The 97th Hillsborough victim: Fan sold ticket to friend who died in disaster

Guilt-ridden Stephen Whittle killed himself 22 years later

Stephen Whittle worked for 20 years at PPG Industries, a fibreglass firm in Hindley Green, just a few miles from his parents' home in Greater Manchester. He lived quietly, saved regularly. He liked music and was crazy about football, particularly his beloved Liverpool. He laughed easily and got on well with his parents. Then, on 26 February last year, he went to a nearby railway line and leapt in front of an oncoming train.

A work commitment on 15 April 1989 meant Stephen was forced to sell to his friend a ticket to watch Liverpool play Nottingham Forest in the semi-final of the FA Cup. His pal died that day, one of the 96 who perished in the tragedy. Survivor's guilt haunted Stephen, fermenting for more than two decades until, 18 months ago, he found desperate release, becoming the 97th victim of Hillsborough. He left £61,000 to the Hillsborough families in his will.

As bitter truths about Hillsborough emerged last week, ending 23 years of torment, cover-ups and lies for the families of the victims, Stephen's family was left asking: would he have overcome his demons if the truth had come out sooner? Why was he never given a chance for closure?

Speaking to The Independent on Sunday yesterday in their first interview with a national newspaper, his parents, Frank and Hilda, were still racked by grief and shock. "It was a surprise," his mother said. "We didn't know a thing about it."

Stephen's inquest was told by his doctor, Ashok Atrey: "He sold a ticket to a friend of his who went to Hillsborough to watch the Liverpool match and unfortunately he died. He was offered counselling but he wasn't keen on it. He said he had support and he didn't need it. He was asked about suicidal thoughts and he didn't have any."

At their modest home in Atherton, Greater Manchester, the couple, married for 52 years, still have the raw look of the recently bereaved. "He had headaches but he never showed it, not one bit," Stephen's mother said. "We never knew a thing." Her husband, 74, added: "It was at the inquest. We would not have known it if the doctor hadn't gone. He had never been suicidal. He had just brought a new TV and DVD. We couldn't believe it: it was a horrible experience.

Mrs Whittle recalled a happy son: "He was such a joyful, funny person: always a pleasure to be with. He was football mad and loved music: we used to listen to Paul Weller and he loved A-ha."

Revelations about tampering with police statements and attempts to shift the blame for the disaster reopened raw wounds. "It brings things back. Those people who supported Liverpool and their families were affected," said Mr Whittle. "Their sons and daughters could be affected with it. Those who were involved at Hillsborough, who feel like my Stephen did. Sometimes you walk down the street and you think he is at the side of you. Not all the time but it affects me like that ....You can be normal one or two minutes and the opposite way the next in a moment. Things happen like that."

Mrs Whittle said: "When you had three sons, then you have two, it is hard. When he was on night shift he would come around after dinner. We used to listen to music.

"We loved him more than everything. We nearly lost him at three months with pneumonia and bronchitis. He was one of these that, over the years, his nerves started to play up. He was a good hardworking lad and at his funeral more than 300 people came. I still find it so hard."

The Whittles are left clinging to the hope that the aftermath of the tragedy will not claim anyone else. They have never revealed the name of the "lad" who took Stephen's ticket – and never will, knowing that the knowledge that their son would not have died but for a twist of fate would be shattering to the friend's parents.

Mrs Whittle said yesterday that it was the one good thing they could salvage from an awful series of events. "His parents are still alive and we don't want them to go through any more grief."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk