Club secretary had crowd safety fears

The Hillsborough disaster.
The Hillsborough disaster.
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A Sheffield Wednesday official twice withheld 250 tickets from sale for big matches prior to the Hillsborough disaster because of safety fears.

Former club secretary Richard Chester said he took the initiative himself because the football club had not revised its maximum capacity for the Hillsborough Stadium’s Leppings Lane stand after the terrace was divided into three pens.

Ninety-six Liverpool FC fans died in a crush after overcrowding on the terrace at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Mr Chester told jurors at the new inquests into the deaths of the supporters that he would have expected the 10,100 capacity for the terrace to have been adjusted after the alterations, because there was less room for supporters.

He said he had taken it upon himself for ‘a little bit of protection’ to take out 250 visitors’ tickets for sale at two all-ticket matches in the 1984/85 season.

He said: “I wanted a little bit of protection and a little bit of back-up.

“You appreciate that if you have taken an area of terracing out that is not available, then logically you cannot have the same number of people.

“Quite clearly, we did not want to be involved in a safety problem or a public disorder issue.”

Mr Chester, club secretary at Hillsborough between 1984 and 1986, did not give evidence at the Taylor Inquiry after the disaster nor the original inquests.

He said he made a statement to West Midlands Police, the independent force which probed the tragedy, in May 1989, but did not mention the issue to them.

He told Christina Lambert QC, counsel to the inquest, he did not know why he had not said anything to police at the time.

Wednesday were granted a safety certificate in 1979, but it was not revised before the tragedy, despite the division of the Leppings Lane terrace into three pens in 1981 and later into five pens in 1985.

Mr Chester said he thought it was ‘ultimately the board of directors’ who would be responsible for any safety shortcomings.

He said he could not think ‘of a single occasion’ during his time at the club when the need for stadium safety was compromised on the basis of cost.