Sheffield MP and England manager voiced safety concerns on day of Hillsborough disaster

The Hillsborough inquests have been taking place since last year and are due to end in 2016.
The Hillsborough inquests have been taking place since last year and are due to end in 2016.

Former Sheffield Wednesday director and MP Joe Ashton said he called for the ill fated FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest not to go ahead on the day of the Hillsborough disaster.

Mr Ashton, who represented Bassetlaw and served in James Callaghan’s government in the late 1970s, had campaigned in Parliament for improvements to football stadiums and was invited to the match by the Football Association.

The lifelong Owls fan was sitting with England manager Bobby Robson on the day of the disaster in April 1989.

Speaking after fresh inquests ruled that 96 Liverpool fans who died after a crush in the terraces had been ‘unlawfully killed’, Mr Ashton said he and the then England manager called for the game to be called off because of fears over the safety of the crowd.

“Around 15 minutes before kick-off, we started to see the crowd,” he said.

“I said to Bobby ‘there’s going to be trouble’ because part of the stand was empty but the other part was full and you could see the crowd getting pushed.

“We went downstairs into the changing room where all the players were ready to go and we started telling people that the match shouldn’t go ahead.

“The referee didn’t know what to do as people were telling him different things so finally he sent the players out.”

He said it quickly became obvious after kick-off that fans were in trouble on the terraces.

“People were getting terribly crushed,” he said.

“You could see people jumping on the pitch to save themselves, quite rightly. I told Bobby Robson ‘this is trouble mate’ and the ref stopped the match.

“The fans started running onto the pitch and the police were trying to stop them but I was shouting ‘leave them, let them on the pitch’ as I could see they were trying to escape the crush.

“People were climbing up walls and hanging off them. Dads were pushing their kids up in the air to get them out but the kids couldn’t hang on and were falling back into the crowd. I realised people were suffering but no one knew at this point that people were dying.”

He paid tribute to those who helped in the aftermath of the crush.

“Everyone you could think of was trying to get to Hillsborough. I’ll always remember the Salvation Army, they were passing in a van but when they heard what was happening inside the ground they stopped and came in to help people.

“It was complete chaos, nobody knew what was happening and word went out that the Government was worried about rioting.

“I remember Sheffield residents living nearby opened their homes to the fans. One woman let fans use her phone to call their families and even though they were traumatised, they left a pile of money on her table to pay for their calls.”

He said he was ‘stunned’ when he found out how many fans had died in the crush.

“The police waited for the government to tell them what to do, but nobody in government knew what to do. This was a disaster which had the same effect as the Titanic sinking. When Parliament held a session in the following days, you could hear a pin drop,” he added.