Ambulance control room ‘in limbo’ during vital first minutes of Hillsborough disaster

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Ambulance controllers were given ‘very little information’ about the scale of the Hillsborough disaster in the vital first minutes of the tragedy, an inquest heard.

Stuart Machin, a control officer at South Yorkshire Metropolitan Service, said the team responsible for deploying ambulances were not informed about the severity of injuries caused by fans being crushed on the Leppings Lane terraces.

He was giving evidence to the new inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans in 1989.

Mr Machin said: “The only information we’d got was that there were crush injuries and possibly fatalities. There was very little information coming from the ground for the first 20 minutes, very little indeed.”

At 3.08pm, a message came from police control advising there were problems at Hillsborough and asking for a fleet of ambulances.

Mr Machin said it was not made clear why the ambulances were required, while two ambulance officers at the ground had not reported anything.

He said: “We were in limbo. We’d got the police on one side asking for a fleet of ambulances and the two officers at the ground who were on the scene not saying anything.”

At 3.11pm, the control room asked station officer Patrick Higgins, who was at the ground, for an update. He said there were 50 to 100 people on the pitch, who were ‘probably just winded’.

But at 3.12pm, the control room told its fleet to say there had been ‘crush injuries’ at Hillsborough, with ambulances told one minute later that it was a ‘major incident’.

The first report from the ground of a major incident was not made until 3.18pm. A major incident vehicle containing vital equipment did not arrive at the ground until 3.55pm.