Hillsborough official witheld tickets due to safety concerns

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A senior Sheffield Wednesday official twice withheld 250 tickets from sale for big matches prior to the Hillsborough disaster because of safety and public disorder fears.

Ex-club secretary Richard Chester said he took the initiative himself because the club had not revised its maximum capacity for the Leppings Lane end after the terrace was divided into three pens.

Ninety-six fans died in the crush after overcrowding in the Leppings Lane terrace at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Mr Chester told the new inquests into the deaths of the supporters he would have expected the 10,100 capacity for the terrace to have been adjusted after the alterations because there was less room.

He said he had taken it upon himself for “a little bit of protection” to take out 250 visitors’ tickets for sale at two all-ticket matches in the 1984/85 season.

He said: “I wanted a little bit of protection and a little bit of back-up.

“You appreciate that if you have taken an area of terracing out that is not available, then logically you cannot have the same number of people.

“Quite clearly we did not want to be involved in a safety problem or a public disorder issue.”

Mr Chester, club secretary at Hillsborough between 1984 and 1986, did not give evidence at the Taylor Inquiry following the disaster nor the original inquests.

He said he made a statement to West Midlands Police, the independent force which probed the tragedy, in May 1989 but did not mention to the issue to them.

He told Christina Lambert QC, counsel to the inquest, he didn’t know why he had not said anything to police at the time.

Sheffield Wednesday was granted a safety certificate in 1979 but it was not revised before the tragedy despite the division of the Leppings Lane terrace into three pens in 1981 and later into five pens in 1985.

Mr Chester said he thought it was “ultimately the board of directors” who would be responsible for any safety shortcomings.

He said he could not think “of a single occasion” during his time at the club when the need for stadium safety was compromised on the basis of cost.

He said a copy of the safety certificate was in his office but he was 90 per cent sure there were no plans attached to it.

The inquest heard the maximum stated capacity for Hillsborough was 50,174, with maximum figures broken down for each individual stand and terrace.

The figures should not have been exceeded and gate records had to be kept for inspection.

Mr Chester said gate records were kept from collating the number of spectators entering the different parts of the stadium but he accepted an accurate breakdown of fans in the Leppings Lane end could not be given because it had no dedicated turnstiles.

The court heard there were discussions in August and September 1984 about the need to update the drawings to accompany the safety certificate.

Ms Lambert suggested it was “a golden opportunity” to raise his fears but Mr Chester said he thought his concerns arose “slightly later”.

He added: “I can truthfully say during my time at Hillsborough there was not an incident that caused me a safety concern and crowding concern.”

Ms Lambert reminded him of an incident at a game between Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley on January 7, 1984 when the centre tunnel leading to the Leppings Lane terraces had to be closed and the kick-off was delayed 15 minutes.

The inquest was told there had been an incident on the motorway prior to the game which held up the arrival of Barnsley fans and Mr Chester said the decision to put back the kick-off was precautionary.

The central tunnel was closed again before a game against Liverpool on February 2, 1985 when it was said Liverpool fans had turned up late.

Mr Chester said he and the match commander, Chief Superintendent Brian Mole, asked the referee to delay kick-off but this time was refused by the official.

He said: “My view was to try and get the crowd in as sensibly and as safely as possible.

“In all the circumstances, I don’t think any club could dictate to a referee, some referees.”

The jury also heard there was an incident of overcrowding in the Spion Kop end in 1985.

Mr Chester said when he left the club in 1986 he said he passed on his concerns about the capacity figures to then chairman Bert McGee and board director Keith Addy.

When asked about the response, he said: “From Mr McGhee it was pretty much ‘thank you, I will take a note’.”

The hearing continues.