Bereaved Hillsborough dad claims officer stopped him from kissing his son goodbye

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The bereaved dad of one of the 96 Hillsborough victims fought back tears as he told a jury a police officer tried to stop him from kissing his dead son goodbye.

Barry Devonside travelled to the 1989 FA cup semi-final from his home in Formby with his 18-year-old son Christopher and a number of friends.

He told the jury at the new inquests into the tragedy he was at Hillsborough the year before when a crush developed and described the intense ‘pressure’ he felt when standing in Pen 3 on the Leppings Lane terrace.

He said he told himself: “I’m never going in these pens again.”

Mr Devonside said he initially refused to allow Chris to stand in the terraces at the 1989 semi final because it ‘wasn’t safe’ but he later relented.

He said there was a ‘carnival atmosphere’ as he took his place high up in the north stand of the stadium, while Chris headed towards Leppings Lane.

He told Christina Lambert QC, counsel to the inquests, at around 2.45pm he noticed pens 3 and 4 were considerably fuller than those to either side, and ‘near to capacity’.

By 2.50pm, he saw people trying to climb out of the pens. He saw police officers pushing fans back down and shouting for them to go back.

Mr Devonside said a man next to him had a radio, and he knew that the number of fatalities was beginning to mount.

He said: “I became so frightened for Chris - I became so cold with fear for Chris’s life.”

He said a small number of police officers did their level best to help the injured, but there were many more who seemed to be aimless and had no obvious command and control.

“Anyone looking at the Hillsborough pens and thinking it was a public order issue must be ‘gozzy’ or indifferent,” he said.

Once outside the ground, he met one of Chris’s friends who told him he needed to prepare himself for the worst, because Chris had been taken to the gymnasium, which was being used as a temporary mortuary.

Mr Devonside was told by a police officer at the gym - who he described as ‘rude and unprofessional’ - that Chris was not at the gymnasium, even though he gave a detailed description of what he was wearing.

He was taken to Northern General Hospital by a resident where he described people ‘wailing and screaming and angry against the police’ adding ‘most of us knew the police had cocked this up’.

Mr Devonside said he only knew for certain Chris had died when he went back to the gymnasium and saw a board with photographs on of the victims.

In an emotional account he described Chris being brought out in a body bag, and identifying him.

He said when he went to kiss him, a policeman tried to stop him.

Mr Devonside, who gave evidence yesterday, said he was interviewed by police, who asked him ‘intrusive’ questions slanted towards whether any alcohol had been consumed on the way to the stadium.

The inquests also heard from Sir James Sharples, deputy chief constable of Merseyside Police at the time of the disaster.

He was attending the match as a VIP guest.

Mr Sharples – who later rose to become Merseyside Chief Constable – praised the police operation.

He said his first impression when he witnessed what was happening at the Leppings Lane end was that there was crowd misbehaviour or disorder.

He said when he visited the police control box, officers ‘seemed in control of the situation, and they were acting properly and calmly’.

Mr Sharples said he made four to five visits to the police control box and formed the impression ‘people were seeking to deal with a complex situation in a calm and a controlled manner and dealing with it reasonably well’.

In cross examination Mr Sharples agreed he was ‘generous’ in his praise of the South Yorkshire Police operation in the statement he made two days after the disaster.

But he denied he was trying to assist the senior officers who he anticipated would face criticism.