Thursday, September 13, 2012

OK, what happened at Hillsborough ?

I asked this question at CiF last night only to be deleted immediately. Some facts are obviously not as sacred as others.

There seems to be an awful lot of heat but not much light around - enough that I still can't establish from the media coverage what actually happened that day.

The version I had in my head (doubtless influenced by various police leaks) was - large numbers of p****d-up Scallies, some without tickets, turned up shortly before kick-off, things looked nasty outside the ground, and the officer in charge opened the gates, condemning many people inside to an awful death. I didn't have any ideas that the people inside were anything but victims of a most unfortunate (to put it mildly) decision.

And that's pretty much what the interim Taylor report said - with the exception that the police opened the gates not because they feared for public order but because they feared crush deaths outside the ground :


64. Meanwhile, the crowd grew at the Leppings Lane entrance. As more arrived at the back the crush at the front grew worse. Entry to the turnstiles became more difficult. Their efficiency was impaired and their rate reduced. Arrivals at the back exceeded deliveries through the turnstiles, so the build-up increased. The foot officers outside were unable to function and in danger themselves so they went through the turnstiles and out again through gate C where they did what they could to relieve pressure by the tubular barrier. The mounted officers were surrounded by the dense mass of people and became ineffective. Superintendent Marshall was in the midst of the turmoil. He extricated himself and stood on a parapet of the bridge to get a clear view. A drunken fan tried to push him off: a beer can was thrown at a mounted officer. But these were isolated acts by individuals; the menace came from the massive numbers single-mindedly determined to be in for the kick-off with time running out. At the back of the crowd fans were frustrated by the lack of progress as 3 o'clock approached. Some, mostly young men who had been drinking, tried to push and force their way forward. At
the front, people were jammed together and against the turnstile walls. Some panicked as the pressure intensified. Some youngsters and women were fainting and in distress. They were helped out through the tubular barrier by turnstile G or were passed over the turnstiles elsewhere. Fans climbed up and over the turnstile building or on to the dividing fence. This was to escape the crush rather than to gain free entry since most of them had tickets.

65. At 2.44 pm Mr Marshall radioed for reinforcements, for the Tannoy to request the crowd to stop pushing and for a vehicle with loudspeaker equipment to come and request the same... The Tannoy was used but with little effect. Reinforcements, including mounted officers from Penistone Road, were sent. The third request, for a Landrover, was received direct by its driver PC Buxton who arrived at 2.46 pm and urged the crowd by loudspeaker not to push. This was no more effective than the Tannoy. The mounted officers besieged near the turnstiles came outside the perimeter gates. An attempt was made to shut them against the crowd outside, to enable the throng inside to be dispersed or at least thinned through the turnstiles. The pressure from without, however, opened the gates again. Mounted officers, now reinforced to greater numbers, formed a cordon across the elbow of Leppings Lane from the sweet shop to the bridge, again with the object of reducing pressure inside the gates. They were successful in this for some minutes despite desperate individuals forcing their way under or between the horses. However, this exercise was overtaken by a more dramatic relief of the pressure.

"Open the Gates"
66. Between 2.40 pm and 2.45 pm the crowd inside and outside the turnstile approach had swelled to over 5,000. At the head of the phalanx conditions had become intolerable. Those who got through were short of breath and sweating profusely. Many complained to police officers on the concourse inside the turnstiles and asked them in forceful terms to do something. Exit gates A and B were being shaken. It was clear the crowd could not pass through the turnstiles by 3 pm. Police Constable Buxton radioed from the Landrover to control asking that kick-off be postponed. The suggestion was acknowledged but rejected.

67. Superintendent Marshall realised the crowd had become unmanageable. Although loth to do so, since it was contrary to basic police strategy, he decided to request the exit gates be opened to relieve the pressure. Otherwise, he feared fatalities would occur. Other senior officers outside the ground agreed. At 2.47 pm he radioed control to permit the gates to be opened. At 2.48 pm, whilst Mr Duckenfield was considering the request, gate C opened to eject a youth who had climbed in with no ticket. Immediately, fans outside took advantage and about 150 managed to get in before a mounted officer enabled the gate to be closed again. Mr Marshall repeated his request. Still no response from control. He repeated it a third time, adding that if the gates were not opened someone was going to be killed. In the control room, Mr Duckenfield had not made a decision. Mr Murray asked him "Are you going to open the gates?". Mr Duckenfield gave the order and Sgt Goddard radioed to Mr Marshall "Open the gates". Neither the Club control room nor any police officers inside the turnstiles were told of this order before or after it was given or of any action it would require.

68. At 2.52 pm, gate C was opened wide.


Now the new improved report is out, and I've glanced through it, but I've been out most of the evening and it's 354 pages. OK, can anyone tell me what evidence has emerged to revise the above picture?

I couldn't find any but it's quite possible I've missed it.

(Every national newspaper, the House of Commons and the BBC tell me that this report totally changes our view on what happened. So they must be right.)

16 comments:

JuliaM said...

"(Every national newspaper, the House of Commons and the BBC tell me that this report totally changes our view on what happened. So they must be right.) "

Oh dear, if Anna Raccoon's experience is anything to go by, stand by to repel boarders!

I watched it on tv - the police were damned if they did, damned if they didn't. Someone was going to die, and the pity of it was, they were mostly the ones who'd done all the right things.

And why is the FA escaping any criticism for the over-capacity pens?

BenSix said...

...large numbers of p****d-up Scallies, some without tickets...

From the Taylor report...

I am satisfied on the evidence, however, that the great majority were not drunk nor even the worse for drink...the figures do suggest that there was not a very significant body of ticketless fans in the crowd which built up...

Anyway, I don't know a lot about the disaster but there was clearly something wrong with stadium designs and/or crowd control because, as someone else observed, Britain has had mass deaths at Hillsborough, Valley Park and Ibrox whereas the bigger and no less ball game-obsessed Americans have had no such tragedies. That this wasn't seen as a significant problem at least after 1985 says a lot about perceptions of football fans.

What seems most grotesque about this particular event is the cynicism with which blame was transferred onto the fans and the scale of the cover-up that tried to maintain the ensuing fiction. Establishing a team to alter witness statements is the kind of thing you'd expect from the most absurd tin-pot dictatorships.

Anonymous said...

"What seems most grotesque about this particular event is the cynicism with which blame was transferred onto the fans and the scale of the cover-up that tried to maintain the ensuing fiction. Establishing a team to alter witness statements is the kind of thing you'd expect from the most absurd tin-pot dictatorships."

And this is what turned it from a tragedy into a crime.

JuliaM said...

BenSix:"...whereas the bigger and no less ball game-obsessed Americans have had no such tragedies."

It's a totally different ballgame, if you'll pardon the pun.

In the US, it' always been a family affair (and you'll still see whole families attending), with none of the hooliganism we've had here with football.

Anonymous said...

"And this is what turned it from a tragedy into a crime"

Ben and anon, if a tragedy occurs and one party involved tries to blame it on another party (which the police obviously tried to do), the degree of culpability for the tragedy itself does not change. It may be (and probably should be) that heads should roll for the amendments and omissions.

Re drunkeness, I said that my prior-to-the-new-report version was probably influenced by the police briefings. But I've seen Liverpool fans since 1968, and the Taylor description of the scenes outside doesn't surprise at all.

I'm still waiting to hear something that contradicts the paragraphs from the Interim Report... is there anything?

Laban

Anonymous said...

btw, when was "blame transferred onto the fans" INSIDE the stadium ?


Anonymous said...

I am uncomfortable with several aspects of the response to this report.

Firstly, it seems to be a rewriting of history that the fans were initially blamed for the event.

From my recollection of that day, as events unfolded it was stressed that there had been no crowd trouble. By the evening news bulletins (recordings of these are on Youtube) the editorial line of ITN and BBC were that it had been police operational failings that had caused the disaster, there were voxpops with fans who blamed the police, and uncomfortable senior plod were facing hostile media questioning.

The (incredibly crass regardless of its veracity) Sun headline (several days after the event) stood out because apart from a few "why oh why" pieces there was little in the media that questioned the behavior of fans - understandably in the circumstances. The Sun (hardly the paper of record) article was condemned at the time by the rest of the media. If the SYP PR machine had attempted to "muddy the waters" they were not very successful. The interim Taylor published in August 1989 report was also damning of the police.



Secondly, whilst the attitude of and operations of police and emergency services changed massively after the event, the stadia changed, and a new national licensing authority put in place, the attitudes and behaviour of fans has not - witness any Liverpool versus Manchester United fixture for instance. As a football fan, it leaves me with an uneasy feeling that the police are being rounded on, whilst football remains the only social occasion (bar perhaps the Notting Hill Carnival) that carries such a threat of public disorder (albeit much better managed than 23 years ago).


Regarding the "news" - is there any serious analysis of this anywhere?

The police tried to cover their backsides - depressingly familiar - but would the altered statements have changed the interim Taylor report? Which of their actions after the event were actually criminal, and which merely unethical?

The issues over the coroner's report and 3.15 cut-off time are I am sure beyond a layman's expertise. But is there any analysis on how subjective are these findings, how much is the potential to save lives subject to conjecture? I have read elsewhere arguments by medics that allowing ambulances onto the chaos on the pitch may have had a worsening effects on events (as they would be beseiged by those with lesser injuries)

Would either of the above have made a difference to the decision to make a criminal prosecution? Having read the interim Taylor report and details of the private prosecution brought in the late 90s as a juror convicting anyone of a criminal offence to my mind would be difficult.

In the interest of "full disclosure", what has happened to the testimonies of local residents and Nottingham Forest supporters? The police (I know) supposedly took 1500 witness statements which were not allowed to be used as evidence at the original inquiry.

There are a lot of unanswered questions regarding these events, but everything seems to be drowned in a "Diana moment" of national hysteria.

Anonymous said...

A "Diana moment" indeed, but when even the Daily Mail - not a natural ally of Liverpool supporters - is joining the ant-police recriminations, there's little chance of seeing any measured analysis.

I remember at the time of the Taylor enquiry feeling uncomfortable about the massed ranks of m'learned friends, sitting in the calm of Lord Taylor's leisurely enquiry, taking weeks to pick apart the decisions made by SYP under pressure of changing circumstances over the course of an hour or so. Laban's quotation from the Taylor report illustrates how the the evidence before Taylor was that the root cause of the tragedy was shoving from fans pressing to get in; on that evidence, the police were a secondary cause for not controlling the fans. Why is it accepted as axiomatic however that football fans will behave in this way and that it is the authorities' fault if such unruly behaviour is not perfectly anticipated and countered, (all to be done without a hint of police brutality, naturally).

Mounted police are not required for crowd control outside, say, the Royal Albert Hall to control Prommenaders; why the different standards for football fans?

Anonymous said...

A "Diana moment" indeed, but when even the Daily Mail - not a natural ally of Liverpool supporters - is joining the ant-police recriminations, there's little chance of seeing any measured analysis.

I remember at the time of the Taylor enquiry feeling uncomfortable about the massed ranks of m'learned friends, sitting in the calm of Lord Taylor's leisurely enquiry, taking weeks to pick apart the decisions made by SYP under pressure of changing circumstances over the course of an hour or so. Laban's quotation from the Taylor report illustrates how the the evidence before Taylor was that the root cause of the tragedy was shoving from fans pressing to get in; on that evidence, the police were a secondary cause for not controlling the fans. Why is it accepted as axiomatic however that football fans will behave in this way and that it is the authorities' fault if such unruly behaviour is not perfectly anticipated and countered, (all to be done without a hint of police brutality, naturally).

Mounted police are not required for crowd control outside, say, the Royal Albert Hall to control Prommenaders; why the different standards for football fans?

Paul W said...

You're talking good sense as usual.

There seems to be some new stuff about the ambulance service and whether some of the dead could have been saved but the basic conclusions of the Taylor report in 1990 haven't been challenged. It's therefore rather disingenuous to claim there has been 23 years of official calumny about the Liverpool fans.

The thing that strikes me about the latest report is the desire of some people to find a smoking gun proving that Mrs Thatcher was some way at fault. I don't know whether this is pathological or cynical.

Former Sheffield MP Irvine Patnick has been criticised but it seems that all he was doing was passing on in good faith information he had received from a respectable source. He was only trying to do his job and the worst that can be said of him is that he should have tried harder to check his facts. It's sickening therefore that low life Labour MP John Mann is trying to get his name in the paper by demanding that Patnick should lose his knighthood.

West Yorks Chief Constable Norman Bettison also seems to be under fire. We should be proud of him for having the guts to stand his ground.

I see MPs are claiming that the statement on Wednesday showed Parliament at its best. When they see this I start to count the silver. And does MP Alison McGovern (Lab Wirral South) go around with an onion in her pocket in case she wants to talk about Hillsborough?

Anonymous said...

To Paul W – It is an article of faith amongst some Liverpudlians that both the “cover-up” and lurid Sun front page were instigated at the personal request of Mrs Thatcher, motivated by her pathological hatred of football fans and the City of Liverpool, and as a quid pro quo for services during the miner’s strike. This apparently unsubstantiated allegation has been repeated in print by journalists such as Brian Reade of The Mirror, and hinted at by Jack Straw in recent interviews.
It is my belief that the SYP’s role in the miner’s strike is behind the media hostility towards them from the get-go following the disaster. This is payback time for a Force seen as “Thatcher’s storm-troopers”, which is why there is so much spin and apparent re-writing of history.
I’ve had a read through the new report, and have been unable to find anything particularly new, or that might have changed the interim Taylor report. The process (taken under legal advice) by which individual officers submitted written statements, which were then edited and typed for them to sign was known about and criticised in the past. A tawdry and shameful episode definitely, but I’m unsure how anyone “got away” with anything. None of the removed sections (which tended to be point to a total lack of organisation and command structure) would have materially changed the Taylor report, which was damning of senior officers anyhow.
Based on experience of attending matches during the era, the apparent disregard for 1500 witness statements from locals, and the hostility amongst some in Sheffield and Nottingham to the report, it may well be the events outside the ground that led to the opening of gate C were sanitised in the interim Taylor report. To be honest, I think that this such a decision would have been made with good reason - many people had died as a result of the massive failings of SYP, the FA, Sheffield City Council and Sheffield Wednesday FC – radical changes needed to be made by the authorities, and the any mitigating circumstances needed to be discounted.
(As a cynic I’d add that this was second serious incident in 4 years involving the supporters of England’s (at the time) best supported and most successful club. Any suggestion of wrongdoing by the fans would have been devastating for the national game. I wonder the disaster had occurred to e.g. Leeds United fans (where there was a delayed kick-off and whose fans suffered serious crushing at the same end during the 1987 semi-final) the media would have been so sympathetic to them.)
Regardless, the lack of context in current media reports makes me uneasy. The major flaws in both the design of the Leppings Lane End and the police operation of the day where driven by fear of hooliganism and serious public disorder, and Liverpool supporters were amongst the most disorderly of the lot.
I’d add that issue of uneven crowd distribution and severe overcrowding were endemic at similar “Away” ends at the time, which were often subdivided into small “pens” for crowd segregation purposes. A serious event could have happened at a number of grounds across the country. Singling out one police force for a criminal prosecution for what was a complex and national problem does not seem particularly just to me.

Leicester Tigers supporter said...

Some fans undoubtedly behaved badly and contributed to the disaster. Some cops screwed up, but essentially that goes to where the crushing would have happened (ie in another life we would now be castigating Duckenfield for refusing to open the gates, leading to deaths outside the ground).

Bottom line in, in our brave new world of millionaire-led egalitarianism no one can utter the faintest criticism of the working classes, or football.

Except me. Football is a game, largely, played, watched and reported on by cocks.

joe90 said...

What an iconoclast you are, Leicester Tigers.

Anonymous said...

"The version I had in my head was - large numbers of p****d-up Scallies, some without tickets, turned up shortly before kick-off, things looked nasty outside the ground, and the officer in charge opened the gates, condemning many people inside to an awful death."

And that is exactly where you are wrong. The picture that has emerged is that the crowd was normal for a FA cup tie but the police lost control of the situation, exacerbated the problems that could have been expected, did not react quickly enough to events, then the police and ambulance service was slow to react to the aftermath. In other words the police were 98% to blame for the deaths that day and subsequently set about covering up.

Anonymous said...

I think that the part of the original report you quote is accurate and hence needs no significant change. The new light that the new report sheds is really about the serious lack of organisation of the response by police and ambulance teams in the time between 3 and 4pm, and secondly on the post-mortem results, which show that the cut-off point of 3.15 pm for the inquest etc was wrong. It is clear that with a proper response by the emergency services at least some of the dead had a reasonable chance of survival.

However we should not be too hard on the police. I myself witnessed at first hand the general behaviour of some football fans in the 70s and 80s, including some appalling behaviour by Liverpool supporters on occasion. It is little wonder that the police (often spat upon and verbally abused) took the attitude that they did to supporters in those days.

Anonymous said...

The whole thing is just so nauseating and sad. Massive crowds of pushing people. Policing like a cattle drive. What a place I have lived in all these years. What am I talkimg about - fucking ban it! Let's all grow up shall we. Any sport based on kicking can't be good.