by Martin Odoni

Just thought I should draw attention to legal action I will (supposedly) be facing in the near future. Christopher Whittle, whom Hillsborough campaigners all know and love, stumbled onto this blog’s dissection of his (not-terribly-impressive) book, With Hope In Your Heart: A Hillsborough Survivor’s Story, The Denial Of Justice & A Personal Battle With PTSD  this week, and appears to have lost his rag again. If you go to the page and scroll down to the comments section, you will see that Whittle left an angry message, reading as follows; –

Absolute disgrace, ODONI. What the hell do you know about Hillsborough? Your rabid character assassination and failure to grasp the true facts, and to disgracefully deny my own Hillsborough experiences, shows the world what you really are. Expect to be contracted[sic] by my solicitors.

(Once again, we see that the only debating tactic Whittle has is to put occasional words in needless capitals in the strange belief that it makes him seem intimidating and authoritative.)

It would be no exaggeration to say that I am petrified by the prospect of Whittle’s solicitors coming after me looking for damages; no exaggeration, that is, because it would be a flat-out lie. I am not worried at all.

Indeed, I would welcome an opportunity to put Whittle under cross-examination in a public forum, and a damages court would be as good as any. He might imagine that I would be the only one to come under examination, but any such case would require cross-examination of my assertions, which are themselves a cross-examination of Whittle’s own work. Therefore, to assess whether I really am guilty of ‘character assassination’, Whittle’s work will have to be checked during the process to establish whether I have distorted anything he wrote, and whether I am correct to accuse him of written anomalies. So all of the anomalies I and other campaigners have found in Whittle’s book and elsewhere would have to be aired and examined in court. And Whittle, if he is to stand any chance of winning the case, would have to come up with convincing answers for all of them.

Even if he could manage that, which I very much doubt, he still would not win, for three reasons; –

Firstly, the anomalies are in his work, and explaining them away after-the-fact does not change the reality that they were there at times of publication, nor the reality that it is his own failing and not mine that they were there. Enforcement of libel laws cannot be applied retroactively against criticisms made before a clarification.

Secondly, I made very clear in the article that neither I nor the other writers are saying that he was definitively not at Hillsborough, or that his accounts are intentionally untrue; we even offered up possible explanations for some of the flaws in his story. What we are saying is that he is a poor writer, in contradiction of his boasts, and his lack of eloquence or clarity on the page is the likeliest reason for the anomalies listed. (Either that or he really is lying; we cannot think of a third explanation.) Whether Whittle feels that is fair or not, we are merely expressing an informed, objective opinion, and backing it up with detailed examples and verifiable evidence, both of which are in short supply whenever he makes an accusation, as history has shown. It is not an indictable smear to make criticisms when they can be backed up with verfiable facts. If Whittle does not like it, I suggest he a)  moves to a country where reasonable freedom-of-expression is not protected by law e.g Saudi Arabia or Communist China, and b) shows a lot more caution in future when throwing accusations of his own around.

Thirdly, Whittle has shown a remarkable, consistent capacity for attacking what other people write without even reading it. For him to develop a coherent case against me, he would have to sit down and read my essays and learn for the first time what I actually have to say, rather than take his usual approach of just making the assumptions that will help him avoid cognitive dissonance. I very much doubt he is willing to make that effort.

Whittle has no one to blame but himself. Had he not taken such abusive and high-handed public objection to an article I wrote back in 2012, using the fact that he ‘wrote a book’ as doubtful justification for censoring me, I would probably never have heard of With Hope In Your Heart, never felt compelled to obtain a copy of it, to read it, to find so many faults in it (as many others have found), or to write negative reviews of it. I also find it very rich when he complains about his character being ‘assassinated’, given his tendency to blow his top, and to insult, misrepresent and threaten people when they disagree with him. I have endured all of these at his hands over the last five years, and I am well aware that I am not the only one. Whittle’s behaviour has a whiff of Paul Nuttall’s ludicrous recent claims to being victim of a ‘smear campaign’, when he too is merely being confronted with the flaws in his own claims.

So if Whittle feels he has a right to take legal action against me, perhaps I should do the same to him over all the insults and fake quotations he has pinned on me in the past? I suspect my case would have a better chance of winning.

For now though, Whittle, if you are reading this, I am calling your bluff. Bring on your legal action. I am very confident your latest little threat is just hot air. You lack the backbone to follow it up, but even if you do go for it, you have no case against me.

Do your worst, Whittle.

Hillsborough & UKIP

February 15, 2017

by Martin Odoni

This blog has, to this point, treated the Hillsborough Disaster and the UK Independence Racket-… er, sorry, I mean the UK Independence Party, as two completely unrelated subjects. I suspect that they still are, in fact. But over the last few days there has been an unmissable furore over whether claims of the new leader of UKIP, Paul Nuttall, to have been in the stadium on the day of Hillsborough are true or not.

NOTE: I have chosen to link to the Skwawkbox blog, because I am getting a little fed-up of the Guardian getting all the credit for identifying the anomalies in Nuttall’s story when the SB blog got there way earlier.

I do not wish to spend too long speculating on whether Nuttall’s claims are true. I myself, despite long years studying the Disaster, was not there, and so I have no possible way of knowing for certain. Even so, I can say that I was skeptical for a long time about Nuttall’s claims, and events over the last week or so have only served to increase my doubts. (His latest attempt to explain away a proven falsity in his claims has been debunked with astonishing speed and ease.) I disagree with suggestions that Nuttall’s account of being at Hillsborough was actually contradictory, but even so I doubt he was there, for reasons I have little need to explain, as they are being discussed widely elsewhere.


Whether he was actually there or not, Paul Nuttall has clearly lied about, or at least heavily embellished, his involvement in the Hillsborough Disaster.

So I want to discuss the response of some of Nuttall’s defenders, rather than his detractors. Particularly noticeable and crass was of course the intervention of UKIP’s chief funder (and, some would argue, real leader) Arron Banks, who tweeted last night that he was “sick to death of hearing about” Hillsborough.

For my own part, I have stated more than once in the past that I am sick of hearing people say that they are sick of hearing about Hillsborough. This is not least because there is something nauseatingly insufferable about anyone who imagines their personal boredom-threshold is more important than the grisly deaths of almost a hundred people. It says something about Banks’ self-centred arrogance – always in long supply – that he could put his wish for a change of subject before the fact that, even with the new Inquest verdict last year, there has still not been a single successful prosecution over the Disaster or the cover-up that followed.

Banks’ remarks are also startling vacuous at other points. He tweeted, “if a policemen opens a gate trying to help and makes a bad decision it’s an accident. As for a cover up it was the 80’s.”

Now, the first sentence is just stupid, because it is an implied strawman argument contradicted by the drearily obvious. Nobody is suggesting that the South Yorkshire Police were deliberately trying to get someone killed at Hillsborough. (At Orgreave, probably, but let us leave that on one side.) Everybody knows that the crush was unintentional. That does not satisfy the definition of an ‘Accident’ in a Coroner’s Court, I should mention. But even so, no one imagines that David Duckenfield was stood in the police control box next to the Leppings Lane end, tweaking his non-existent moustache and rubbing his hands together in evil glee, like a stereotype Bond-villain, as over three thousand people were crammed into a space suited for about seventeen-hundred. It is beyond stupid to imply that people are arguing Hillsborough was a deliberate attempt to take lives.

But if the first sentence is stupid, the second sentence is just meaningless. It was the 80’s, you say, Mr Banks? Well knock me down with a feather! Say, Arron, have you noticed? The year was called “1989”! Could that be connected with these “80’s” things you are talking about? There must be some link, right? EUREKA!

Sarcasm aside; again, we already know. Just saying, “It was the 80’s” does not explain anything, nor does it constitute a particularly clear reason for just shrugging the shoulders and dropping the whole subject.

Banks then tried to clarify his ‘point’ (for want of a better word), by adding, “It was the 80’s” [thank goodness he repeated that, there was a real danger we might not have figured out which decade 1989 was in without his repeated information] “I been[sic] at some matches that were squeezed beyond belief. This could have happened anywhere anytime.”

Sadly, this only intensifies the impression of crass stupidity. Again, Banks is saying nothing that has not been said countless times before, so he is enlightening nobody; it is perfectly true that almost all stadia in Britain and Ireland at the time were at least as unsafe and poorly policed as Hillsborough. But also, he in fact defeats his own argument in saying it. It is precisely because the Disaster at Hillsborough could have happened anywhere that the issues surrounding it remain relevant today. These issues are; –

  • Prejudiced, heavy-handed policing against presumed hooligans.
  • Complacency among football clubs and authorities, and again by the police, on matters of public safety.
  • Corruption of public and private institutions who are more concerned with protecting their own reputations than with honesty or transparency.

These matters have never been brought properly into the light-of-day, never given adequate official scrutiny or in-depth reform, and quite probably are still not properly guarded against even today. Simply saying, “Oh it was the 80’s” is merely giving this culture-of-shabbiness a name, not explaining or resolving anything. Wrongdoing remains wrongdoing, no matter the decade in which it happened, and a failure to fulfil one’s responsibilities, compounded by a subsequent attempt to shift the blame for that failure onto the people who suffered because of it, is only more wrongdoing.

As for feeling “sick to death”, I can tell Banks this; I’m “sick-to-death” of Banks and his allies lying to us non-stop about how much better off we will all be once we are out of the European Union, but that has never stopped them.

Inevitably, far lower-profile ‘Kippers than Banks have been leaping with partisan fervour to Nuttall’s defence. I have seen UKIP supporters registering squealing objections all over social media. One theme that seems to be popular among ‘Kippers is the notion that the British Left is somehow ‘exploiting’ the way Nuttall has been caught red-handed.

I find this argument vomitous. For a start, how can condemning Nuttall’s dishonesty (this chapter is just part of a far wider pattern of, shall we say, ‘seriously embellished’ claims Nuttall has made for himself) be called ‘exploitative’? Surely it is Nuttall’s manipulation of the Hillsborough Disaster, in an apparent attempt to associate himself with one of the British public’s greatest ever victories over institutionalised injustice, that is exploitative? He is standing in the Stoke-On-Trent Central By-Election next week, and the people there need to know the sorts of confections he is capable of. They must consider whether it is safe to elect a man who would lie to the whole nation about something like this, and in order to deliberate on that, they need to know he has done it.

But equally, let us remember that this whiny objection is coming from supporters of UKIP! Which is to say, from the party and support-base that have spent most of the last five years or so constantly trying to score cheap and cruel political points against other parties over alleged widespread child abuse by politicians. That UKIP supporters get so outraged about child abuse, but never seem to remember the alleged victims after the desired political damage has been inflicted on opponents, should tell us all just how much they really care about those same victims. So how is that not exploitation of a far, far lower order than merely pointing out when someone is using the tragedies of others to gain publicity? In fact, Nuttall has been pulling the same trick by trying to tap into outrage over the police cover-up after Hillsborough. If he was not there – and on balance it seems ever more likely that he was not – then he is being exploitative in one of the ugliest ways I can imagine, and so if you want to say that giving him a public caning for it is also ‘exploitative’ (it is not), well, swings-and-roundabouts.

No, the exploitation is very much on one side. Whether Nuttall was at Hillsborough or not, it is clear he was little-affected by it, but still he tries to associate himself with the campaign for justice after remaining silent about it for well over twenty years. Nuttall did not have to use Hillsborough to gain publicity, he chose to. He has exploited, he has not been exploited. He deserves vilification, for, after all the horrendous agonies Hillsborough campaigners have been put through over the last twenty-eight years, they did not deserve to be used like this.

It was their battle, not his.

by Martin Odoni

A few years back, Peter Marshall created a Panorama documentary for the BBC about the Hillsborough Disaster, of which I was mildly critical, as it did largely feel like a rather needless retread of familiar, very harrowing details. This week, he released a new documentary on ITV, Hillsborough: Smears, Survivors & The Search For Truth. This one was certainly a more constructive programme, as it focused on comparatively new research and investigations that have been carried out while the rebooted Inquests were in progress. Much of the material Marshall covered I personally was already aware of (because I peripherally observed some of the research), but most of the public are not, so this new programme felt far fresher than the one from 2013. The upshot of the programme therefore is that the Report of The Hillsborough Independent Panel, while remaining enormously significant, is now effectively ‘out-of-date’, as very few of the details Marshall discussed were examined by the Report – perhaps were not even noticed by the Panel – four years ago. So anyone who imagines that the HIP Report is the ultimate position of research into the Disaster is well behind the times.

Aspects of the new documentary I found refreshing were that there was less focus than usually happens on the South Yorkshire Police, more attention than usual was paid to the (too-often-overlooked) misconduct of the West Midlands Police, the much-neglected Hillsborough Justice Campaign was given more recognition than the Hillsborough Families Support Group for a change, and there was more of an ‘outlet’ for traumatised survivors of the Disaster and not only for the bereaved families.

The only detail I want to dwell on for now though is the interview with Ray Lewis. He was the referee for the 1989 FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough, and was famously the man who blew the whistle and ordered the players to clear the pitch six minutes into the game when fans spilled over from the overcrowded terrace.

Lewis reveals that he gave a verbal statement to Superintendent Barry Mason of the West Midlands Police after the Disaster. During the statement, he described the crowd outside the stadium on the day of the tragedy as ‘mixed’, by which he meant that he saw Liverpool and Nottingham Forest supporters mingling freely, peacefully and in good spirits.

A quarter of a century later, Lewis finally got to see the type-up of his words, and to his consternation, he found that the word mixed had been substituted with the word pissed. An investigator from the Independent Police Complaints Commission discussed the alteration with Lewis, and apparently concluded that it was probably just a typographical error.

A key word in Ray Lewis' witness statement was changed.

Ray Lewis, referee at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, says that his witness statement for the Hillsborough Disaster investigations was altered by the West Midlands Police.

Now, as a rule, I tend to subscribe to cock-up theory far more than conspiracy theory, but in this case, I reckon this is a classic IPCC excuse for being too lazy to investigate. To my mind, the odds on the change-of-words being an error are pretty remote.

For one thing, a typing error is usually just a spelling mistake, frequently just getting one letter wrong, by inadvertently hitting a key adjacent to the correct key. For instance, mixes would be a typo for mixed. Moxed would be a typo for mixed. Nixes would be a typo for mixed. But on a standard ‘QWERTY’ keyboard, the letter P is not adjacent to the letter M. Pissed also has more letters than mixed and is therefore a doubtful result of a typographical error

Secondly, if we assume instead that the typist misread what was on the page, it still does not look like they would objectively assume that pissed could be the word Lewis had used. The handwriting, as Lewis himself concedes, was very poor, but even so, from studying pictures of the handwritten document, it is still thoroughly clear that the word Mason wrote down begins with the letter M. Looking at the word in isolation, if I were pushed into saying what word I think it is, I would answer, “It probably says mined“; –


For sure, that would stop the sentence from making the slightest bit of sense, and the typist would have to come up with an alternative word, but it would be a ludicrous leap from there to assume it was pissed. As much as anything else, implying legless drunkenness runs somewhat contrary to the spirit of what Lewis had said earlier in the sentence about the crowd being in good humour.

But thirdly – and this is the clincher for me – is it not just a bit too much of a coincidence that the word the officer chose as a substitute ‘just happened’ to be slang for drunkenness? Of all the possible substitutes the typist could have chosen, and there must be dozens, (s)he ‘just happened’ to choose the one that emphasises the impression of drunk-and-disorderly behaviour, which ‘just happened’ to be the very impression that officers in both West Midlands and South Yorkshire had been trying so very hard to convey?

Not for the first time when discussing the Hillsborough Disaster, I find myself asking the question, “Do the British police really think the public are that stupid?”



by Martin Odoni

I am not keen on people making judgements of works they have not read, so this essay may seem somewhat hypocritical. But I am confident that a book I have not read will not be worth the bother of reading.

This week sees the publication of a book written by the controversial retired police officer, Sir Norman Bettison. If you are unaware of who Bettison is, you can read a couple of articles about him, here and here. His putative involvement in the legal cover-up of the causes of the Hillsborough Disaster have long established his name as one of the ‘Great Unmentionables’ on Merseyside, even though he has always denied playing any knowing role in it.

I have not yet decided whether I will read Hillsborough Untold: Aftermath Of A Disaster myself, but I am already fairly sure that I will be wasting time if I do. (Neil Wilby has written a very comprehensive analysis if you wish to have a fully-informed view of the book. I am not yet in a position to express agreement or otherwise with the analysis, but I can say that Mr Wilby sounds highly skeptical.) Mainly, my trouble is that Bettison’s discussions of the book so far have been on the maintained basis that he knew nothing about the cover-up, and that the book outlines what he was doing instead of co-operating with police malpractice. He has gone on record more than once as saying that he

never altered a statement nor asked for one to be altered.

As that is the angle from which the book appears to have been written, it establishes in itself that Hillsborough Untold is unlikely to be overburdened by factual accuracy. There has been strong evidence circulating among Hillsborough campaigners for several years that Bettison must not only have known that alteration-of-statements was happening, but also that he himself had solicited several instances of the practice.

During the preparations for the original Coroner’s Inquests, Bettison held meetings with a number of his fellow officers within the South Yorkshire Police to discuss their witness statements, and potentially to press them to change their content. Below is a screenshot of a memo, from the 24th of July 1990, giving notice of one such meeting; –


(If you have difficulty reading the handwriting, it reads as follows; –

“Interview [the] following officers and ask them to re-examine the transcript of their evidence to the Taylor Inquiry as the subject of police “monitoring” of the pens on West Terrace. Obtain further statement if they argue that wrong impression has been given in their original evidence.

1. Chief Insp. CREASER
2. Insp. CALVERT
3. Insp. DARLING
4. Insp. SEWELL”

‘Superintendent Bettison’ is named as the officer allocating the task, bottom-right of the memo.)

At the very least, this clearly indicates that Bettison was knowingly taking part in efforts to get officers to change their stories for one reason or another. In this light, Bettison’s claim to being completely ignorant of alteration processes seems implausible.

Bettison further wrote a faxed letter to Peter Metcalf of Hammonds Suddards Solicitors in 1990, listing off amendments he recommended be made to a statement submitted by former Chief Superintendent Robin Herold.


Item 2.a) is particularly suspicious, as Bettison recommends removal of reference to “any reliance on fortune”. The only reason for that instruction would be a desire to make the police operation at Hillsborough sound better-controlled than it really was.

In fairness, these instances were roughly a year after the Taylor Inquiry completed its work, and it was the statements submitted to Taylor that are the main controversy, so these items do not really establish Bettison’s involvement in the most notorious chapter. But nonetheless, they do show that his claim that he “never asked for [a statement] to be altered” is heavily overstating the case, while the chapter deserves notoriety of its own in any event.

That Bettison seems to have written the book from an angle of unknowing innocence does not therefore do the work’s credibility or appeal any favours. I do perhaps feel duty-bound to read Hillsborough Untold eventually, but I will do so without much urgency.



As I have been writing this, I have listened to Bettison discussing his book with Shelagh Fogarty on LBC Radio, and he has raised more questions than answers. One noticeable change-of-angle during the interview was that he has denied that there was a cover-up by the South Yorkshire Police at all. He points to the fact that the Taylor Interim Report had within four months debunked the claims of fan behaviour causing the Disaster. Therefore, he asks, why are people talking about a cover-up at all when the truth was already out?

There are a number of reasons why these remarks are silly. Firstly, just because Lord Justice Peter Taylor saw through police attempts to shift blame does not mean that the attempts were not made after all, or that the alteration of witness statements to remove criticism of the police operation had not been carried out. (He blames the solicitors for the alteration process. Not entirely wrong of him, but the police never offered any resistance to the idea at all.)

More importantly, an awful lot of the wider public did not cotton on to the real causes of the Disaster when the Taylor Report was published, hence wide numbers of people continued to believe the victim-blaming narrative for decades afterwards, with encouragement from media reporting myths fed to them by the police.

Still more important, however, is that the South Yorkshire Police bitterly rejected Taylor’s findings and, with the help of the West Midlands Police, spent the next several years using the Coroner’s Inquests as a platform from which to ‘un-write’ the Report. Considerable key evidence was hidden from the original Inquests, leading to the incorrect ‘Accidental Death’ verdict.

If that little lot does not constitute a cover-up in Bettison’s mind, I can only thank the stars he is no longer a Chief Constable.


by Martin Odoni, with contributions from Hillsborough Justice Campaigners.

Compiled and written Summer 2014, published August 2016.

The assassination of John F Kennedy in Dallas, 1963, was one of the most unfortunately mythologised events of the 20th Century. It has been subject to countless conspiracy theories in the half-century and more since it happened, most of which are only advanced by selective and distorted presentation of the evidence. It has also been subject to the machinations of fantasists who appear to be desperate for publicity, and therefore try to associate themselves with the assassination in ways that are not real – usually claiming to be a witness when they were not even in Dealey Plaza on the day or suchlike. Anything that they think will get them on the TV, or will sell copies of the book they plan to write on the subject.

One of the worst of these fantasists to emerge in relatively recent years is a long-time resident of the Danville Correctional Center. His name is James Sutton, although he more often goes by the alias ‘James Files’. Serving a life sentence for the murder of two police officers, he has latched onto the long-running theory that there were two gunmen involved in the Kennedy Assassination, by claiming that he was the putative ‘Second Gunman’ – sometimes referred to as ‘The Man Behind The Picket Fence’, or ‘The Man On The Grassy Knoll’.

The difficulty is that when assassination researchers have analysed Files’ claims, they have found them to be riddled with historical inaccuracies, incorrect information about the weapon he used, self-contradictions, and a noticeable tendency for his story to change with each re-telling.

Now this essay is not about James Files, or even the Assassination, so there will be no comprehensive breakdown of the flaws in his story. (A read of Dave Perry’s excellent analysis is recommended though.) But what Files’ behaviour shows is a pattern that can apply to any high-profile death. A famous person is murdered, or large numbers of people die in a single calamity, and the attention of the world is drawn. And many people will be fascinated to know exactly how and why it happened, which means that there is every possibility that the event will not just go away for quite some time, at least until their questions are answered. Such an event is always vulnerable, therefore, to the crank. To the attention-seeker who sees an opportunity to get noticed.

Regular followers of this blog will be aware of the long-running hostility between its regular writer about the Hillsborough Disaster, Martin Odoni, and Christopher Whittle, a putative survivor of the fatal human crush that occurred at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield in April, 1989. The first exchanges between them were on a Facebook group in October 2012, then the arguments resumed a few months later when Odoni wrote a less-than-praise-lavish review of a book that Whittle had written about the Disaster, called With Hope In Your Heart: A Hillsborough Survivor’s Story, The Denial Of Justice & A Personal Battle With PTSD. (Hereafter it will just be referred to as With Hope In Your Heart.) Whittle has further made some insinuating remarks behind Odoni’s back, implying a history of criticising spectator-behaviour at Hillsborough, an allegation Odoni denies.

The reason for mentioning Whittle and Files together though is that a few Hillsborough campaigners have, in recent times, come to notice issues with Whittle’s accounts of what he saw and experienced while in the throes of the human crush. His book of course gives his lengthiest and most detailed narrative of what happened, but he has also given a number of interviews to the news media, as well as posted details to various internet forums and the like. And, a little like James Files’ varying descriptions of the day he supposedly fired the fatal ‘head-shot’ to kill a US President, Whittle’s descriptions of the day he came close to being crushed to death at Hillsborough do seem a little inconsistent with each other, and with other known facts.

It needs to be made clear before proceeding that the writers are not necessarily asserting that Whittle is an actual fraud. However, their position is that some of the anomalies they have found – if Whittle cannot explain them away convincingly – would suggest that he is, at best, guilty of serious embellishment.

While there is little chance of this essay being completely comprehensive, the writers have decided to offer a run-down of many of the inaccuracies, unexplained inconsistencies, and anomalies that they have noticed when studying the various accounts Whittle has offered.

NB: We are applying a colour code to the anomalies we have found, to rate how severe each one of them is. A few of the anomalies, we concede, are minor quibbles that can most plausibly be put down to Whittle just making a silly mistake in writing, and so we have rated them as ‘Code Green‘ i.e. these mistakes are more comical than insidious, so readers should probably just laugh at them and move on.

Code Amber‘ is assigned to more serious inaccuracies that cannot simply be put down to careless writing, but that we recognise there may be innocent explanations for, ones that Whittle really should have clarified in his book before it was published. They should therefore be treated with great caution until such a time as they are plausibly accounted for.

Code Red‘ is for a severe anomaly, one that is so at odds with established facts, or one that so flatly contradicts other assertions Whittle has himself made, that we are unable to see how it can be reconciled without introducing extra details so significant that there is no plausible reason for Whittle failing to include them in his account to begin with. In other words, from what we presently know, the likeliest explanation we can find for these flaws is that Whittle is guilty of fabrication.


1) Just which pen were you actually in, Mr. Whittle? – Code Amber

One of the most frequent and baffling changes to keep happening to Whittle’s story is which of the two central pens on the Leppings Lane terrace he was caught up in. For some time, he would refer to himself on Internet forums as “Chris Whittle, pen 3 survivor” or some close variation. Suddenly, around 2011, he started saying that he had been in pen 4 instead.

Thanks to Val Yates and Pat Murray for pointing this out to me.

Christopher Whittle has discussed his Hillsborough Disaster experience on many websites across the Internet. Interestingly, at least one key detail in his story keeps changing…….

He does refer to this anomaly in With Hope In Your Heart, stating that he had simply assumed for a long time that he was in pen 3, and only when he noticed himself in film footage of pen 4 after many years did he realise he was wrong. The problem is, this attempt at an explanation in fact makes his story sound even more problematic, not less, as the following information highlights.

To quote page 23 of With Hope In Your Heart, Whittle describes arriving in the central pens; –

“As I stood at the top of that terrace by a fence that separated Pens 3 & 4, I had to decide which way to go. To the left was Pen 3, to the right Pen 4. I chose right.” (Emphasis ours.)

There is a jarring problem with that description. Facing from the tunnel under the West Stand towards the pitch, in those days pen 3 would have been to Whittle’s right, not pen 4. The Leppings Lane pens were numbered 1-to-7 from left-to-right when facing from the pitch, not when facing from the tunnel.

The layout of the Leppings Lane and West Stand of Hillsborough

The layout of the West Stand and Leppings Lane Terrace of Hillsborough, as it was in the late 1980’s. Note in the right half of the picture the tunnel and the numbering of the pens. Pen 3 is very visibly to the right for anyone leaving the tunnel.

Whittle says in a later sentence, “All these years, I thought I had been in Pen 3, but in reality I was in Pen 4.” But if he went right when leaving the tunnel, that would mean that in “all these years” he would have been correct. The analysis of film footage that caused him to change his mind appears to have misled him, and that does sound, at best, highly unusual. To get it right for years and years, then finally to recheck the facts and change your mind, but in doing so to start getting it wrong sounds very counter-intuitive. A check of the facts should clarify, not create muddle.

This afterthought does sound a bit like he is anticipating an unspoken objection and wants to nip it in the bud. And in so doing, he inadvertently makes the objection a lot likelier to be spoken.

2) Which way were you facing, Mr. Whittle? – Code Red

After Exit Gate C was opened by the police to relieve pressure on the turnstiles, about three-quarters of the fans who had still been waiting to get in headed, unguided, straight for the central tunnel under the West Stand, leading into the already overcrowded central pens of the Leppings Lane terrace.

The weight of numbers as spectators went through the tunnel was so great that many were propelled through it at great speed, with no control over their limbs or movements. Some were just carried forward, their feet no longer touching the ground, as they hurtled into the packed central pens. Some of the new arrivals were turned around in the press of the tunnel and found themselves being carried backwards into the pens.

However, it is noticeable that, at no stage in his book does Whittle mention being turned around by the press of the crowd while going through the tunnel. Instead, the description on page 23 of going through the tunnel seems to be quite firm in its implication that he was face-forward at all times; –

“It was impossible to move or turn back, you were just pushed further inside by the mass swell behind you and by your side…… I finally reached some kind of daylight and the fullness of the central pens hit you square in the face.” (Emphasis ours, inexplicable switch from first person to second person his.)

So from this, it seems pretty clear that Whittle is stating that he was facing ahead as he went through the tunnel; it certainly seems bizarre that he would not think to mention it if he were carried backwards through the tunnel.

There is no issue with this in itself. However, in a rather angry online conversation with another Hillsborough campaigner, Louise Brookes, Whittle stated that he was carried backwards through the tunnel. Whittle asserted that he arrived in the pen facing backwards and towards the letter R on the PRESTO advertising sign that was above the tunnel.

whittle pensThis does sound inconsistent with the tendency of other accounts he has given. It is noticeable that on page 24 of his book, Whittle states the following; –

“I felt a surge from the back… This was real pain, as other fans were pushed against me. I was slowly being crushed from behind… … … I was crushed violently against a barrier, my chest full of deep pain, and sharp surges continuously shot up my back.” (Emphasis ours.)

These excerpts again seem to indicate that he was facing forwards, and that his chest was pinned against a crush barrier. (More problems with that description in 3).) He even describes ‘distinctly’ remembering Peter Beardsley hitting a shot against the crossbar in the game, which again indicates that he must have been facing towards the pitch. At no stage in his account does he refer to being turned around again or facing away from the pitch.

He also stated in an interview he gave to the Sky Sports website, “I was pushed from the back into pen four and was rammed into a barrier.”

So which one was it? Was he facing forwards or backwards? And if he was sometimes facing one way, sometimes another, changing according to crowd movements, why does Whittle never mention being turned around, when it would appear critical to a reader’s understanding of what had happened to him?

3) There was no crush barrier where you claim it was, Mr. Whittle. – Code Amber

If Christopher Whittle has changed his mind over which pen he was in, then that immediately opens up another paradox in his story.

He claims that, after leaving the tunnel and going into the pen to his right, he soon found himself jammed against a crush barrier, near the top of the pen, close to the dividing fence.

The problem with that is, if he means pen 3 and not pen 4, there was no crush barrier there for him to be jammed against.

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

The layout of the crush barriers and fences on the central pens.
Whittle claims to have gone right as he left the tunnel, and was soon jammed against a crush barrier near the top of the pen, close to the fence. As we can see from this diagram, there was no crush barrier at that position.

The closest crush barrier in the pen he claims to have entered i.e. the one to the right on leaving the tunnel, was 136a, and that was halfway down the pen. There was a crush barrier close to the top of the dividing fence in pen 4, barrier 144. But how could Whittle have managed to arrive at that position by going right on leaving the tunnel? (See 1.) Also, barrier 144 would not have been level with the letter R in the ‘PRESTO’ sign, which was just slightly to the right of the central fence, although it would have been somewhat close (see 2)).

4) Well, did you fall over or didn’t you, Mr. Whittle? – Code Amber

On page 24 of his book once more, Whittle writes the following; –

“I was being pushed further from behind, and there was a body beneath my feet. I stumbled, breathlessly, and was about to drop to the floor as my knees, gave way, my legs feeling like jelly, buckled beneath me. Luckily, I was pulled up by a fellow fan.” (Emphasis ours. Appalling punctuation his.)

This does not quite tally with what he said in the aforementioned interview he gave to the Sky Sports website however. In that he states, “A bigger surge came again and I went to the floor.”

So he writes that he nearly fell over in one version, but he says that he actually did fall over in another. Which is correct?

This is important, because the danger of trampling makes his survival harder to explain if he had gone to ground.

5) You say, Mr. Whittle, that you had a choice of pens to go into when you got past the tunnel? How come? – Code Red

This is probably the most severe flaw in all of Whittle’s recollections.

“I could not move one inch, my hands and arms imprisoned with the rest of those fans in there”, he writes on page 23 of his book, as he describes his circumstances after leaving the tunnel under the West Stand. But as we have already seen in 1), the very next sentence he writes tells us, “As I stood at the top of that terrace by a fence that separated Pens 3 & 4, I had to decide which way to go. To the left was Pen 3, to the right Pen 4. I chose right.”

But Whittle has just said that he could not move one inch. He had no decision to make, because he has just described his situation as one over which he had no control whatsoever, even down to the movements of his own limbs. And yet suddenly he announces that he was able to decide which pen he wished to step into?

Furthermore, the top of the central fence dividing the pens into two did not start at the top of the pens, but several feet back into the tunnel, as these images demonstrate; –

Gangway 2 and the pens.

Overview of the central pens and Gangway 2 back in 1989. Notice how far the middle fence extends into the tunnel.

A view from inside Gangway 2 towards the central pens and the pitch.

A view from inside Gangway 2 towards the central pens and the pitch.

For Whittle to be stood by the fence at the top of the terrace, given the many more people arriving behind him, it would not be possible for Whittle to move between the pens at all anyway.

Whittle’s assertion contradicts not only his own previous sentence, but also the accounts of other survivors who had entered the stadium through Exit Gate C. Many of them describe being caught up in that same wave of force propelling them through the tunnel, but they also state that they were carried out of control from the tunnel and into the pens, without any influence on where they were going to end up. (See the account of, among others, Neil Fitzmaurice; in particular, read the section headed ‘The Pens‘.) This is because the propulsion of the crowd pressure did not just stop at the end of the tunnel; in the same way that when you shake up a bottle of fizzy liquid and then remove the lid, the liquid continues expanding out of control and spraying all over the place even after it has overflowed from the bottleneck.

And yet mysteriously, Whittle suddenly got full control over his limbs and movements back once he was out of the tunnel, and even got to choose where to go, despite scores more people still pouring out of the tunnel behind him.

6) You say you got jammed against a crush barrier, Mr. Whittle? How did you get anywhere near a crush barrier? – Code Amber

As the previous anomalies we have analysed have highlighted, Whittle claims that, after being propelled out of the tunnel, and apparently pausing calmly in mid-flight to deliberate upon which pen he should be thrown into, he got pinned against a crush barrier near the top of the pen he was in.

The problem with this claim is that by the time he had arrived i.e. some point after the Exit Gate was opened at 2:52pm, the central pens were already overcrowded. Plenty of people had arrived before him, and in the press of the excess numbers, those who had arrived at the crush barriers first would already have been jammed against them before Whittle had even gone into the tunnel. Therefore, we have to ask how they got moved out of the way to make room for Whittle to go crashing into the barrier.

7) Were the police being too zealous or too lax, Mr. Whittle? Because you seem to be arguing that they were both. – Code Amber

On page 21 of Whittle’s book, there appears to be, at best, another possible self-contradiction, and at worst, a possible sighting of something that was not even there. And if it is neither of them, it is simply yet another example of the appalling lack-of-clarity in Whittle’s writing.

He writes the following; –

“There were no barriers [in Leppings Lane], no ticket checking, no channelling. You were left to your own devices.”

A few lines later, he comments; –

“There was a massive crowd build up, yes that is very true. But that had to do with a combination of poor policing, over sensitive police powers in their stop and search policy, making fans late, as well as roadworks and hold ups on the motorway.” (Emphasis ours.)

(We take ‘channelling’ to mean, ‘filtering new arrivals into queues up the road from the stadium’. And, if you will forgive us a brief ‘Grammar Nazi’ digression, when-oh-when will Whittle learn to use hyphens?)

Here lies the contradiction in Whittle’s description. He says that if you were a fan in Leppings Lane that day, you were “Left to your own devices.” And yet he also says that you would be subject to what sounds like extravagant stop-and-search by the police? How can both be possible at once? It is not possible to search someone and simultaneously leave them to their own devices.

For that matter, where was this stop-and-search zealotry seen? There were some coaches that were stopped-and-searched as they carried fans into Sheffield that day, but if that is what he means, why does he not mention that he was referring to people in traffic? And would that not count among the “hold-ups on the motorway”? Surely not, because reading the sentence as written, he uses the words “as well”, which explicitly draws a distinction between stop-and-search and motorway hold-ups.

So where did he see it happening? In Leppings Lane? No other witness we are aware of ever saw it happening there on any significant scale. Indeed, one of the problems in Leppings Lane was lack of policing, including none of the filtering from the previous year. Surely the filters are where such stop-and-search methods would be employed?

(As a matter of pure factual accuracy: The build-up in Leppings Lane was not caused by late arrivals anyway, no matter whose fault the lateness was. It was caused by an improperly-managed entry-bottleneck at the west end of the stadium.)

8) Pardon, Mr. Whittle, how old are you? – Code Green

We can probably put this down just to shoddy journalism, but it is another unsettling pattern of Whittle’s Hillsborough accounts that he does not appear completely sure which year he is living in. (See 9) for more examples of this.)

He states unambiguously in his book that he was born on 24th June 1961. This would make him 27 at the time of the Hillsborough Disaster. But in interviews that he gives to the media on the subject – including this one he gave to the Lancashire Telegraph in 2012 – he says he was 28. On its own, we can probably let that pass, seeing it was only a couple of months to his birthday at the time of the crush.

But it does not stop there. Early in 2014, he gave an interview to the Burnley Express. (There are other issues with this interview we will come to later – see 11).) In that, there is a photo of him captioned to say that he is 51 years old, while the text of the interview says, somewhat confusingly, that he is 52.

If he was 51 in February 2014, then he would have been born in 1962-63.

Either way, why does he keep giving his age differently?

9) Are you absolutely sure you went back to Hillsborough in 2011, Mr. Whittle? – Code Red

Chapter 11 of Whittle’s book, ‘Return To Hell’, describes a journey he supposedly took back to Sheffield in June 2011 to survey the scene of the Disaster once more. On page 129, Whittle states that his re-visit was twenty-three years after he had last been there.

The problem? If that were so, he could not have been present at the Hillsborough Disaster, because twenty-three years before 2011, the year would have been 1988.

To compound the confusion, on page 128, he states that his last visit had been about seven months after the Disaster, for a league match between Sheffield Wednesday and Liverpool in November 1989. That game was indeed played when he stated it was. But that was twenty-one-and-a-half years before his next visit, or thereabouts, not twenty-three years.

He then goes and contradicts himself on the very next page by saying the gap between visits was twenty-two years. But then on page 132, he says it was twenty-three years again.

Some of this could be put down to ordinary carelessness e.g. at times thinking in terms of the year the book was published instead of the year he made the visit. But the doubts are magnified when, on page 130, Whittle describes reverse-treading his steps through the Leppings Lane entry concourse. During this, he states that he was allowed out by a groundsman through an Exit Gate on the concourse. Whittle asserts that it was none other than Exit Gate C itself that he was let out through.

What makes the whole anecdote of Whittle’s re-visit to Hillsborough seem doubtful is that, quite simply, Exit Gate C is not even there anymore, and has not been there since the Stadium underwent some minor redevelopment work in preparation for the 1996 European Championships.

Below is a screenshot of Steve Wilson of BBC Sport on an episode of Football Focus in 2009 – the episode marking the twentieth anniversary of the Disaster, to which he had been an eyewitness. It shows very clearly that the lay-out of the Leppings Lane concourse, principally the turnstile wall, is quite different from how it was in 1989. And this is two years before the time Whittle claims he went back.

Steve Wilson, eyewitness to Hillsborough, returns to the stadium in 2009.

Back in 1989, the turnstile wall was set much further away from the back wall of the West Stand, taking up much more of the concourse. Gate C was close to where those two cars are parked on the right side of the photo, although maybe a bit nearer the camera. The Gate would also have been facing roughly ‘away’ from the camera, because the wall at the time was set in a ‘zig-zag’ shape, rather than a straight line as it is now.

Here is another photo, illustrating the old shape of the concourse; –

Access to Leppings Lane terrace.

A somewhat fuzzy image showing the 1989 layout of the Leppings Lane entry concourse.

Now there are a couple of exit gates of much the same concertina-type as Gate C in the modern turnstile wall, but neither of them is Gate C itself, and neither of them is on the same spot where Gate C once stood. They do not even face in the same direction that Gate C used to. There is a turnstile bank somewhat close to the spot where Gate C stood, and rather insensitively it is in fact called ‘Turnstile C’, but the nearest exit gate to that notorious position is called ‘Exit Door 5’, and furthermore, it is not a concertina gate. See this photo Martin Odoni took when visiting Hillsborough in November 2013; –

The questionably-named turnstile Bank C, next to Exit Door 5.

The questionably-named turnstile Bank C, next to Exit Door 5.

Given what a vivid memory the Disaster must surely be, it does seem extraordinary that Whittle could mis-remember Gate C so thoroughly.

10) Your family used to holiday in a village twelve miles south of Plymouth, did they, Mr. Whittle? They must have been remarkably good swimmers. – Code Green

This is not directly about Hillsborough itself, but there is another bizarre reference in Whittle’s book on page 116, while discussing his life after the sad death of his brother, Anthony.

“1996… The holiday was the last we would have at the guest house where we had stayed many times over the years since 1983… in the beautiful Cornish village of Downderry, some 12 miles south of Plymouth.”

Now, Martin Odoni is himself from the West Country, and it takes just a tiny fraction of his local knowledge to reveal that, if you went for a walk in Devon one morning, venturing twelve miles south of Plymouth, you would not wind up in Downderry. You would not even reach Cornwall, come to that. You would instead end up drowning in the depths of the English Channel. This is because Plymouth is of course on the south coast of Devon, not its north coast.

Downderry is in fact nearly twenty miles  – not twelve – from Plymouth. Twenty miles due west, that is.

Another minor anomaly in that section is that Whittle says the guest house his family stayed at is called ‘Eddystone Cottage’. Unfortunately, there is no house in Downderry called Eddystone Cottage. Although there is a seafront row of houses collectively called ‘Eddystone Cottages’. (Admittedly, it is possible that the guest house was renamed or demolished in later years.)

The only house we could find listed in Cornwall that actually goes by the name ‘Eddystone Cottage’ is in Liskeard. Liskeard is about twenty-five miles inland from Downderry.

These could just be written off as yet more pebbles in the avalanche of silly mistakes that litter the book from beginning to end, except for the fact that Whittle claims that he and his family had holidayed in Downderry repeatedly over the previous thirteen years, always staying in the same guest house. Surely if he were that familiar with the area by then – and presumably would have been able to remember the distances listed on the local road-signs among other details – he would have avoided such a laughably wrong description?

11) You are going to speak at the Inquests, Mr. Whittle? That’s strange. No one appears to have told any of the people running the Inquests that. And do you even know, for that matter, where they are being held?
– Code Red

Going back to the interview Whittle gave to the Burnley Express in February 2014, some two months before the re-booted Coroner’s Inquests into the Disaster began, he announced to the newspaper that he has been asked to give evidence at the inquests, taking place in Wigan.

There are only two things wrong with this claim; everything he claims for himself, and everything he claims for the Inquests’ background.

Firstly, the Inquests are not taking place in Wigan, they are happening in Birchwood, which is in Warrington.

But secondly and far more importantly, it is startling that Whittle supposedly knew as far back as February that year who was on the witness list for the legal team representing the bereaved families and survivors. This is because at that point, the witness list had not even been written up yet. Witnesses on the list did not receive their call-ups until May, some three months after the interview was published.

When questioned on this by Charlotte Hennessy, Whittle said that his solicitor had told him he would definitely be called up. This is, in itself, a change-of-story, because in the interview, Whittle said he already had been called. Now he was saying it was a prediction for the future by his solicitor.

Whittle also announced to other Hillsborough campaigners over Facebook pages that he had been interviewed by officers working on the Operation Resolve Inquiry. A few months later he admitted that he had not been interviewed by them either because, in Whittle’s own words, “They weren’t interested in what I had to say.”

Now, there is a witness list for the inquests, but it is not available to the public, and we are not at liberty to reveal who is on it. But what we can state categorically is that Whittle is not on the list, he has not been called to give evidence to anybody, and there are no plans at the time-of-writing to call him up in the future either.

So where exactly is Whittle getting his information from, and perhaps more to the point, why does he feel this strange need to keep announcing this information to the local media in East Lancashire?

12) Did you really meet Margaret Thatcher, Mr. Whittle? Because you only appear to have mentioned it once, and not in your book. – Code Red

Elsewhere on this blog is an essay itemising the bitter online argument between Whittle and Martin Odoni from October 2012 over whether or not the so-called ‘Thatcher quote’ is genuine. The ‘Thatcher quote’ is a viral rumour probably originating around the turn of the millennium that at some point in 1989 or 1990, the-then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said something very roughly along the lines of, “I am determined that no police officer will ever be prosecuted for the Hillsborough Disaster.”

Odoni’s conclusion after lengthy research is that the quotation is probably not genuine, as he has never been able to find a reliable first-hand source for it, and it is always presented entirely on its own, without any firm explanation of context, when it was said, whom it was said to, or anything else that was said in the putative conversation. Even the word-content of the quotation is often subject to change.

Whittle’s position in the argument was that the quotation is genuine, to which Odoni responded with a demand for a source. After some considerable back-and-forth between them, Whittle eventually declared that he had been present when Thatcher said it.

Whittle is a liar.

Christopher Whittle makes the utterly extraordinary claim that he was present when Margaret Thatcher supposedly said that she would not let any policeman be prosecuted over Hillsborough. See the penultimate comment. (Nod of thanks to Jo Child for providing this screenshot of the online conversation.)

The conversation ended soon after, with Whittle refusing to be drawn on when he had met Thatcher, why he was there, and what might have prompted Thatcher to say anything so potentially explosive in front of members of the public.

This claim by Whittle is, to put it mildly, a huge stretch, and it is not helped by his general conduct since 1989-90. If he had heard such a dangerous, corrupt remark from a Prime Minister back then, why did he wait until 2012 to announce it? Even though his book mentions the ‘Thatcher quote’ on two occasions, once on page 66, and once on page 142, on neither page does he mention any source for the quotation, let alone put himself forward as the source. He just presents it as an impermeable fact that she said it. His book is something of an autobiography, and surely meeting the Prime Minister would have been worth a mention? Doubly so if he heard her implying that she wanted to stitch up a legal inquiry. Sill more so given the vitriolic comments Whittle makes about Thatcher throughout the book. Something to substantiate the quotation would surely be perfect supporting material.

But no, he does not mention meeting her at all. Given his injuries, the one time and place it seems at least half-likely he could have met Thatcher was at the hospitals in Sheffield on the day after the Disaster. But no, when discussing Thatcher’s visit on pages 54-55, he talks about the Liverpool fans in the hospitals entirely in the third person, and he had previously indicated on page 31 anyway that he had gone home to Burnley the night before, just a few hours after the Disaster.

It is also interesting to note that he words the quotation differently on the two pages on which he references it. On page 66, Thatcher is quoted as saying, “I do not want any policeman prosecuted over Hillsborough.” On page 142, she instead says, “No police officer should be prosecuted over Hillsborough.” If he were truly there to hear her say it, why is he having such trouble recalling her wording?

Nowhere on the internet, apart from his row with Martin Odoni, is there any indication at all that Whittle ever met Margaret Thatcher. Given that the argument with Odoni was on a minor Facebook page, it seems incredible that it was judged an important enough dispute to reveal what otherwise seems to have been regarded for unknown reasons as an inviolable secret.

So what is the truth? Did Whittle really meet Margaret Thatcher? Did he really hear her declare her intention to pervert the course of justice? If he did, why did he keep it a secret for well over twenty years? And if he did not, why did he make such a claim?

13) How come your grandfather was born in two places, Mr. Whittle? – Code Amber

During a recent row over Facebook with some other Hillsborough campaigners, among them Pat Murray, in amongst a characteristic display of irrelevant ‘willy-waving’ about how well his book has sold (ironic from a man who once accused one of our writers of being ‘high-and-mighty’), Whittle declared that his grandfather was born in Liverpool. We are assuming that he did this simply to make himself sound like he has stronger links to Liverpool than he really does, perhaps because he feels some strange need to justify being a Liverpool supporter?

Whittle patronising his way to victory as ever.

Whittle using the usual patronising, “What writing experience do *you* have then?” routine when someone criticises his work – in this case a hurriedly-written poem. Note that he then claims that his grandfather was from Liverpool; only he wasn’t.

But whatever his motive, there is, yet again, a problem with his assertion.

Looking at his own book, in the very first chapter, ‘Born To Be A Scouse’, Whittle declares that his grandfather, Henry Corcoran, was born in the Lancashire market town of Ormskirk. Which is of course not in Liverpool. Somewhat close to Liverpool, yes, but certainly not part of Liverpool, indeed not even part of Merseyside. Also according to that very same chapter of With Hope In Your Heart, the Corcorans later moved to a farm in Skelmersdale,  which is no more a part of Liverpool than Ormskirk is.

(If Whittle wishes to argue that either of these towns is ‘part of Liverpool’ due to being fairly close by, he needs to consider that towns such as Wigan, St. Helens, Ashton-In-Makerfield, Haydock, Runcorn, Widnes, and even Warrington all become part of Liverpool too. They are all just as close by, if not closer. Even Leigh is almost as close to Liverpool as Ormskirk, and Leigh is far more regularly associated with Manchester and Salford, to which it is nearer.)

Not for the first time, Whittle appears to be massaging facts in order to suit the immediate argument he wishes to see advanced. If he later requires an argument that depends on his not being so closely associated with Liverpool, we can be confident he will declare that his grandfather was from Ormskirk, before making sure everyone realises that Ormskirk is not actually in Liverpool itself.

This is, effectively, a form of spin-doctoring, but not one that is at all difficult to debunk.

14) Could you clarify please, Mr. Whittle? Did you climb out of the pens, or did someone else pull you out of the pens? – Code Amber

A few days after the Disaster, Whittle appeared in a Burnley local newspaper giving his story of what he had been through at Hillsborough. Presumably, this was the first interview he ever gave to the media about the Disaster.

Yes, there's no denying it, Whittle has a ticket. For something.

The front page of a local newspaper in Burnley shows a young, moustachio’d Christopher Whittle holding up his match ticket for the world to see.

The article asserts the following; –

“Christopher Whittle said if he had not been pulled free by a fellow supporter, he would probably have died in the Disaster.”

This has echoes of what he says in his book. As previously highlighted in 4), it states on page 24; –

“I stumbled, breathlessly, and was about to drop to the floor as my knees, gave way, my legs feeling like jelly, buckled beneath me. Luckily, I was pulled up by a fellow fan.”

This is the only reference in his book, and indeed in various other sources, that comes close to corresponding with what he said in that first interview he gave a week after the Disaster.

The problem is, “pulled free” and “pulled up” do not mean the same thing. In the very first interview, he seems to be saying that a fellow supporter pulled him out of the crush, and out of the pen altogether (it would be easier to tell if the photo, provided by Whittle himself, were not so blurred, as it makes it very awkward to read). But in subsequent re-tellings, he seems to be saying that he was about to fall over – or even that he did fall over – and a fellow supporter grabbed him and pulled him upright before he could be trampled on. But even after being lifted up, Whittle was still jammed in the crowd. In other words, this other supporter kept him from dying, but was not able extract him from the crush.

The description of Whittle’s escape from the pens in his book does rather come out of nowhere. There is no clear explanation offered as to when the crushing relented, and the vice-like grip of the overcrowding loosened, enough to start his escape. Whittle does mention when it became easier to breathe, but he was still very much wedged in place at that point. But then, Whittle suddenly writes, “I stepped over bodies as I followed other fans in the slow process out onto the pitch”, without making any previous reference to such a ‘process’, or to when he had been able to start moving freely again. (We suspect that where he says, ‘process’ he probably means ‘procession’, which allows the sentence to make a little more sense.)

Either way, it will be seen that he describes extracting himself from the pens, rather than somebody else pulling him free.

Clarity, never a strong point in any of Whittle’s writings, is sorely needed here, as presently the contradiction is startling.

15) If you had lost your glasses, Mr. Whittle, how come you were able to make out Gate C when you were walking away from the ground? – Code Green

On page 25 of his book, Whittle states that he could not see much in front of him after he had escaped from the pens, because he had lost his glasses in the crush. He says that he never did find them, but over the next couple of pages, he describes seeing several things from a distance. In particular, he describes on page 28 walking back up Leppings Lane and looking back towards Gate C. How could he see it without his glasses? Is he long-sighted, not short-sighted perhaps?

Analysing the picture of Whittle in this interview, he looks quite visibly short-sighted, as the glasses he is wearing make his eyes look smaller, and the sides of his face look narrower; concave lenses sharpen images at the cost of reducing their apparent size. If he were long-sighted, his glasses would have convex lenses that would make his eyes look bigger.

Given the position of Gate C, it is also debatable whether it was even visible from Leppings Lane, as the turnstile bank right next to it, as well as Gate B, would have been in the way.

So how could he have seen Gate C from Leppings Lane?

16) How many ambulances did you say made it onto the pitch, Mr. Whittle? – Code Amber

At the top of page 26, Whittle rages that he only saw one ambulance while he was inside the stadium. (Judging by his remarks about having no glasses in 15) it is perhaps a bit of a mystery how he even saw that.) While we wholeheartedly agree with his general point that it was an outrage that so many ambulances were allowed to sit idle outside the stadium while people were dying inside, it is perhaps a bit suspicious that, of all the totals he could offer, the one he propagates just happens to be the frequently-stated myth; that only one ambulance made it onto the pitch at Hillsborough.

In fact, there were not one, not two, but three ambulances that reached the pitch at Hillsborough, and, as all of them had sirens blaring away as they entered the stadium, even a man without glasses should have been able to appreciate that they were there.

It is possible to counter this by pointing out that Whittle was in terrible shock at that time. A fair point, but if that is the reason he failed to notice two of the ambulances, the question is immediately raised as to how he noticed the remaining one.

17) You say that a police horse bolted outside the ground, Mr. Whittle. When did that happen? – Code Red

On page 22, while discussing the crush in Leppings Lane, Whittle asserts the following; –

A police horse bolted, knocking fans out of the way.

Assuming that, by ‘bolted’, Whittle means the usual definition i.e. ‘ran away out of the control of its rider’, then he appears to have been witness to an event nobody else saw; not even the police officer on the horse’s back, it would appear, as no police reports from that day mention a horse actually running away.

No other witness that we can find claims to have seen a horse running away out of control during the crush outside the stadium either. There was an incident when a horse reared up dangerously in panic against the growing press of the crowd, described by some witnesses somewhat mistakenly as the horse being bodily “lifted off its feet”, but it certainly never ‘bolted’.

When or where, exactly, did Whittle see this happening?

18) Mr. Whittle, you saw a number of fans fall to the floor in the tunnel? – Code Red

On page 23, as we know, Whittle recalls the experience of going through the tunnel under the West Stand. He writes the following; –

So many fans poured into that tunnel it was impossible to breathe in such a small space… … … A number fell to the floor, probably to their deaths, unknowingly trampled upon by fellow Liverpool supporters.

However, this does not sit too comfortably alongside the testimony of Roger Hewstone, given to the re-booted Coroner’s Inquests on 3rd September 2014. Hewstone was one of the last fans to go down the tunnel, arriving not-quite at the far end of it just after the game kicked off. Eleanor Barlow, reporting Inquest proceedings for the Liverpool Echo, quotes Hewstone as saying the following; –

“Mr Hewstone says… he went in the tunnel, he was the only fan in there.

He says the match had already started.

He says he never got onto the terrace.

He says: ‘The back of the crowd were [sic] very tightly compacted together. There were just backs of people right across the opening to the tunnel onto the terrace and I determined at that point that they were too tightly packed together for me to try and force a way in.’

He says some fans did go past him and did force their way into the crowd.

He says he watched the first part of the match over the heads of people at the back of the terrace.”

This would have been about seven minutes after Whittle had gone through the tunnel. The interesting aspect is that at no stage does Hewstone mention observing bodies on the tunnel floor, which would sound like an awfully large detail for him to miss or forget. (It would also seem incredibly callous of him to stand at the foot of the tunnel trying to watch the match, instead of, say, to run back up the tunnel, find a police officer, and inform him that he has found a line of dead bodies in there.)

If we look again at 16), we notice that Whittle’s mis-remembering of the ambulances ‘just happens’ to make his account coincide with one of the frequently-stated myths of the Hillsborough Disaster i.e. that on the day only one ambulance ever reached the pitch, when in reality three did.

It is similar with this assertion on page 23. He states that people fell in the tunnel and were probably trampled on, a description that ‘just happens’ to conform to another commonly-held myth that a number of the people who died at Hillsborough were trampled to death in the tunnel. One officer of the South Yorkshire Police appears to have started the rumour during the rescue effort by dramatically claiming to one of his colleagues that some forty people had died in the tunnel (which would make it strange that the tunnel did not became impassably blocked a long way short of the exit onto the pens). Slightly less hyperbolic versions of this, suggesting twenty people were killed in the tunnel, still circulate even today.

In fact, as Hewstone’s testimony above demonstrates, there is no firm evidence that any of the victims died in the tunnel. It is likely that some people stumbled as they were passing through, but the weight and density of the crowd was such that they would probably have been carried forward off their feet onto the terrace.

Given that Whittle makes (accurate) reference to the tunnel being so closely-packed with people and so very poorly lit, one has to ask, how could he even have noticed people falling to be trampled on?

19) Where exactly did you get this quotation, Mr. Whittle? And that one? And this one? And that one? And that one? And this one…? – Code Amber

As has been noted both here and elsewhere, Christopher Whittle is not the most reliable reporter of other people’s words. This might be due to an attention deficit on his part at times, but he has shown scant reluctance to invent quotations out of nowhere and put them in the mouths of his perceived ‘enemies’; see 12) for one of the most serious examples.

The fact that evidence to the contrary is sometimes even present on the very same websites on which he spreads these phantom quotations does not appear to cause him much hesitation either. Therefore, whenever he is publishing to a medium that has no fact-checking ‘built-in’ e.g. writing a book, it should come as no surprise to find that significant misquotations are never far away.

As one example of Whittle making a false quotation, there is a long-running controversy over the disappearance of two CCTV cassettes from a locked cupboard in the (also locked) police control room at Hillsborough during the night after the Disaster.

This matter is discussed on page 72 of Whittle’s book, where he asserts, “two video tapes, which filmed the horrific events unfold[sic], went missing from the police control room at Hillsborough during a ‘break in’[sic].” This grammatically-poor assertion is very misleading. By putting the words ‘break in’ in speech marks, Whittle is implying that this is a quotation of an officially-stated explanation. But, as is the case with almost any assertion he makes in his book, he cites no source for it.

(For what it is worth, the non-first-person information conveyed in With Hope In Your Heart reads distinctly like it has been sourced almost exclusively from the website of The Hillsborough Justice Campaign. Certainly not a bad reference point, but it is not a good approach to fact-checking only to use one source. It is also questionable whether there is any point in writing a book that largely summarises the information of just one website anyway.)

There is a very simple reason why there is no citation; no one, be they at Sheffield Wednesday Football Club, or in the South Yorkshire Police, has ever officially declared that the disappearance of the tapes was the result of a break-in. What happened to them is, to this day, still unknown; they have simply been declared ‘missing without explanation’. It is scandalous that no one among the authorities has ever bothered to find such an explanation of course, but no formal cover story was ever circulated to try and stop people asking awkward questions.

Furthermore, to the best knowledge of Roger Houldsworth, the former CCTV technician at the club, the tapes did not contain footage of the Disaster unfolding. His understanding was that the camera feeding the first of the tapes was pointed at exit gates at the east end of the ground, while the second one had been in a VCR that had not been activated at all on the day of the Disaster – presumably blank therefore.

Whoever removed the tapes – and yes it seems all-too-likely that they were stolen – might well have been trying to hide incriminating footage. But if that is the case, it looks like they ended up stealing the wrong tapes, perhaps because they were in too much of a hurry. There is little likelihood of this ‘hidden evidence’ revealing anything about the Disaster.

Mysteriously, these details do not get a mention in Whittle’s book, but an unsourced assertion by nobody we can identify does.

On page 66-67, Whittle asserts that Dr. Stefan Popper, the South Yorkshire West District Coroner, had no basis for his decision to impose the notorious ‘3:15pm cut-off time’ for evidence at the Hillsborough Inquests. He then neatly contradicts himself two sentences later by saying that the basis Popper used was that there were St. John’s Ambulance personnel on the pitch.

In fact, Popper did not use the 3:15pm cut-off for that reason as such. He did have a basis for it, albeit a calamitously-flawed one that made a complete hash of the original Inquest, and the ambulance personnel were involved. But there was a lot more to it than that. He in fact based the calculation on the typical features of traumatic asphyxia.

To quote Popper’s own words from November 1990; –

“the pathological evidence, and that is the crucial one [sic] I am interested in, is the damage that caused the death was due to crushing … The medical evidence was that once … that chest was fixed so that respiration could no longer take place, then irrevocable brain damage could occur between four and six minutes … I felt that the evidence which I had heard and in the light of what I had read that… the latest, when this permanent fixation could have arisen would have been approximately six minutes past [three], which is when the match stopped.”

The Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel interprets this for us as follows; –

“2.10.44 Dr Popper had concluded that once the chest was ‘fixed’ so that respiration became impossible, ‘irrevocable’ brain damage would follow within minutes. Without any conclusive supporting evidence, he decided that for all who died the latest time of permanent fixation of the chest was 3.06pm, coincidentally the precise time the match was abandoned. He then added ‘another six minutes ’on the basis that people died within four to six minutes, ‘that is twelve minutes past [three]’. He took a ‘convenient marker beyond that point in time … the arrival of the first ambulance [which happened at 3:15pm]”

So there is a basis of a kind for the cut-off time, and there is a sort of logic to it, albeit a very simplistic, assumption-based one. One can understand Popper’s thinking, even while noticing the gaping flaw in it; that he had not established whether the air-ways of all the victims had been closed long enough to seal their fates before 3:15pm.

But Whittle does not appear to want Popper’s decision even to be comprehensible; it does not appear to be enough for him that his readers will probably disagree with the cut-off time, they must not even have a chance to make an informed judgement, just in case any of them decide for some reason that Popper’s reasoning is sound. So Whittle instead offers only a fragment of Popper’s explanation, out of its context, and presents it as the whole argument. This bit of casual ‘quote-mining’ makes the decision sound like a non-sequitur, and therefore not only wrong but incomprehensible.

Why does Whittle feel the need to misrepresent the background to Popper’s decision? The flaws and false assumptions in Popper’s calculations have been exposed and laid bare by many a commentator over the years, all without them feeling any perceptible need to censor out key parts of what he actually said. Falsification like this is surely only necessary if Whittle cannot convey the real reasons why the cut-off was wrong.

On page 145 – not exactly a false quotation but near enough – he says of Graham Kelly, Chief Executive of the Football Association in 1989, that he “kept insisting and pressurising Liverpool to ‘play on’ [in that year’s FA Cup after the Disaster]”. This sentence is again grammatically poor (“kept insisting Liverpool to play on” should surely read “kept insisting Liverpool should play on”) but also, it is wildly exaggerated. Why ‘play on’ is put in speech marks is unclear anyway, but the implication of the sentence is that Kelly repeatedly badgered Liverpool Football Club into continuing to play the rest of that season’s FA Cup competition.

In fact, Kelly only asked them – asked them, not ordered them – once, a couple of days after the Disaster, whether they were willing to continue playing in that season’s FA Cup. Kelly was given very public short shrift by John Smith, the then-Liverpool Chairman. Smith accused the FA in the media of being “insensitive” for asking such a question so soon after the tragedy. Whatever one’s view of that, it is clear that Kelly took the point, and apologised later that day at a televised press conference. He did not push the matter again afterwards, and so Whittle’s use of the word ‘kept’ is plainly something akin to a misquotation. As indeed is his use of the word ‘insisting’, as Kelly had only been asking.

All the writers on this essay have directly experienced Whittle’s brazen tendency to delete comments where he has the power to, and then to invent quotations to justify the actions. With Whittle’s history of blatant smearing of people he has differences-of-opinion with, it is very difficult to accept that the inaccuracies in his writings are always a result of mere carelessness or clumsy articulation.

20) Which pub did you visit before entering the stadium, Mr. Whittle? – Code Green

In a recent, at the time of writing, and ill-advised series of public remarks on his Facebook page about proceedings at the re-booted Coroner’s Inquest – in which he largely dismisses every witness offering information favourable to the South Yorkshire Police’s case as having been ‘bought’ off (characteristically, he offers not a shred of evidence to support such irresponsible and incendiary remarks) – Whittle has made a little-noticed assertion. It once again does not quite sit well alongside his book.

Which pub, Whittle?

In amongst a series of deeply irresponsible accusations aimed at witnesses speaking at the Hillsborough Inquest, Whittle makes a claim contradicted by his book.

He claims that, before joining the queues for the turnstiles, he and a couple of friends went into a pub close to the stadium. The pub was called The Gate Inn.

However, on page 20 of his book, Whittle tells us the following; –

“A few fans were milling about, and we opted for the craic of the pub. I cannot recall which pub we went to – the Travellers or the Gate.” (Emphasis ours.)

Well, that is nothing major, but it is a little awkward. Whittle seems to be putting on the appearance of greater certainty whenever he disagrees with somebody. Perhaps because he fears that if he sounds unsure of any detail, it will make people feel less inclined to take him at his word as a whole?

21) What do you really know about the Heysel Stadium Disaster, Mr. Whittle? – Code Amber

The Heysel Tragedy happened almost four years prior to the Hillsborough Disaster, on the 29th of May 1985. It was European football’s biggest annual showpiece occasion, the European Champions’ Cup Final, held that year in a dilapidated old stadium in the Belgian capital of Brussels. Like Hillsborough, the Tragedy at Heysel involved Liverpool supporters, but unlike Hillsborough, it was partly a result of hooliganism, for which Liverpool fans were, rightly or wrongly, held primarily to blame. (A full description of what happened at Heysel can be read here.)

Whittle briefly discusses Heysel in the early pages of With Hope In Your Heart. On page 14, he describes correctly how Liverpool supporters had been attacked by Italian fans at the previous year’s Final, played against AS Roma. He then asserts that, as the opposition in 1985 was another Italian club, Juventus, the Liverpool supporters arrived in Brussels looking for revenge.

That claim is not quite accurate. Very few Liverpool fans have ever mentioned revenge as their motivation for violence on the night of Heysel. The main motivation instead was paranoia; a generalised fear that Italian fans would attack them again, as had happened in Rome the year before.

On the following page, Whittle associates Heysel with far-right militant political groups such as the National Front and Combat-18. Whittle writes; –

“They saw Heysel as a boiling inferno waiting to explode, and they were going to trigger the time bomb and set the explosion.”

With this rather laboured, jumbled attempt at writing in metaphors (infernos do not boil, nor do they explode, and a time bomb would not be triggered manually), Whittle arguably distracts from his inaccuracies by sounding comically inept. But what really matters is that the assertion he makes is completely unfounded. No convincing link has ever been established between the riot at Heysel and any right-wing political groups. There have been many rumours about possible infiltration of the Liverpool fanbase by the National Front – some of these rumours started circulating even as the riot was going on – but none has ever turned up any real evidence. One frequent whisper is that the Front had been passing racist literature around the Liverpool fans stating, “A black man could have stolen your job”, and yet not one copy of such a leaflet was ever found anywhere in the stadium, or indeed in Belgium as a whole.

Whittle then follows up this common myth with another one; –

“A perfect opportunity for racist scum from cockney clubs like Chelsea, Millwall and West Ham, to set something in motion and blame it all on Scousers.”

This remark has so many wrong implications, it is difficult to know where to begin. Perhaps the worst of them is the unspoken notion that, where there is racism involved in football, it has to be because of Londoners, as though fans from the Merseyside clubs have never had a racist moment in their entire histories. (Who can forget the way Everton fans hurled fruit at John Barnes on his Merseyside derby debut in 1987, for instance?)

But also, this is Whittle once again presenting an urban myth as an undoubted fact. The notion that the rioters at Heysel were fans of London clubs was first put about by John Smith, then-Chairman of Liverpool Football Club, and clearly not having one of his better moments. The then-Chief Executive of the club, Peter Robinson, later told a bizarre anecdote from what he claims were the early stages of the riot, about meeting in one corner of the stadium a handful of violent young men dressed in Liverpool shirts, but talking in London accents, and chanting the name of Bill Shankly (even though Shankly had retired from managing Liverpool in 1974, and had died of a heart attack in 1981). Little in this story rings true at all, and it is widely viewed as a rather cheap attempt at shifting the blame for the Disaster onto fans of other clubs.

Once again, no real evidence has ever been found to support the idea of supporters of London clubs being a significant presence at Heysel, and given that most of the rioters who were eventually convicted of manslaughter in 1988 were from Merseyside, the notion does not seem to fit.

Whittle goes on to write on page 16 that he saw Liverpool fans tearing down a fence that separated them from the Juventus fans, as he watched the riot unfolding on TV back home. How he saw all that could do with some explaining, as the BBC broadcast for the Final did not begin until shortly before 8pm BST, and the early stages of the riot were around 7:15pm BST.

Whittle presents it as an unimpeachable historical fact that the Juventus fans were the ones who started the fighting, not the Liverpool fans.

But in reality, we do not know that. It seems likely on analysis of the famous story of a very young Liverpool fan, who somehow arrived in the Juventus section of supporters, apparently being beaten up by Italians. But there are gaps in the story – including no explanation for what happened to the boy afterwards – that need filling before it can be treated as definitive, and it is, in any case, noticeable that Whittle does not even mention that story at all. In fact, he does not present any coherent case for holding the Juventus fans to blame for starting the riot, no coherent description of how the fighting began. All he really mentions is the throwing of stones, and yet he cites no evidence that that was started by the Italians. He just declares that it is a ‘fact’, and then more or less leaves it at that.

Later in the chapter, Whittle contradicts himself yet again. Having stated earlier that some Liverpool supporters travelled to Brussels looking for revenge, he then tries to dismiss accusations that Heysel was murder by insisting that what happened was not premeditated. Now it is certainly true that there were no murders at Heysel – the thirty-nine deaths in the Tragedy were not a result of the fighting but of a crush that formed among people running away from the fighting – but by arguing that supporters went to Belgium looking for revenge, Whittle is in fact saying that the riot was premeditated. The position of the writers of this essay, for the record, is that the riot was not premeditated; we are simply saying that Whittle needs to draw conclusions that are consistent with the background information he offers, and that he would help himself considerably if he made sure that the background information is full and accurate to begin with.

All in all, Whittle does not seem as knowledgeable about the Heysel Stadium Disaster as he tries to make himself sound, as some of the assertions he makes are quite plainly taken from common rumours and empty hearsay.

22) Mr. Whittle, if you choose to let your readers be the judge of your work, that means you are not going to argue with what they say about it. – Code Very Red

On page 149 of his book, Whittle writes, ‘In Conclusion’, that “This has been very much a personal account, and something which has been very difficult to write. Some might call it a remarkable achievement, but I will let you, the readers, be the judge of that.”

And so he should. His readers, after all, are the people who pay good money to receive copies of his book, and he receives a share of that money in royalties.

The problem is, we do not entirely accept that this is a promise he intends to keep, given his history of losing all control over his temper and attacking people when they have found fault with his work. Referring once more to Martin Odoni’s review of this very book, in which numerous errors, quality issues, and amateurish habits in the text were highlighted and criticised, it is noticeable that Whittle’s reaction did anything but let the readers judge. Instead, Whittle lashed out and tried to imply that the review was just a hatchet job by someone with a vendetta.

Hardly an example of letting “the readers be the judge” of anything.

In Conclusion‘, we wish to reiterate that we are not necessarily accusing Whittle of out-and-out fabrication. We are merely highlighting why it is a possibility, as his claims to being a victim of the Hillsborough Disaster do not appear to be well-supported by the known facts, or by his own stated case.

It is possible that the anomalies in his work that we have highlighted can be explained away; those we have allocated codes Green or even Amber we have seen possible explanations for. But even if we are to accept any explanations he offers, this leads us back to the only other possible reason for the anomalies, a reason all the writers of this essay have agreed upon, but one that Whittle himself angrily disputes; –

Quite simply, Whittle is a poor writer, whose dearth of eloquence or clarity has rendered him consistently powerless to convey his full meaning. Whittle insists that he must be a good writer because his book, apparently, ‘sold well’, even though that actually tells us nothing because people will buy a book before they get a chance to read it and decide whether they like it. But if we were to take that claim at face-value, that would suggest that the anecdotes he gives us in his book must be written as well as they can be. This would mean the anomalies are impossible to explain away, suggesting they are either made up or at least heavily embellished.

As we say, those are the only two possibilities we can see. He is either a liar, or he is a writer of little conspicuous talent.

We have decided to let Whittle be the judge of that, and to tell us which one he is.


by Martin Odoni

The rebooted Inquest into the Hillsborough Disaster has at least finally produced a verdict that tallies with what really happened. Considerable new information was unveiled during the proceedings, adding to public understanding. But there is much about the tragedy, both before and after, that still requires accounting for, and the South Yorkshire Police Service, with its delaying tactics throughout, made clear it has no wish to help with them. The police priority ultimately remained, as it has always been, to shift responsibility onto others, and so mysteries about the Disaster that should have been resolved long before now remain mysteries.

Perhaps this is as much an exercise in curiosity as it is in articulating the ongoing quest for justice (no, an Unlawful Killing verdict in a Coroner’s court does not constitute justice in itself), but I have decided to offer up some questions that I was hoping the authorities might answer at the Inquest. To the best of my knowledge, they have still not been answered after twenty-seven years, and as they are important and relevant issues, truth, justice and accountability will require explanations for all of them – and much else besides.

1) Who in the South Yorkshire Police decided to appoint David Duckenfield to be Match Commander at an FA Cup semi-final, when it was so patently obvious that he was ill-equipped for such a complex role, and why?

Much has rightly been made down the years of the then-newly-promoted Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield being horrendously inexperienced and ill-prepared for the job of directing the police operation at Hillsborough. This lack of know-how certainly explains why Duckenfield made such a dreadful hash of the role, and arguably one can even feel just a tiny, rare twinge of sympathy for him as a result of the position in which he was placed.

But in turn, no one has yet properly explained why he was given such a glaringly-unsuitable role in the first place. The Hillsborough Independent Panel, in their Report in 2012, explicitly stated that they could find no documentation at all in South Yorkshire Police files explaining the thinking behind the appointment. I was therefore hoping that someone might ‘de-cloak’ that subject a little during the Inquest. It never really happened though, and Duckenfield himself was, characteristically, of little help on the subject.

The late Peter Wright, Chief Constable of South Yorkshire in 1989, stated nearly a week after the Disaster that he accepted ‘full responsibility’ for the actions of the police at Hillsborough due to them being his own appointments. But in the 22 years that followed before his death, Wright never gave any coherent explanation for the most critical appointment of all.

Surely there is still someone alive who was in the South Yorkshire Police at the time who can at least shed a little light on this? It is a very important matter, as it raises serious questions about the adequacy of the processes by which roles are assigned in the South Yorkshire Police, perhaps even in the British Police as a whole. What process did Wright follow that led him to choose Duckenfield? Was it just laziness? Did he just assume that, now Duckenfield was the same rank as his predecessor, Brian Mole, he would automatically be able to do all of the same jobs to the same standard? Was it, as some suspect, because Duckenfield was a freemason, and ‘fellow travellers’ high up in the police hierarchy were giving him an easy climb?

It is possible that selection processes have changed in the long years since the Disaster of course, but rather than just complacently acknowledging the possibility, I for one would be a lot happier if we made sure. Especially so, given the, frankly, comical aftermath of the recent Inquest verdict; soon-to-retire Chief Constable David Crompton was suspended due to police conduct during the Inquest, and Dawn Copley, an officer under investigation for possible corruption (no, this is not a joke, at least not an intentional one), was appointed to fill in for him until a permanent successor could be found. Hardly surprisingly, she lasted little more than twenty-four hours in the position before a new public outcry chased her from office.

This little chapter has more than a faint echo of Duckenfield’s ill-considered appointment, in that whoever is making these decisions in South Yorkshire still does not appear to be checking very carefully or thinking through the implications very far.

The country really does need to know, and, where appropriate, to demand substantial changes to selection processes.

2) Having stated in advance that the Taylor Inquiry would ‘undoubtedly reveal the true nature and cause’ of the Disaster, why did the South Yorkshire Police higher echelons so aggressively attempt to ‘un-write’ the Taylor Interim Report during the Coroner’s Inquest, instead of just accepting its findings?

Chief Constable Peter Wright was unequivocal in the days after the Disaster in his confidence that the Taylor Inquiry would successfully get to the root of what went wrong at Hillsborough. This surely can only be interpreted as a commitment to accept Taylor’s quality-of-judgement and impartiality, and so to respect whatever findings at which he might arrive.

In the event, the Taylor Interim Report concluded that the police were the hapless creators of the Disaster, and in response, Wright offered his resignation.

But the then-Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was unhappy at Taylor’s ‘devastating criticism of the police’. While not formally rejecting the findings, nor actively participating in the renewed cover-up that followed, Thatcher refused to offer any public endorsement of the Taylor Report, and that made it very easy for the authorities in South Yorkshire to reject Wright’s resignation.

From that point on, the force became very aggressive in disputing and trying to discredit Taylor’s findings, especially in the original Coroner’s Inquest. This was in flat contradiction of Wright’s original declaration. Wright himself gave a very irresponsible interview to the Sheffield Star in February 1990, in which he explicitly dismissed the Interim Report. These sorts of articles were prominent in the South Yorkshire media around this time, and showed that the police were manipulating their contacts in the press in a way that was liable to have an unfair influence on the locally-selected jury at the Coroner’s Inquest. Lord Justice Taylor had gone from being a man in whom Wright had confidence to being a man Wright was determined to discredit.

There must be someone who was in the command structure of the South Yorkshire Police at that time who can account for such a stark reversal-of-position. As matters stand, the likeliest and most tempting explanation by far is that Wright had originally just assumed that Taylor would hand his force a ‘Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card’ and whitewash the Inquiry, hence the prior endorsement. Having instead carried out a genuine investigation, Taylor came to a conclusion that Wright had not wanted, and so higher-ups in the South Yorkshire Police decided they were not as confident in him as they had previously sounded.

It is worth noting that, in the aftermath of the original Coroner’s Inquest, when campaigners disputed the verdict of Accidental Death, the loathsome Paul Middup of the South Yorkshire Police Federation (the police ‘trade union’) publicly, and with characteristic tactlessness and accusatory wording, suggested that they did not really want justice.

“It makes one wonder whether it’s justice that they do want. You see, they’ve had justice, it’s been through the full judicial process. But because it hasn’t come out the way they would like, then they don’t feel they’ve had justice. And really I think most people will take that for what it is.”

Setting aside the cheap insult implied in that final sentence, and Middup’s utterly mysterious definition of ‘having justice’, the barefaced hypocrisy of his words beggars belief. He effectively accuses Hillsborough campaigners of ‘sour grapes’, as though they were upset about a refereeing decision in a football match instead of grieving the deaths of loved ones. He berates their refusal to accept the judge’s verdict as final. And yet he and his own police force had done exactly the same in response to the Taylor Interim Report’s findings, and based on far less evidence than the objections of Hillsborough campaigners to the Inquest verdict.

Quite simply, if the police declared that the Taylor Inquiry would ‘undoubtedly’ find the truth, and if they are going to imply that rejection of the original Inquest verdict is spiteful behaviour, then they are clearly going to have to explain how their own change of stance is any less spiteful – or admit that they should have kept their promise in the first place.

3) David Duckenfield’s predecessor, Chief Superintendent Brian Mole, offered to come back to Hillsborough for the semi-final to serve as Match Commander. Given Duckenfield’s comparative inadequacy in the command role, why was Mole’s offer refused?

Chief Superintendent Brian Mole was moved from Sheffield to Barnsley just three weeks prior to the FA Cup semi-final, due to a very cruel prank played by some of his officers on one of their colleagues. It was a prank that Mole had had nothing to do with, and had it not happened, it is fair to suggest that the Disaster would have been avoided, as the police effort at Hillsborough would have had experienced leadership.

It is rumoured that officials at Sheffield Wednesday Football Club were so alarmed at the thought of a novice taking over from the expert at such short notice that they offered Mole free tickets to coax him back for the day. This story sounds doubtful to me, as there was surely nothing to stop the club from lodging a formal protest, which does not appear to have happened, instead of trying cajolery. (In fact, surely the club had a moral duty to make such a protest?)

But whether the rumour is true or not, there is evidence to indicate that Mole himself did offer to attend the semi-final as Match Commander. For reasons that have never been made particularly clear, Duckenfield declined. He did apparently counter-propose that Mole attend the match in an advisory role, but Mole, perhaps worried that his advice might be ignored but that he could still become implicated in anything that might go wrong, was not keen on that suggestion.

NOTE: The precise order of these events is not clear, and so we do not know for sure which offer was made first. But whatever the case, there seems no doubt that Mole did offer to perform the Match Commander duties, and that Duckenfield said no.

It could even be argued that it was a generous offer by Mole, given that he was offering to give up a day off to make sure that one of the toughest jobs on the South Yorkshire Police’s calendar was kept in experienced hands, despite the fact he had recently been demoted by the force for horseplay that he had not been involved in at all.

We cannot ask Mole, as he is no longer with us, but we really do need to know why Duckenfield turned down such an eminently sensible suggestion. Were it a matter of ego for instance – say Duckenfield felt insecure in his new position as Chief Superintendent and so wanted to ‘prove his manhood’ as it were – it is important we make sure that the police in future do not treat their jobs as vehicles for their own self-esteem.

4) Why did the Football Association never, as a matter of policy, check the safety certificates of stadia considered for FA Cup semi-final venues, even after such stadia had undergone very public modifications?

It is a well-recorded concern of the Hillsborough Disaster that, it emerged during the Inquiries that followed, the safety certificate for the stadium was eight years out-of-date by 1989. The certificate in effect at the time reflected the stadium’s lay-out as it was from the date-of-issue in 1979 through to the summer of 1981. A wide variety of changes were made to the stadium in the years that followed, especially on the Leppings Lane terrace, all of which required an assessment and corresponding update to the certificate.

These changes started with the installation of radial fences on the terrace, dividing it into three enclosures, or ‘pens’ in 1981. Such fences of course constitute a severe obstacle to movement, and so the terrace should immediately have been re-assessed to establish how much of a hindrance they might be to evacuations in an emergency. Further, the terrace had three entrances, and therefore three potential evacuation routes. But once it was divided into pens, each enclosure now had just one evacuation route – the way spectators had come in. If that route were cut off for any reason, the certificate would need updating with details of what alternative escape routes – if any – could be made available in a hurry. (And if none could be made available in a hurry, surely the certificate would have to be withheld?)

But no re-assessment was performed. Even the official terrace capacity of ten thousand one hundred – considered by the police to be an over-estimate from the outset – was not re-calculated.

Further changes were made in the years ahead, including installation, removal, or re-positioning of crush barriers. All of these needed assessing to make sure that the new lay-outs did not jeopardise safety of spectators, and to make sure that the barriers were well-connected to the terrace floor, set at good heights, and were in a strong enough condition. But again, no such assessment was carried out.

A roof was put on the ‘Spion Kop’ stand at the east end of the stadium. The Leppings Lane terrace was re-divided into five pens in 1985. The entry concourse at the west end of the stadium was divided up by a complex series of diagonal walls, to help with segregation. All of these were major changes that would have serious implications for safety and evacuation, and yet not one re-assessment was performed.

When the Football Association was mulling over whether or not to award Hillsborough an FA Cup semi-final in 1987, you might imagine that the first question they would have asked would be, “All these changes the club has made to the stadium, are we sure they are safe?” There had been no semi-final held there in six years, after thirty-eight Tottenham Hotspur fans were injured in a crush on the Leppings Lane terrace in 1981. On reflection of that, you might expect safety considerations to be the first priority for the FA when weighing up the decision.

And you would be quite wrong.

There was in fact no formal policy at the FA of assessing safety before assigning venues for semi-finals each year. According to Adrian Titcombe, who was Head of Competitions at the Association in the 1980’s, safety was the responsibility of the clubs hosting the matches, the local authorities, and the police. It was not the responsibility, he insisted at the Inquest in July 2014, of the FA. He further said, without a trace of irony or ‘regret-in-hindsight’,

“My understanding is we always steered clear of anything to do with safety.”

Titcombe may not realise it, but this remark is frightening in the extreme. On one level, he is correct, safety certainly was a responsibility principally of the club, local authorities, and police. But if the Football Association – the body governing the sport in England and running the FA Cup competition itself – refused to have anything to do with safety matters at all, that would mean it would not even accept the duty of enforcing safety rules, the job of making sure clubs were complying with them. And if the FA was refusing to do that, that would mean nobody was. How effective could the safety laws introduced in the 1970’s be if no official body or individual was making sure that they were being carried out? They were reduced to text in books, no more effective at laying down the law than a Qur’an in a Christian country.

So why was the FA taking such a remote stance that its people would not even pause to check safety documentation? Disinterest? Fear? Lazy concern that to do so would imply acceptance of responsibility? In the absence of a clear answer from the FA, the only reasons I can think of are all overwhelmingly negative ones, suggesting an authority that cared nothing for its own supporters. Given it was routinely accepting money from them, that in itself could constitute criminal negligence, possibly even a form of fraud.

Unless the Association can come up with a genuinely good explanation for this ‘steer-clear-of-safety-issues’ policy – and by ‘good’ I mean an explanation that does not boil down to evading responsibility – it will have members past and present in the dock alongside the South Yorkshire Police when criminal prosecutions begin.

5) Chief Constable Peter Wright admitted on the BBC’s Match Of The Day, just hours after the Disaster, that the number of people on the Leppings Lane terrace did not appear to exceed its capacity, making wide ticketlessness a remote possibility at best. So why over the next few days did he order his force to find evidence that would place the blame on ‘drunken, ticketless individuals’?

Peter Wright’s appearance on Match Of The Day on 15th April 1989 can be quite instructive for anyone trying to measure the South Yorkshire Police mentality in the aftermath of the Disaster. This is partly because he revealed details that he and his officers later tried to contradict, implying defensiveness and denial. Most particularly, while interviewed by Gerald Sinstadt, Wright admitted that visual indicators suggested the stadium was not over its capacity. Such an observation made the presumed presence of ticketless fans unlikely. This interview was just four days before Wright said, at a meeting with the Police Federation,

“if anybody should be blamed, it should be the drunken ticketless individuals.” (Emphasis mine.)

That instruction heavily shaped the South Yorkshire Police’s conduct in relation to the Disaster over the next several years, even though subsequent analysis by the Health & Safety Executive found that the attendance was indeed very close to the ticket allocation.

One cannot help but imagine Wright putting his hand over his own mouth after the interview with Sinstadt and muttering, “Damn, why did I say that?” as it potentially undermined his force’s later efforts to shift blame for the Disaster onto the Liverpool supporters. Wright’s observation that the ground was not over capacity was clearly inconvenient to those efforts, and he was therefore perhaps fortunate that no one in the media noticed the inconsistency and took him to task over it.

It is notable that, during the 19th April meeting mentioned above, Wright was told a variety of tall stories about fan behaviour by his officers. He seems to have gone along with them out of sheer convenience; it is quite impossible to see any honourable rationale, as matters stand, for Wright’s speedy change-of-stance. The only plausible explanation is that a narrative about ticketlessness suited his defence, while his earlier observation of the physical facts did not.

For the posterity of the late Peter Wright, maybe one of his former colleagues can shed light on other, presently-unclear reasons why he did it? If not, he will be forever remembered as a toxic liar.

6) What possible reason did the Coroner of South Yorkshire West, Dr Stefan Popper, have for taking blood alcohol levels from children?

One of the most notorious actions carried out by the authorities on the night after the Disaster was done on the orders of the Coroner, Dr Stefan Popper. Blood samples were taken from all ninety-four fatalities, as the total was at that point, and tested for alcohol levels.

Now, this instruction was highly unusual and very intrusive, as it was an order to test the victims of a disaster. It is a little like a captain crashing a passenger ferry, and the stewards and stewardesses being tested for substances instead of the crew. (While we are on this subject, surely the Coroner should have ordered blood alcohol tests for the police at the same time? It was their guidance of the crowd that had gone wrong, after all, and objectively, if he was going to suspect alcohol might be a cause of that, there is no reason just to assume that all the police were sober.)

Nonetheless, the instruction might be seen as at least comprehensible in most cases. The truly disturbing and unsettling aspect of the instruction was that it was completely indiscriminate. All of the victims were tested for their blood alcohol levels, including children. The youngest of the victims, Jon-Paul Gilhooley – cousin of the future Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard – was just ten years old, and even he was tested for blood alcohol levels!

This does not suggest a very objective mindset on the part of Stefan Popper. He clearly saw football fans in an ugly, yobbish light, which is a distorting enough prejudice. But to extend that to the point that he assumed any football fan with an age in double-digits is a candidate to be a heavy drinker is beyond insulting.

Even if Gilhooley, by some incredibly remote happenstance, genuinely had had a drop of something inappropriate added to his lemonade, it is still hard to see how it would be relevant, for a reason that should have crossed Popper’s mind; drink or no drink, how much pressure can really be added to a human crush of several thousand adults by a boy whose number of years on Earth probably exceeded the number of stones he weighed?

The instruction, at least without getting permission from the next-of-kin, was insulting and invasive, but extending it to children was also pointless. It caused completely unnecessary extra distress to bereaved families, who, if nothing else, could have at least been spared that.

So Popper, who died just weeks before the new Inquest verdict, was guilty of gross insensitivity and impropriety. If anyone who worked closely with him on the night of Hillsborough is still alive, they really need to explain what the blazes he was thinking.

(It seems unlikely that we will get any constructive or informed input from Popper’s embittered widow.)

7) Various officers in the South Yorkshire Police repeatedly told bereaved relatives of the dead that the deceased were “now the property of the Coroner”. Who was responsible for choosing such incredibly crass, almost-bullying wording?

The often-mentioned experience of the bereaved families of Hillsborough on the night after the Disaster of the South Yorkshire Police treating them like criminals remains one of the most shameful aspects of the Disaster’s aftermath. When traumatised survivors and relatives most needed understanding and support, they were herded around Sheffield like sheep, interrogated crudely and accusingly about alcohol-consumption, forced to identify the dead by a hugely insensitive and undignified photographic process, and refused leave even to make any physical contact with their lost loved ones.

It would be no exaggeration to call the above behaviour ‘police bullying’, but perhaps the most stunningly dehumanising treatment of all was the wording police officers used when barring physical contact. It was used time and again, officer after officer, speaking to bereaved relative after bereaved relative, and it speaks of utter disdain for the dead, the injured, and the grieving; –

[Your relative] is no longer your property, he/she is now the property of the South Yorkshire Coroner.”

I have been aware of the stories of that night for well over twenty years, and even now, as I am typing that very quotation, still I struggle to comprehend it, still I struggle to picture such astonishing lack of human feeling when talking to people who are in a state of shock and grief. Referring to the dead as anyone’s ‘property’ is utterly dehumanising, as I say, but the subtext of what the police were saying was even worse; it suggested that the bond between the dead and their families had been severed, and all rights surrendered with it. It was authoritarianism, not public service, and it is beyond doubt that this mistreatment severely and irrevocably disrupted the grieving process for many of the families.

Now, as so many of the officers used that exact same terminology, literally verbatim, we can safely assume they were ordered to use it any time one of the bereaved started asking awkward questions. What we need to know is which particular police officer gave that instruction, and what possible reason they could offer to justify the use of such insensitive wording.

8) The FA received over a hundred letters of complaint from Liverpool supporters after the 1988 semi-final, warning that the Leppings Lane terrace was very dangerous; why did the FA not reply to the letters, or apparently not take them into consideration when selecting the semi-final venue for the following year?

It is unclear who was responsible at the FA for dealing with correspondence in the late-1980’s, but one thing that is known is that Liverpool supporters had such a horrible experience on the Leppings Lane terrace at the FA Cup semi-final in 1988 that the FA received a deluge of letters of complaint.

As an example, one Liverpool supporter wrote,

…it was impossible to move sideways as the momentum of the crowd continued to push us forward. We were forced to duck under metal barriers or suffer even more crushing. Finally we were forced right up against the barriers which prevent the fans from getting on to the pitch.

During the match we had to constantly bear the crushing force of the crowd swaying forward from behind. It would not have been so bad if we had been able to move sideways, away from this central part, but it was so packed, and the constant pushing, jostling and surging of the fans made this prospect appear even more dangerous.

During the game some fans actually collapsed or fainted and were passed over peoples [sic] heads towards the front of this section of the ground.

Another wrote,

“The whole area was packed solid to the point where it was impossible to move and where I, and others around me, felt considerable concern for personal safety (as a result of the crush an umbrella I was holding in my hand was snapped in half against the crush barrier in front of me). I would emphasise that the concern over safety related to the sheer numbers admitted, and not to crowd behaviour which was good.”

There is no indication of anyone within the Association responding to any of the one-hundred-plus letters, nor of anyone taking the details revealed in the letters into account before deciding whether to award Hillsborough a third successive semi-final in 1989. The aforementioned Adrian Titcombe described the selection process in depressingly casual terms, when asked at the Inquest. He said that the selection committee in 1989 spent “not more than ten minutes” debating before deciding to award another semi-final to Hillsborough.

So little attention was paid to the complaints, indeed, that in the aftermath of the Disaster, an internal FA memo actually declared that,

“There were no complaints whatsoever about last year’s game with regard to supporters, police or MPs etc. There was some speculation in the press about dissatisfaction with the Leppings Lane end but the FA had not received anything.”

This memo appears to have been honestly believed by whoever wrote it; as it was only meant for internal eyes at the FA, why would they bother to lie?

But for the writer of the memo to believe such a reversal of the plain facts would mean that there must have been a number of people at the FA who had not been made aware of the correspondence warning of the dangers on the Leppings Lane terrace. How was it not a regular, serious and Association-wide subject of discussion, given the size of the occasion, the degree of hazard revealed, and the terrace’s dangerous history of ‘near misses’?

Who at the FA first read these letters, and what did he or she do with them? Did he or she tell anybody in authority about them, and if they did, what did the person in authority do? Above all, how does the FA deal with letters-of-complaint today? Does it respond by investigating the complaints and making its findings known? Or does it quietly file the letters away and pretend not to have received them?

Once more, we have to know if there are lingering failings that need fixing.

9) Why did Sheffield Wednesday Football Club have no record of the age of crush barriers at the Hillsborough Stadium, and how was the corrosion on the barrier that collapsed repeatedly missed?

(For a more detailed discussion of this issue, please click here.) One of the crush barriers in pen 3, designated barrier 124a, collapsed during the crush, causing scores of people to go to ground in a giant pile-up, substantially adding to the death-toll. Subsequent analysis of the barrier’s wreckage revealed significant corrosion on the joint connecting it to the terrace floor, and large amounts of old litter that had been disposed of inside the barrier-pole down the years. One item of litter was particularly worrisome – a page from a newspaper, The Yorkshire Telegraph and Star, dated 24th October 1931. It was therefore printed roughly fifty-eight years before the Disaster, and on balance, it would seem to indicate that the barrier in which it was ‘binned’ was probably even older.

There is no hard-and-fast rule on how long a crush barrier’s serviceable lifespan should be, but as a ballpark figure, twenty years is probably the point after which it becomes risky to keep using the same one. Sixty years, or thereabouts, is clearly well beyond any reasonable expectation of it being fit-for-purpose. Sure enough, the heavy rust and corrosion damage found below the thirteen coats of paint (a number of coats again implying extreme age) was enough to suggest that 124a should probably have been replaced by around 1955. Instead, it was still in full use in 1989.

broken barrier support

Eastwood & Partners, the safety engineers, claimed in the days after the crush that tests were carried out on crush barriers routinely every year. But if that were the case, how did both E&P and Sheffield Wednesday Football Club manage to keep missing the corrosion on barrier 124a? Inspection by the Health & Safety Executive found that some of the corrosion was visible to the naked eye.

Further, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club’s documentation shows no apparent record of the age of any of the crush barriers used at Hillsborough. Why not? Was it a calamitous oversight? Was it just naivety, a silly assumption that a crush barrier had an unlimited lifespan? Or was it something more sinister? For instance, was corrosion damage deliberately painted over to hide it, in order to avoid the cost of replacing old and worn-out facilities?

Any of the above explanations would be grounds for criminal charges.

Or is there a more reasonable explanation? Once again, it would be good for the club’s posterity if it can offer one, as this is yet another question that invites seedier explanations the longer it remains unanswered.

10) Why were South Yorkshire Police officers instructed in the hours after the crush not to write any details of what they had seen in their pocketbooks?

Whether South Yorkshire Police behaviour after the Hillsborough Disaster was explicitly illegal, we shall only know for sure in the months ahead. What is quite beyond doubt though is that an awful lot of it was deeply irregular, and one of the ‘quirks’ that continues to cause great concern among Hillsborough campaigners and researchers to this day is an instruction given to officers within a couple of hours of the crush.

Martin McLoughlin, who was a constable in the force at the time, recalls the scene; –

This chief inspector came walking past, and one of the lads from our serial said, ‘Sir, what shall we put in our pocketbooks?’ And this chief inspector turns round and he says, ‘Oh, you don’t need to put anything in your pocketbooks, it’ll all be covered in the Disaster Log.’ “

This may not sound like a big deal to the man-in-the-street, hardly more than a bureaucratic nicety. In fact, this was an absolutely extraordinary instruction, and seems to imply a determination, even at this early stage, for absolute control-of-message by senior officers within the South Yorkshire Police.

In itself, the policeman’s pocketbook is a vital ‘tool’ for gathering observations made by officers on duty, which makes this instruction bewildering enough. But what makes it thoroughly startling is the reference to the Disaster Log; how could the chief inspector, or any police officer in authority that day, possibly know what details to put in the Disaster Log without the observations noted down by officers in their pocketbooks? Without the observations of officers to inform the Log, it would become an exercise in Creative Writing, just making up a largely-imagined version of events. Maybe that was the whole point though?

As a police pocketbook is state property, any notes taken in it cannot simply be ‘hidden’, ‘buried’ or altered. One way of getting the Disaster Log to say what senior officers wanted it to say would of course be to make sure there were no other police records available to contradict it. Such as those normally written in pocketbooks by officers.

That is the most obvious, most plausible explanation for why this incredibly irregular order was given. If it is not correct, I for one will be very willing to hear the South Yorkshire Police’s ‘real‘ explanation for it. We have, after all, been waiting for it for the better part of thirty years, and no one is stopping them from revealing it.

I would further hope that stricter and clearer guidelines on the ‘sovereignty’ (for want of a better word) of police pocketbooks on duty can be introduced, to make sure no senior police officer can just casually pick-and-choose when they should be employed.

I need to stress that this list is by no means comprehensive, nor are the questions intended to be seen as a ‘definitive top ten’. There are many other questions that still need to be answered for full accountability to be achieved, and some campaigners may well feel that other ones are more important. I have simply listed the ten questions that I find most pressing. (If you have others to contribute, feel free to submit them in the comments section below.) I would say that until these questions and others are answered, justice and accountability will remain incomplete, as will the lessons to be learned for the future.

With criminal investigations such as Operation: Resolve and the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s investigation into the conduct of the South Yorkshire and West Midlands Police forces, there is much still to be revealed in the months ahead. But if the above questions are not all answered, I for one will feel that the investigations have not really completed their work.

by Martin Odoni

The original Coroner’s Inquest into the Hillsborough Disaster between 1989 and 1991 was the longest in English history. Since quashed, it has been superseded by the ‘rebooted’ proceedings that ended this week with a landmark verdict of ‘Unlawful killing’. The rebooted Inquest began in March 2014, and ended in the dying embers of April 2016. In other words, the process lasted rather longer than two years.

Two years.

Years. Over two of them. Twenty-five months, it took.

Keep that span of time in your mind as you read on, and imagine two years of discussions of any subject you care to think of. Just picture how much information you could convey and receive in two years of constant discussion of the same topic.

Now, simple-minded resistance to the verdict was entirely predictable from some quarters, and in the case of fans of rival football clubs wanting to reinforce their own prejudices against Liverpool supporters, it was equally predictable that it would be based on, yet again, regurgitating long-discredited myths about the disaster’s causes. As I say, I really expected no better, especially from more extreme Mancunians.

For these people, who continue insisting that rowdy behaviour, ticketlessness, forged ticketsdrunkenness, or late arrival on the part of Liverpool fans were significant factors in the disaster, and that the Inquest must therefore have seriously fouled up not to have taken them on board, I have a couple of questions; –

The first of these is, “Are you people thick or what?”

The second of these questions is, “Do you honestly imagine that, in an Inquest that lasted over two years, these rumours were never mentioned once, or fact-checked?”

I know that the desire to protect one’s own prejudices can be very seductive, but it leads to no practical advantage, so please, stop being obtuse, and apply a little critical reasoning. Of course the old myths about Liverpool fan behaviour were mentioned in the rebooted Inquest, all of them, even the truly preposterous idea about a fan ‘conspiracy’ to force the police to open the gates was given voice more than once.

Representatives of the South Yorkshire Police, past and present, made damn sure that all of these smears were re-asserted and used to drag the process of the Inquest out months longer than it should have lasted. This is one of the key complaints of Andy Burnham MP’s outstanding speech to the House of Commons this week, that the tactics of the police lawyers throughout the Inquest served only to prolong the agony and reopen old wounds of survivors and the bereaved for the umpteenth time. The first few months of the Inquest in particular were bogged down in constant, long-discredited assertions of heavy drinking. This utterly undignified show of stubbornness forced the proceedings to waste time re-examining the evidence that had long ago established that very few fans had been drinking heavily at all.

Really, how much of a deliberate fool would you have to be to imagine that these notions were ‘kept’ from an Inquest at which the very people who had originally circulated them had lawyers present?

The reason the critical Question 7 concluded that fan behaviour played no role in causing the disaster is not because fan behaviour was not analysed. It is because it was analysed, and no evidence has ever been produced to substantiate any of the old accusations of serious misconduct. None of if it stood up to scrutiny; –

  • There were hardly any ticketless fans. A count by the Health & Safety Executive of people entering the terrace established that back in 1989.
  • There was very little drunkenness at all. No blood analysis of victims, survivors or the dead, showed up abnormally high levels of alcohol, no pictures or CCTV footage showed any evidence of widescale drunken behaviour, very little litter was found of the alcohol-packaging variety.
  • Very few people arrived late. The majority arrived at the turnstiles before 2:40pm, and the print on the tickets requested arrival by 2:45pm. Most people were therefore early, not late, and what late arrivals there were simply added bodies to a crush that had already formed. (Given that the exit gate was opened at 2:52pm, any arrivals after kick-off would have had nothing to do with the disaster.)
  • Pressure on the turnstiles was not caused by constant pushing. It was caused by there simply not being enough turnstiles allocated to the Liverpool supporters, all of the ones they had being in a narrow concourse with very little room, and extremely poor guidance provided by the police.

Every last one of these old myths was checked during the Inquest, and all of them were dismissed as implausible, and/or of simply leaving no evidence where there would have been some. At best, they were guesses, at worst, they were malicious rumours.

Now, as I say, it is entirely predictable that some people would respond to the Inquest verdict in this utterly brainless way, but it actually became frightening before the weekend due to a man called David Sumner. Sumner is a retired ex-chief inspector in the South Yorkshire Police, and in an interview with ITV News, he has done exactly the same thing as the laymen mentioned above. He has rejected the findings of the Inquest, entirely on the basis of one of the discredited myths.

To quote Sumner; –

I don’t really agree… that the Liverpool supporters were completely innocent because they weren’t – there’s no doubt about it. There was a minority – and a large number in that minority – who seem to be able to think they can go when they like and do what they like… They’ve all been asked to be in the ground 15 minutes before kick-off at the very latest. Why didn’t they do that?

That would be a good question, were it not for the fact that it was answered over a quarter of a century ago. The Taylor Interim Report, published just four months after the Disaster, discovered that the Liverpool supporters could not get into the ground very quickly because there was a ‘bottleneck’ at their end of the stadium, as this diagram explains; –

A map of Hillsborough, with annotations about crowd distribution.

A map of Hillsborough, annotated with details about crowd distribution. These explain the REAL reason why Liverpool supporters took far longer to get into the stadium than the Nottingham Forest fans.

This bottleneck had caused serious problems at two previous semi-finals held there. One in 1981 when it led to a serious crush involving Tottenham Hotspur fans, thirty-eight of whom suffered injuries, the other in 1987, when the kick-off had to be delayed due to Leeds United fans being unable to get in in time.

Add to that the problem of roadworks on the M62 and on the outskirts of Sheffield slowing down the traffic, and it is hardly surprising that, by 2:50pm, there were still several thousand Liverpool supporters trying to get in. It was calculated by the HSE that it would have taken until 3:40pm, due to the slow ‘through-put’ of the turnstiles, to get everybody into the ground.

The real question therefore is not, “Why were the Liverpool supporters not all in the stadium by 2:45pm?” Instead it should be, “Why did the South Yorkshire Police not make allowances for the roadworks or the bottleneck when organising their efforts on the day?”

Why I describe Sumner’s words as ‘frightening’ though is that he was on duty at Hillsborough on the day of the tragedy, and yet, after twenty-seven years, he still appears to be blissfully unaware of the bottleneck. How can he not have cottoned onto this crucial detail after all these years? It was mentioned not only by Lord Justice Taylor, but also during the original Coroner’s Inquest, by the Stuart-Smith Scrutiny of Evidence in 1998, by the Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel in 2012, and in considerable detail by the new Inquest. And not once did he notice?

This is doubly scary when one considers that, as members of the police with the responsibility for directing the crowd on the day, Sumner and his colleagues all needed to be aware of that bottleneck beforehand. That he remains ignorant of it twenty-seven years later suggests that, for a man in a role that requires detective skills, he has very poor attention-to-detail in general. But more pertinently, that he was unaware of it at the time emphasises just how appalling a job the South Yorkshire Police did on the day of the disaster, just how wretchedly ill-prepared they were, and how sketchy their knowledge of the stadium was. How can one safely direct a crowd into a stadium without knowing its shortcomings oneself?

Not having that knowledge before taking the job on can only be seen as negligence.

Therefore, paradoxically, Sumner’s words only confirm that the Inquest jury’s verdict is correct. The ninety-six victims of Hillsborough were unlawfully killed by an amateurish and lazily-prepared police force trying to direct them into a known unsafe stadium.