South Yorkshire Police focused attention on keeping Liverpool and Nottingham Forest supporters apart on the day of the Hillsborough disaster – rather than on crowd safety – because of issues with ‘serious hooliganism’ and ‘disorder’, jurors heard.
Coroner Lord Justice Goldring told the jury at the new inquests in Warrington they would hear about how the policing operation for the fateful 1989 FA Cup Semi final was planned.
“The police were concerned with keeping fans apart in response to hooliganism and disorder,” said Lord Justice Goldring.
“It may be said by some this was reasonable, given the extent of serious soccer hooliganism at the time.
“It may be said by others that police planning was too focused on problems of disorder and there was insufficient focus on issues of crowd safety.”
The jury of seven men and four women was sworn in this morning and the names of the 96 people who died in the tragedy was read out to the court.
That was followed by an opening statement from the coroner who then read out a timetable for the inquests, which could last up to a year.
Mr Justice Goldring gave a brief account of why a new inquest was being held.
He said the findings of the 1990-91 hearing in Sheffield was quashed in the High Court following publication of a report after a campaign by the bereaved families.
Mr Justice Goldring said the new inquests would not ‘degenerate into the adversarial battle which scarred the original inquests’ and asked the jury to disregard everything they had heard, seen or read about the Hillsborough disaster and focus only on the evidence heard in court.
He told the jury: “Our task is to investigate the facts, to reveal the truth in a public forum and to reach conclusions on the basis of the evidence presented. It will be a full and thorough investigation.”
The coroner then gave the jury some basic background about the stadium and its history.
He said there had been a crushing incident at an FA Cup Semi final at Hillsborough the year before between the same teams but no one was seriously injured and South Yorkshire Police had regarded the policing of that match as a success.
Lord Justice Goldring said the 2,200 capacity of the Leppings Lane terraces was ‘substantially too high’, there was no means of counting how many fans had gone through the turnstiles and the metal crush barriers did not meet the required standards.
He said the jury might also question whether the newly promoted Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield was the right person to be in charge of policing the match. He had extensive experience in CID but had never commanded a match at the ground before.
“He certainly didn’t have the wealth of experience as his predecessor Chief Supt Brian Mole,” said the coroner.
“He was promoted on March 27, 1989 and replaced Chf Supt Mole as the officer in charge.
“Whether that was a sensible decision might be something for you to have to consider,” said Lord Justice Goldring.
Earlier, Lord Justice Goldring said the Hillsborough stadium was the scene of the ‘worst ever disaster at a British sporting stadium’.
Opening the case, he said: “On Saturday April 15, 1989, almost 25 years ago, Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield was the scene of the worst ever disaster at a British sporting stadium.
“An FA Cup semi final was to be played between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest football clubs, a capacity crowd was expected. The match was to kick off at 3pm.
“Around the time of the kick off a terrible crush developed in two pens within the standing terraces at the west end of the stadium, the Leppings Lane end. That was where the Liverpool fans were standing. Those in the terraces could not escape, a high metal mesh fence at the front of the pens prevented them.
“The pressure in the pens built up. Many of those in the pens suffered tremendous crushing injuries – 96 men, women and children died.
“Over 400 were treated in hospital. The disaster is seared into the memories of the very many people affected by it, not least the families of he 96 people who died.
“You as a jury and I was coroner will investigate the deaths of those 96.”
The timetable of evidence to be heard was set out by the coroner.
He said they would hear ‘pen portraits’ about each of the 96 who died, read out by their families or their lawyers.
After that they would hear evidence about the stadium as it was in 1989 from the police, followed by the evidence of a structural engineer.
The jury will visit the stadium in May and that will be followed by evidence about stadium safety from the FA and Sheffield Council.
After those witnesses, the court will hear about planning and preparation from South Yorkshire Police, other emergency services and Sheffield Wednesday FC.
Next there will be evidence from supports, local residents, police, match stewards and ambulance staff.
Expert evidence about policing and emergency care will come next followed by practices and standards in 1989.
That will be followed by medical evidence about each of the 96, followed by evidence from five pathologists.
The medics will give causes of death for each of those who died and try to answer questions about whether their deaths could have been prevented.
Following a week long break in the proceedings, Lord Justice Goldring will sum up the evidence before the jury retires to consider their verdicts.
The hearing continues.