the Hillsborough Disaster, and while it was the correct decision in the circumstances, it does not change the fact that it was still a very, very risky instruction to give, one that needed to be carried out in a very precisely controlled way, and my doubt is that the inexperienced Duckenfield would have had the know-how to handle it right.
For me, the danger was that, if ‘Gangway 2’ were closed off before the exit gate was opened, the issue of overcrowding might have simply shifted to another pen. By the time the game kicked off at 3pm, side-pens 6 and 7, on the north end of the Leppings Lane terrace, were only about half-full, but pens 1 and 2 at the south end were by now well over three-quarters full. Partly, this was because many fans who had escaped the crush in the central pens had been transferred to pens 1 and 2. But partly also, when the exit gate had been opened, over two thousand supporters poured into the inner entry concourse, and while about three-quarters of them went down the tunnel, about a quarter of them headed for the entrance to pens 1 and 2, because the side-entrance, while still not obvious, was at least visible enough from the exit gate for some of the fans to notice.
My concern is therefore that, were the gates on ‘Gangway 2’ closed off, almost all the fans entering through Gate C would probably have headed for the entrance to pens 1 and 2 instead, as the entrance to pens 6 and 7 was hidden from view behind a diagonal wall leading from the turnstile bank to the back wall of the West Stand.
Closing the tunnel on its own is not enough to constitute good crowd guidance; there was still no actual monitoring by the police of crowd build-up on the terrace, and almost no directions were being provided to arriving fans, be it by the police or by club stewards. There would therefore be no particular reason to assume that anyone would have intervened once pens 1 and 2 were full, and no reason at all to imagine that fans arriving through Gate C would have been able to figure out by themselves that there was another pair of side-pens, with far more room still available, at the opposite end of the terrace.
With this in mind, there would be every danger that there would simply have been a crush in the southern side pens instead of in pens 3 and 4. As the lay-out of the side pens was less cramped than the central pens, such a crush might not have been so severe, but the consequences, were it to happen, would still have been disastrous.
The exact shape of this alternative disaster is something we can only speculate on. But the clear danger of it happening even if the real disaster had been averted is cardinal. It underlines the fact that, ultimately, Lord Justice Peter Taylor’s criticism of the South Yorkshire Police in his Interim Report in August 1989 was entirely correct. There really was a catastrophic failure of police control at Hillsborough, not just over the central pens, but everywhere in and around the stadium. The only sure way of avoiding a disaster completely is for such a failure not to happen.
April 26, 2016
by Martin Odoni
(Originally written 15th November 2014; publication delayed due to the Hillsborough Inquest.)
Michael Brookfield is a name that may not cause many glimmers of recognition among Hillsborough Disaster campaigners. However, he was a Superintendent in the South Yorkshire Police in the late-1980’s, and although he was not present at the ill-fated FA Cup semi-final in 1989, he has, over the last couple of years, become the Chairman of a ‘welfare group’ set up within the force for officers affected by the recently-renewed investigations into the Disaster. Earlier this week, he spoke at the re-booted Coroner’s Inquests in Warrington, and one rather curious statement he made rather caught my eye.
Brookfield stated, in effect, that many SYP officers still do insist that ‘drunken’ Liverpool supporters were a cause of the Disaster. Now whether or not we accept that this accusation is true (it isn’t), Brookfield went to pains to insist that this is not victim-blaming. He described as “a ridiculous myth, appallingly dishonest” the notion that South Yorkshire Police blamed the victims for causing their own deaths, further stating that there was within the force, “an enormous amount of grief” and sympathy for the bereaved families after the disaster. The police blame ‘other fans’ than the ones who died.
In other words, Brookfield is drawing a distinction between the Liverpool fans who died in the central pens of the Leppings Lane terrace and the Liverpool fans who were, supposedly, drinking heavily and arriving late.
Now this marks Brookfield and other like-minded officers in the South Yorkshire Police as ‘Category 15’s’ – see Discursive Types – and thus in the same bracket as people like Sir Bernard Ingham. Their view of the Disaster, long, long discredited, is that drunk fans without tickets arrived late and caused chaos at the turnstiles forcing the police to open an exit gate to let them into the ground, whereupon the drunk fans ‘stampeded’ into the central pens and caused earlier arrivals right at the front to be pushed into the fences between them and the pitch, crushing them to death.
Not only is this picture of the supporters who entered through the exit gate crudely distorted and exaggerated, it more importantly draws a false distinction. The fans who entered the stadium through Gate C (the vast majority of whom had hardly been drinking at all) were not insulated from dying in the central pens simply by virtue of arriving a bit later. On the contrary, about a quarter, possibly even as many as a third, of the victims who lost their lives at Hillsborough actually entered the stadium through the exit gates. Not all the people who died did so trapped against the perimeter fence. Some died when a crush barrier collapsed and scores of people fell over in a lethal pile-up. Some died because they lost their footing and were inadvertently trampled on by those around them. Some died standing bolt upright in the middle of the pen, crushed by the weight of numbers around them. Furthermore, some fans who entered through the exit gate did in fact end up stood right at the front of the pens within moments of arrival. Even a crowd as densely packed in as the one in the central pens still had a lot of movement, especially those movements brought on by pressure-channels created by gaps between the crush barriers.
Equally, there has never been any particular indicator to suggest that those who arrived later on had necessarily been drinking more than those who were already in the central pens by 2:50pm. The nearest that ever happened on that score came in the form of submissions from a Dr Jonathan Nicholl to the original Coroner’s Inquest conducted by Dr Stefan Popper in the early-1990’s. This came up with a bizarre ‘odds-ratio’-based formula for trying to establish how much people had been drinking and when they were likely to arrive. Subsequent analysis of the ‘evidence’ in question, both by the Hillsborough Independent Panel and Professor Alan Wayne Jones PhD of the Swedish National Board of Forensic Medicine, showed it to be startlingly flawed in terms of its sourcing, potential sample contaminations, and ‘rule-of-thumb’ calculations. (See pages 168 to 174 of the Report Of The Hillsborough Independent Panel), and this comprehensive summary sent by Professor Wayne Jones to Ann Adlington) When traced back to source, every other reference to drunken behaviour, be it late in the lead-up to kick-off or earlier, seems to originate with unscientific, undemonstrated, and often malicious, rumour-mongering.
So there was never any particular division between those who entered through the gates and those who died, nor is there any particular separation between those who arrived earlier and those who stopped off for a drink on the way to the stadium. These are the myths that needs dispelling, not supposed ‘myths’ about the attitude of the police force.
Indeed, given that Brookfield offers this simplified false distinction, it seems that this prejudicial attitude remains as widespread in the South Yorkshire Police as ever.