Imagine watching your children or loved ones go to a sporting event on a sunny spring day in 1989. Now imagine that because of improper crowd control and negligent conduct, 96 of those fans never returned home. Last week, the families and friends of the Liverpool Football Club supporters that lost their lives in a crush at Hillsborough were told that not only was the stadium unfit to hold a sporting event, but also that the police in charge of its safety were negligent and subsequently tried to cover up their actions.
Liverpool Football Club, one of the most decorated football teams in England, were set to face off against Nottingham Forest in a Football Association (FA) Cup semi-final at Hillsborough stadium, a stadium with previous incidences of crowd over-congestion that lead to a crush of fans. The fans were packed into the pens created for crowd control and safety so tightly that they literally were suffocated to death by the immense pressure growing behind them. What is most disturbing about this incident is that it could have easily been avoided.
The stadium in question, Hillsborough, had twice been involved in episodes similar to the tragedy on April 15, 1989 and the FA, the governing body for football in England, failed to recognize and take precautionary measures to ensure fan safety. The stadium did not have a safety certificate and events that happened as early as the year prior to the disaster show that it was no closer to being able to obtain one. The FA allowed the game to be played at a stadium with known dangers and the actions of the police force in charge of stadium security only added to the threat.
As Liverpool fans began making their way for the turnstiles before the start of the game, the potential for a crush already became evident. The main stand behind the goal on the Liverpool end was divided into four “pens” where fans would stand on a sloped terrace as opposed to the modern day seating common at stadiums. As the fans began to fill the central pens, the immense amount of supporters outside of the stadium began to feel the effects of a crush and the police outside the stadium ordered that an exit gate be opened to relieve pressure. Without closing the central pens to new arrivals, and without directing the incoming crowd to the side pens, the fans made their way down to the already crowded central pen. Surging forward because the game was about to begin, the fans already in the pens were forced forward until they were violently pressed up against the safety fence to prevent fans from storming the field. Fans frantically tried climbing the spiked fence to the field to escape the pressure and others were lifted by others to the second deck of the stadium to get away.
After the events, the South Yorkshire Police, engaged in a cover-up to place the blame on the supporters and their “drunken” behavior. The newly published report refutes any evidence of fan disobedience and showed irrefutable evidence of redacted and altered police statements to shift blame away from them. The families of the deceased campaigned arduously for the truth to be uncovered and to clear their loved ones names of any wrongdoing. Finally, after 23 painful years, the shocking revelation of a police cover up were revealed and have left the families contemplating their next step. The families want justice for the unnecessary deaths of fans at a sporting event and want those responsible to be held accountable. From the evidence that has been gathered by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, it seems clear that the actions of the South Yorkshire Police and the FA show a blatant disregard of a known risk and conduct that amounts to gross negligence that resulted in the deaths of 96 fans. Those lost that day will never be brought back, but hopefully the families will be able to hold those responsible accountable for their actions on that day.
For more information regarding this disaster please watch this short two minute film…