Police ‘failed to realise gravity’ of Hillsborough crush

Fans try to escape the crush at Hillsborough.
Fans try to escape the crush at Hillsborough.
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A Hillsborough survivor has told the new inquests into the deaths of 96 football fans South Yorkshire Police failed to realise ‘the gravity’ of the situation in the Leppings Lane pens.

Terence Howells, who was a firefighter in 1989 and a Liverpool FC fan, told the Warrington jury he was in pen four on the Leppings Lane terraces on April 15, 1989.

He said the pen was full when he went in but the situation became worse.

Mr Howells said: “As the pressure increased, I knew it wasn’t right.”

“It was packed, it was tight. And, I mean, your body movements weren’t the same.”

He said he heard fans shouting at police to open the gates, but they didn’t respond.

He added: “I don’t think they realised what was happening.”

Mr Howells described seeing a fan trying to climb over the fence to get out of the terrace and a police officer telling them to get down.

He said: “I distinctly remember a policeman saying ‘You can’t do this’ and, not pushing him, but saying ‘Get back down’.”

Mr Howells said the pressure in the pens increased dramatically when the crowd surged forward after Peter Beardsley hit the crossbar at the Spion Kop end at 3.04pm.

He said: “Usually when a crowd moves forward the pressure might be increased greatly initially, but it tends to ease off. It didn’t this time.”

“There was a state of panic. There was definitely people panicking and fear. You could see the fear as well. I was scared myself.”

He told the court there was a delay in helping fans who were trapped.

He said: “They didn’t realise the gravity of the situation, what was happening.”

Mr Howells said he managed to get his arm free and was able to pull himself out of the crowd.

He said other fans helped him to a position behind a crush barrier.

He told the court: “People were being dragged over the fence, people were climbing the fence, the front fence. People were being hauled up into the stand behind me.”

He said after what seemed like a long time he saw an ambulance arrive on the scene.

“You’d have thought there’d have been a major incident plan or something in place, something for that, that gravity.”

The inquests heard he remained in the pen until about 4pm, when he and his friends went home.

He said: “Although I was an experienced fireman and had seen a lot of things happen, I think I was probably, I was in a state of shock.”

Mr Howells said he suffered bruising to his back in the crush.

The jury was also read evidence from a former PC who was unable to attend the inquests.

He said police officers on the perimeter track at Hillsborough held a gate shut while fans were being crushed in the pens.

Mr Smith said he was a PC stationed by the gate in pen three on April 15, 1989.

In his statement he said the fans surged forwards after the players came out onto the pitch and the gate flew open, but he closed it.

He said it later opened again after a surge and he tried to close it but couldn’t.

He said two other police officers held the gate shut.

He said: “The fans were again screaming and shouting ‘We’re squashed, open the gates you b*****ds’.”

The court heard he stepped back to look at the pens and saw fans crushed up against the fence, including three young women.

He radioed control to ask to open the gate but after receiving no response he asked the police officers to open it.

He said: “The noise was terrible and people were screaming, a different type of scream, and I opened the gate fully.

“I saw people were being forced onto the fence and turning blue.

“I passed another radio message ‘This is serious. People are dying in here’.”

The inquests continue.