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Monday 15 July 1996
A COPPER'S TALE
Last year six police officers lost compensation claims for the post-traumatic stress disorder they suffered after the Hillsborough football stadium tragedy. Yet 14 other officers have received pounds 1.2m. Geoff Glave, invalided out of the South Yorkshire force, is one of the six whose case goes before the Court of Appeal today. This is his story.
"Before I realised it, three dead bodies on makeshift stretchers had been deposited at my feet. They were quite obviously dead. The seriousness of it became apparent when we got messages saying that a temporary mortuary had been set up in the gymnasium.
"Within a few minutes there seemed to be bodies everywhere. Fans, police officers and men from St John Ambulance were bringing stretchers over. The pitch was like a battlefield. There were bodies everywhere. Some people were dead; some appeared to be still alive and we went round trying to get them into the recovery position. People were bringing bodies over and then running back to the Leppings Lane end.
"I don't remember any particular feelings then. It was just shock. I think I was numb. We just sort of got on with what we were doing.
"A lot of us were sent round to the gymnasium at about 3.30. When I got there it was just unbelievable. There were bodies strewn everywhere."
Hillsborough had been part of Geoff Glave's landscape since he was a child, when he went there to watch Sheffield Wednesday. The ground was in his police division.
He speaks from an immaculate home on a small development in a former pit village. Glave, 46, and his wife, Elaine, 47, sold the home they had always aspired to in Fulwood, a comfortable middle-class part of Sheffield, after he retired from the South Yorkshire force on a police pension. His income was halved, forcing him and his wife to find a house that was pounds 30,000 cheaper. After years of anguish and depression following that fateful day, 15 April 1989, he was ready to leave Sheffield anyway.
A committed Christian, his life centres round his local evangelical church, his home and garden, and his family. He visits elderly people in the congregation, goes to Spanish classes and this year took GCSE French. The couple have two grown-up children.
He looks every inch the neat, conventional police constable he used to be; upright and decent. But beyond the clear grey eyes lies a fragile and guarded man after a mental battering he could never have imagined possible. He is easily brought to tears, even on happy occasions.
"We were trying to sort out the bodies. We were trying to get doctors to do a preliminary certification. We kept counting, starting off at 20, then 30, then 40, then we stopped counting ... 94 were eventually brought in. Each officer was given a body bag and a body to look after." The two brothers of the lad in Mr Glave's bag collapsed, beside themselves with grief, as he tried to extract some details.
"Policemen and women were sat round crying. They just couldn't cope with it. We were doing what we were doing without being able to believe it. We were there until past 1am.
"I've dealt with deaths before, and some quite horrific ones, but never on such a scale. We just seemed to be surrounded by deaths.
"There were these meals in hot boxes. The last thing we wanted to do was eat, but eventually people started say perhaps we ought to have something to eat. So we ended up sitting around among these bodies, eating. By this time it seemed normal. But it was macabre. It was like a living nightmare. There were officers who were really struggling.
"For the next fortnight we were all fairly quiet at work. There was a sort of numbness, disbelief.
"After about six months it was obvious there was something wrong. I had thought everyone else was suffering from depression, but it was me that was suffering.
"I was persuaded to see the force welfare officer. She advised me to go and see my doctor and go off sick. I started taking anti-depressants.
"I used to drop my wife off at work and drop the children off. Then I used to go and park the car and sit there and cry. I was desperate because I'd left my wife and children."
Glave had always liked a drink, but now it was increasing, a lot. "It was a couple of very large whiskies every night when I got home. It got to the point where I was dependent on having a drink to help me relax and unwind." His tolerance level, as he puts it, fell dramatically. "My wife and children used to go around keeping their heads down."
He had flashbacks, and one night a particularly bad nightmare. "I was stood on the terraces at Hillsborough and there was a sort of a greeny- black slime starting to ooze through. It was coming through the gaps in the concrete steps. I was trying to push myself away from it. I couldn't get away from it. I was trying to scream out 'help, help', or something. It was one of those situations where I was trying to scream but couldn't. I woke up and my wife was saying, 'What's the matter, what's the matter?' I was on all fours pushing at the pillow.
"I went back to work after a month. I thought I was better. I wasn't."
In December 1992 he went off sick with what he thought was a bad dose of flu. He never returned to work.
He was certified by a Leeds University psychiatrist as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, now recognised as a distinct psychological condition.
Glave was the only one in his division who was going for counselling, although he says there were others who were suffering. "It's very much a macho thing, that you're a bobby. You can stand this sort of thing.
"People thought I'd grown two heads. There were all sorts of comments made about me when I went back to work, from people who had been there [at Hillsborough] and people who hadn't. Any newspaper articles were left prominently for me to find, articles about mental illness or stress.
"By about June 1993, the welfare officer said I was burnt out. I retired after 23 years.
"I had dreamt I was on a cricket pitch. All around me were people that I'd known. Senior officers from South Yorkshire and various other people were fielding. I was batting. As I was batting, the bowling was getting harder and harder. Someone kept coming up to me and taking the bat from me and giving me a smaller bat. Eventually, they took the bat off me and gave me something that looked like a thin polythene bag. I looked at it and looked around and smiled, dropped it and said you can stuff it and walked off the pitch. By the time I retired it was a great sense of relief that I'd not got to face any more of it."
When he and the five others who had played similar roles brought their claims before the High Court in Sheffield last year, Mr Justice Waller threw them out. The three defendants - the South Yorkshire force, Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and the engineers Eastwood and Partners - had admitted liability for negligence. But the judge ruled that the six were not "rescuers" and that their involvement had not been "within the area of proximity", making it unreasonable for them to recover damages when "bystanders" would not.
In last month's settlement at the door of the court, the three defendants agreed to pay out pounds 1.2m in damages to 14 other officers who had tried to save crushed and dying fans in the Leppings Lane pens.
Is there a real difference between the two groups?
"People say that we are chasing money, but we're actually trying to get some acknowledgement that we're not supermen or superwomen. We can cope with horrific situations, but not with something on the scale of Hillsborough.
"It was a lovely sunny day. We were enjoying being alive, working, looking forward to a semi-final, a tremendous atmosphere at Hillsborough. And then, suddenly, 94, and eventually 96, people were dead."
Glave had attended murder scenes in the past, and suicides. "You have a few sleepness nights and then you get over it."
The fact that so much blame was laid at the door of police officers has left an indelible scar. He won't be attending the Court of Appeal in London today after his experience at the hearing in Sheffield.
"There were relatives down there. When I came out they were screaming at me that I murdered their son. I was ill for about a week after that. I just can't cope with that. The thing I can't cope with is actually being blamed, when all I was doing was doing my job and trying to sort out the mess afterwards.
"It was obvious that a lot of people had turned up without tickets. A lot of people had drunk a hell of a lot before - who were determined to get into the ground and they didn't care who got in the way. I'm not blaming Liverpool fans or Forest fans. But South Yorkshire police were not the only ones to blame.
"Yes, it does make me feel angry. The numbers of officers claiming has been whittled down [originally 150, now 37]. There's been a lot of emotional blackmail."
He does not believe he has the mental or emotional strength to hold down a job. "I could not cope with the rigours of it. I have a very short fuse. I have to avoid situations of conflict, and things like crowds, which threaten to wind me up or make me feel claustrophobic.
"I still think about it. There are constant reminders, like every time a football match is mentioned."
As we speak, he gets a phone call from his daughter to say she has just graduated in social science. Elaine, formerly a school secretary, is now studying social science as well. "I think they're trying to figure me out."
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