Former Star photographer tells inquest jury Hillsborough looked like a ‘battleground’

Steve Ellis is pictured at Hillsborough
Steve Ellis is pictured at Hillsborough
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A former Star photographer who was working at Hillsborough on the day of the disaster has told a jury the ground was like a ‘war scene’.

Steve Ellis, now a freelance photographer, was working as match photographer for The Star and Sheffield Wednesday on the day of the FA Cup Semi Final in 1989.

Giving evidence about the scenes around him after the match was stopped Steve said: “It went from a containment situation to a rescue situation.”

He said a police officer he knew, PC Illingworth, was standing on a wall pulling fans over the fencing.

“As more and more people came onto the track, sort of seeing the situation close-up was impossible,” he said.

“That area of the ground almost became like a battleground, it was like a war scene, there was bodies laid everywhere.”

Describing the mood on the pitch he said: “It was just, as I say, it was just an unreal situation that - that there were bodies laid everywhere just, as I say, something out of a war scene.”

Steve said after seeing a policeman cover a fan’s face with his jacket, he heard a Nottingham Forest fan shouting abuse and calling for the game to be restarted.

He said he shouted back at them saying fans had died.

He attributed the fan’s attitude to a lack of public announcements.

Asked if he saw any hostility to the police, Steve said: “A little bit, a little bit, not a vast amount.”

He says PC Illingworth was still at the heart of the rescue effort until after 6pm.

Steve told the jury he tried to ring his wife to let her know that he was okay but was unable to get a phone line.

The editor of the Star decided that for the first time in its history, a Sunday edition would be published and Steve said he was asked if he would go into the offices to help.

Earlier Steve told the jury he had assumed his position in front of the Leppings Lane terraces at around 2.45pm.

Initially he walked from the players’ tunnel to the terracing and prepared his camera equipment.

Asked about his first impression of the Leppings Lane end, he said: “That was the first thing that struck me that, coming down the tunnel. 
“On a normal semi-final day there’s not a space to be had anywhere but as you looked towards the Leppings Lane end of the ground each side of the terracing were very sparsely occupied and it was very, very striking.”

He added: “Anybody that had got experience of the ground, that would’ve hit you straight away. Especially just before kick off.”

Steve said in the central pens he saw people pressed up against the fence, which was unusual.

He saw a policeman he recognised, PC Illingworth and asked him why the terraces were empty at the sides, but the PC did not hear him.

As kick off approached, Mr Ellis was facing the pitch, but just before or after kick off his attention was turned to what was happening behind him.

He said: “Two girls were screaming, pushed right up against the fence.

“They weren’t very old but they were pushed right up against the fence and just screaming.”

Steve said it was unusal because you’d usually hear shouting at a football match, not screaming.

He said as the game progressed it became increasingly obvious more and more people were being pushed towards the front of the fence.

He saw people trying to climb over but PC Illingworth tried to stop them.

He said he couldn’t hear individual shouts, or people calling for gates to be opened,just cries of distress - “it was just a mass of noise that came across,” he told the court.

Steve said: “From where I was sat it was difficult for me to say what was causing the problem in the pens.

“Fans were being pushed more and more towards the fence.”

Initially he said he thought the fans climbing over were doing so because of ‘some sort of crowd misbehaviour’ because those climbing over were not injured.

He said police officers next to him were shouting at the fans to push back to relieve pressure on those at the front.

“If I recollect, once the teams had gone off the pitch is when a lot of the injured people or seriously injured people were coming off the terraces.”

He recalls one lad coming onto the pitch during the game and throwing up.

Mr Ellis tried to beckon St John’s Ambulance staff over to help but says they were very slow at responding.

He said when Liverpool hit the bar at 3.04pm, the crowd surged forward.

The hearing continues.