Hillsborough trial: Police officer breaks down as he tells court about helping fans before crush

Stephen Ellis' voice broke as he became visibly distressed as he recounted the day's events

Zamira Rahim
Wednesday 13 February 2019 22:59
'Seriously, open the gates' Police audio released from the 1989 Hillsborough disaster

A former police inspector broke down in court as he recalled working on the day of the Hillsborough disaster.

Stephen Ellis was on duty outside the stadium on 15 April 1989, when 96 Liverpool fans were killed in a crush on a terrace inside.

On the day, he was tasked with escorting Liverpool fans, arriving on a specially chartered "Football Special" train to the ground, where their team was set to play in the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.

By 2.45pm, a huge crowd had built up amidst "bloody chaos" outside the ground, the jury at Preston Crown Court has previously heard, with more of the 24,000 Liverpool fans arriving for kick-off.

With mounted police and foot patrols were unable to manage the crowds, Mr Ellis said that he knelt on top of a police Land Rover to speak to fans, shouting through a loud speaker.

"It was to stop pushing, move back, telling them people are getting crushed at the front, please move back, stop being anxious, anything I could think of," he said. "I may have said that we are delaying kick-off, albeit I had no instructions.

"People were shouting: 'Get it delayed'. So I told them what they wanted to hear to calm the situation."

At 2.52pm, the largest exit gate was opened and more fans entered the ground, but over the next few minutes fans in pens three and four behind the goal were crushed to death and the match was abandoned.

Mr Ellis became distressed as he recounted the details of the day's events. The former inspector's voice broke and he had to compose himself during his testimony.

"This part upsets me because I was so concerned for the safety of people in front of Leppings Lane and I had been shouting over this speaker system for 20 minutes, coughing every 30 seconds because I was shouting so loud," he said. "Witnessing things in front of me, that I was seriously concerned and then what seemed like seconds, I looked again and there was just about five metres of spectators in front of the turnstiles.

"I had a huge sense of relief, but where have they gone? They went in there quick..."

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David Duckenfield, the match commander who the prosecution alleges bore ultimate responsibility, is accused of "extraordinary failings" in not monitoring the overcrowding in the central pens, not blocking the tunnel so no more fans could get into the central pens, and not ensuring supporters were directed away from the pens behind the goal to less crowded areas.

The 74-year-old denies the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans.

Graham Mackrell, former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary, also denies health and safety offences.

The trial continues.

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