Hillsborough: Ten testimonies - 'Indescribable scenes of chaos in a theatre of death'
Witnesses and relatives recall their experiences of the day in April 1989 when 96 football fans were killed at the Sheffield Wednesday ground. Jonathan Owen, Ruby Lott-Lavigna and Hattie Mahony report
A C Grayling
A. C. Grayling is an English philosopher and founder of independent undergraduate college, New College of the Humanities. He is the author of several books including The Refutation of Scepticism (1985), The Meaning of Things (2001) and The Good Book (2011).
Sunday 16 September 2012
Dr John R Ashton CBE
Dealt with the dead and dying on the pitch at Hillsborough
Football fans knew about Hillsborough. There had been problems there before. What happened that day amounted to supporters being treated like animals being herded to the slaughter.
It was almost indescribable; amid scenes of bloody chaos in a ground that had become a theatre of death, the emergency services simply failed to function. There was virtually no resuscitation equipment to hand. It was utter chaos. Around 5pm, the mood changed. Police were rounded up from around the ground, everyone else evicted, and the first police debrief took place. This must have been when the conspiracy began. When 164 police officers doctor their notes, that is not a few bad apples. It is a systematic conspiracy that must have been authorised or ordered, even perpetrated by senior officers.
This week was about the families and loved ones of the dead. It was also about much more. If you lose a dear relative who has lived a good long life, you grieve. If you lose someone in a disaster it must be 100 times worse. But if you lose a loved one in a disaster and then the facts are wrapped in a tissue of lies and conspiracy, how do you deal with that? What happened at Hillsborough is a symptom of the corruption in public life that is endemic now. At stake is the vitality of our democracy.
Former Liverpool goalkeeper
There were shouts and screams from the crowd just behind me. It was different – not the ordinary crowd noise – and I turned around to look. What amazed me first was the concentration and squash of fans in the centre section. As play was going forward over the centre line I heard a shout: "Bruce, please help!" – a desperate shout from a fan squashed up against the fencing to the right of my goal as I looked at Leppings Lane terraces. He screamed: "Please get the fucking gate open! Help, help!"
All the people that could speak were pleading for help. There were two policemen near the gate right alongside the fan who had shouted to me and so I shouted to them: "Get the gate open." I called again to the policemen: "Open the fucking gate" and one just turned away from me and looked back at the crowd but the other went to the gate and opened it, and it was like taking the top off a shaken Coke bottle – people were everywhere. A fan came up to me on the pitch and said: "Bruce, they're killing us." I said: "Who's killing you?" And he said: "They're crushing us – our fans."
Has been fighting for a new inquest into the death of her 15-year-old son for more than 20 years
Kevin didn't even die from what they said. I've had numerous forensic reports from the top guy. I tracked down everyone that touched Kevin that day. These people were never ever called to Kevin's inquest. They've painted a different picture, and I found out exactly what happened to Kevin. Kevin didn't die from traumatic asphyxiation; he wasn't dead by 3.15. There must have been others that were saveable, like Kevin. The cause of death was one thing I wanted to put right on the death certificate. If he'd got oxygen that day, he'd be alive.
I was advised to wait until the Independent Panel deliver their report before submitting my memorial for a new inquest to the Attorney General, who has said he will look at it.
The evidence is there and it's always been there. We'll never forget Hillsborough, but getting the truth acknowledged will make a difference to the lives of the bereaved and the survivors.
The thought of being able to wake up one morning and not be thinking straight away about files and documents is a welcome one. I can't wait until I can know my little boy is at peace, with a correct death certificate, because I want a life.
Spokeswoman for the Hillsborough Justice Campaign
I can remember listening to the local radio the next morning as names of the dead were being read out as they'd been identified. It was perverse because I'd had friends who were there and I was listening for their names, not wanting to hear them – being glad when I didn't hear them, but then feeling guilty because they were someone else's friends and someone else's children.
When I was attending the inquests I saw the cover-up happening and saw how people were being treated. Families were exploited in their vulnerability, in their grief, so they were railroaded through a corrupt system at the time because of their grief. They weren't up to challenging things. Also, most of them were traumatised. Afterwards it was about trusting your instincts, and from when I sat in the coroner's court and saw those police officers I trusted my instincts. The coroner's court was corrupted by the police, and I think the inquest verdicts should be quashed with immediate effect.
Reverend Alastair Cutting
A curate at Hillsborough in 1989
I was curate at the time and Leppings Lane was 100 yards from my door. A call had gone out on the local radio for all social workers and clergy to come in. I'd moved into the area just a month before. I was in the gymnasium until about 2am. My vicar went on right through the night and I took the services the next day. It was a baptism of fire. Liverpool was a city in mourning, but Sheffield was a city in mourning as well because it happened on our doorstep. It was just so awful. I remember seeing those families coming off the coaches and the shock on their faces and going with them as we went through the process of trying to identify their loved ones, if they were there. It still comes back to me every year. I'm deeply troubled by the significant cover-up revealed in the Bishop James Jones report. I'm deeply saddened by that. Many good Sheffield people at junior levels of responsibility will feel deeply let down by the manipulation of the story – bearing false witness never helps. Transparency, honesty and integrity in public office are the key things I hope will grow from this.
The pop star
The Farm, and one of thousands of Liverpool fans at the game
It was common knowledge to football fans that the Leppings Lane was a "bad end", even before the pens were put in. It was a surreal day; it was like it wasn't happening because of so much confusion. I was in the north stand. I went on to the pitch because I saw casualties coming through and people getting CPR in and around the penalty area at the Nottingham Forest end. I went up to the police line and asked what was happening. They said: "We don't know. We are waiting for orders." I pointed to people giving others the kiss of life and said: "Can't you help them?" They said: "We can't do anything until we get an order." That's one abiding memory. I was angry but we didn't realise the extent of it, and to be fair to the police on that line, I don't think they did. My memory of that day was just walking around in confusion. All that day it never really hit me as such – it was just a state of shock.
Wednesday was a historic day. There's a brilliant Disraeli quote: "Justice is truth in action." We've had the truth, now we want the action. There's no doubt the inquests should now be quashed. It's so obvious that these people were complicit, the collusion between the media and the higher echelons of the South Yorkshire police and politicians; I'd like to see them in front of the courts. They've perverted the course of justice and we've had to defend ourselves for 23 years.
Former Daily Mirror journalist
A phone call from London first alerted us. The night news desk was on. Hillsborough had happened three days earlier and we were the out-of-town contingent of the Daily Mirror team in Liverpool, from where the dead, the dying, the grieving families and the survivors hailed. Could we help stand up a story filed by Whites, the reputable news agency in Sheffield, that unnamed police officers were claiming that drunken Liverpool fans had hampered emergency service attempts to treat the injured, pull survivors from the massive crush, some urinating on the broken bodies and attacking rescuers and, perhaps the most appalling accusation of all, that callous thugs had robbed the dead and dying?
Our colleagues in Sheffield, Frank Thorne and the late Ted Oliver, having made strenuous checks earlier, told the night news editor they could not stand the allegations up, nor did they believe them to be true. Oliver even threatened to quit if the story appeared under his byline. We started calling people we had met since our arrival in Liverpool. The bereaved, the survivors and fans' representatives. The story did not stand up to the inquiries of at least five experienced journalists. We all became suspicious that misinformation was being leaked by South Yorkshire Police in an attempt to divert attention from their inadequacies and cock-ups on the day. We suspected back then that a black propaganda machine had been cranked up. The Mirror turned the police claims story on its head and ran and piece saying the victims' families were outraged at suggestions their own people had indulged in appalling behaviour. That this has now been fully exposed brings quiet satisfaction but it is nothing compared to the part that the exposure plays in helping bring some closure to Liverpool and the families now that the real "truth" is, at last, out there for all to see.
Clive Betts MP
Former leader of Sheffield City Council
For me it was just a sense of not knowing what was happening. My first indication was somebody telling me that 60 people had been killed and then absolute despair. I think a lot of people just didn't realise the extent of what was happening, and then they realised people had died and were seriously injured. There was no information, no announcements; it was just complete confusion. I remember it being so chaotic. It brings back awful memories for me, as I was there when it happened, but when I think of all the families who have been affected, who have lost people dear to them, it must be so much worse. Then to find out after 23 years that what was reported that day was a lie, it's disgraceful.
Regarding judicial matters, there is clear evidence now that the official account of the tragedy was false. There definitely needs to be a new inquest into what happened and who was involved. Here is something that was clearly organised; people knew what they were doing. I'm not calling for anybody to be removed immediately, but the new inquest will reveal what truly happened and then action should be taken from there. Whatever happens, it needs to be in the best interest and wishes of the individuals and families affected by the tragedy. Their years of campaigning were finally successful, and so we should respect whatever they want to happen.
Was 22 when he escaped with his life
I will never forget what happened that day. The feeling went from absolute joy to fearing for my life. I remember walking through the turnstiles, being in the tunnel and then just a surge of people. A wall of people hit me. I survived by being pulled up from the balcony above me. It was the worst day of my life and will be with me all the time. I saw people dying in front of me and crying for help but I couldn't do anything. When I got out of the stadium they put us on a special train; there was a policeman on the phone who gave us a commentary of how many had been found dead. People were just sitting with their heads in their hands saying "I can't believe it". It was the first time I had visited Hillsborough and I can't go back again. To this day it still sends a shiver down my spine. For 23 years I and all those who were at Hillsborough that day have been branded drunken hooligans but now finally everybody knows that isn't the case. I felt so angry about the allegations but now I am just relieved. I feel made up – a lot of weight and pressure is finally off my shoulders.
The police constable
An off-duty officer watching the game that day. He went to the aid of Kevin Williams in an attempt to save the teenager's life
I saw this man lying on the floor convulsing. The police cordon in front of the north stand appeared unconcerned; this agitated the supporters in the stand, who were shouting for them to go and help the people on the pitch. None of the police officers left the cordon. I walked through the cordon without being challenged and then went to the man having convulsions.
Almost immediately I was joined by a St John's Ambulance man. I identified myself as an off-duty police officer. He then said to me: "You do mouth to mouth and I'll do heart massage." I then took his pulse in his neck. I could feel a slight pulse. I and most police officers have only basic first aid knowledge. When I administered first aid to the man I felt totally inadequate on reflection. However, with that particular man, I don't think more knowledge would have helped, though it might have in others.
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