Fans injured in previous crush at Hillsborough, jury told

Digital mock up of Hillsborough football ground.
Digital mock up of Hillsborough football ground.
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Concerns about safety at Hillsborough stadium were raised in 1981 after an FA Cup Semi Final during which Spurs fans were crushed at the Leppings Lane end, a court heard.

The police, FA, Sheffield Wednesday and engineering consultant Dr Wilfred Eastwood were involved in discussions after the crush during the April 1981 FA Cup Semi Final between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

The incident caused injuries but no one died.

Today the new inquests into the deaths of the 96, who died in the 1989 disaster, heard those involved in stadium safety at Hillsborough ‘should have identified areas of risk’.

Stadium expert John Cutlack, who has more than 34 years’ experience and has designed stands at Newcastle United and Arsenal, was asked about the risk of crushing after the jury looked at a list of British stadia incidents.

Michael Mansfield QC, who represents a group of the Hillsborough families, said that between 1923 and 1989, when Lord Justice Taylor reported on Hillsborough, there were eight reports on crowd control and safety in Britain.

Questioning Mr Cutlack on day 20 of the inquests, Mr Mansfield said: “Those who were concerned with safety therefore at football stadia throughout this period should have been aware of that risk, shouldn’t they?”

Mr Cutlack replied: “I would think that anybody who was involved in football stadia, who was following what was happening, should certainly have been aware of it.”

The jury has heard Sheffield Wednesday FC considered increasing the number of turnstiles at the Leppings Lane end from 23 to 34 eight years before the tragedy but axed the plans.

Christina Lambert QC, lead counsel to the Hillsborough inquests, said drawings from 1981 showed the club was considering dividing the terrace into pens and installing banks of turnstiles to feed the terrace.

But Mr Cutlack told the Warrington hearing the only measures installed were two new fences.

The court heard the club revisited the idea of increasing the number of turnstiles from 23 to 34 in 1985, at an estimated cost of £120,000 to £130,000.

Sheffield Wednesday wrote to Eastwood & Partners saying 34 turnstiles were required in the new plans.

But on June 8, 1985, the club produced a further stadium plan - and the number of turnstiles was back to 23

The court heard the club spent £120,000 upgrading Hillsborough in order to secure its safety certificate in December 1979.

The Safety at Sports Grounds Act 1975 brought into being safety certificates for stadiums holding more than 10,000 people.

Safety Certificates were issued by local authorities, who had an ‘on going duty’ to make sure football grounds were safe.

Hillsborough was told it needed a safety certificate after January 1, 1979, due to its use as a venue for international games.

Despite the 1985 recommendation of Mr Justice Popplewell, those with certificates did not have to have them renewed every year.

The jury heard many of the crush barriers at Hillsborough were below the height recommended in the safety guide for football grounds after 1989.

The recommended minimum height of crush barriers on terraces was between 1.02 and 1.12m. The preferred height was 1.1m.

Christina Lambert QC, lead counsel to the Hillsborough Inquests, said after the 1989 disaster it was found many of the crush barriers at the ground fell below the advised level.

The court was told the guidelines for stadium safety were a voluntary code which had no legal force.

The Green Guide – a guide to safety at sports grounds – was published in 1973.

It came about after an investigation into the Ibrox disaster of 1971, when 66 people died in a crush on a stairway.

Put together by academics and engineers, it was aimed at those involved in the running, designing or licensing of sports grounds, such as local authorities, county councils, clubs, professional advisers, police, fire officers, ambulance and health services.

The Green Guide was the first document that gave guidance on how to calculate the safe capacity of fans in a ground.

It recommended detailed inspections of grounds should be carried out annually and a representative sample of crush barriers tested.

The hearing continues tomorrow.