Jurors at the new Hillsborough inquests have heard distressing evidence about the final moments of Steven Gerrard’s cousin, the disaster’s youngest victim.
Evidence has been given by two family friends of 10-year-old Jon-Paul Gilhooley today, with the pair describing how they lost sight of the boy as crushing on a terrace at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final became “unbearable”.
A police inspector who later saw Jon-Paul among a pile of bodies described the scene as “like walking into hell”.
One of the child’s family friends lost consciousness while the other was unable to look down to see where 4ft 9in Jon-Paul, a cousin of Liverpool and England footballer Steven Gerrard, was following a number of surges in the crowd.
All three had entered Sheffield Wednesday’s ground through exit gate C which had been opened by police to alleviate overcrowding at the Leppings Lane turnstiles, the inquest into the deaths of the 96 fans heard.
Glen Flatley said they went into central pen 3 aiming to find a barrier for Jon-Paul to sit on and watch the match but they could not get through the crowd.
He recalled a “big surge” shortly after the whistle for kick-off.
He said: “It was becoming really, really unbearable. It just kept coming.
“The pressure ... it was like concrete. It was like being pressed between two massive slabs of concrete and someone forcing it against you.”
He added: “Jon-Paul was somewhere in front of me but I couldn’t see him because he was obviously much smaller and we were so packed in together at this time that it was impossible for me to even look down and see where he was.
“It had become so bad that I had accepted I was about to die and I knew that death was imminent.
“I just could not see any way out of it and everywhere became serene, peaceful. It seemed to become quiet. Then I just relaxed and all of a sudden something gave.”
The jury has heard previously that a crush barrier collapsed during the pressure of the crushing and a large number of victims died in front of it.
Rodney Jolley said he thought that he, Jon-Paul and Mr Flatley were initially a quarter of the way back from the top of the terracing but ended near the front close to a perimeter fence.
Asked about the packing in the crowd, he said: “You just could not breathe, it must have been horrible for Jon-Paul. it was so compact.
“I remember I was shouting out to try and get some attention that I had a child in my care, you know.”
Describing the moment he regained consciousness, he said: “The next thing I remember is I heard somebody say ‘this one’s alive’ or ‘this one’s still alive’ and someody lifted me up and they put me on the grass.
“I remember I was alive because I could smell the grass and I could see the blue sky.”
Jon-Paul travelled by coach to Hillsborough with his uncles, Brian and John, after they had picked up a spare terrace ticket on the morning of the match.
Phillip Woodward, a police inspector on duty at the match on April 15 1989, said he went into pen 3 with other officers in the aftermath of the crush and was confronted with a number of bodies on the floor near the front of the perimeter gate.
He said: “It was just quite a horrendous scene ... it was just like walking into hell.
“I saw a young boy probably aged about 10, a similar age to my own son, among a pile of bodies.”
He told the inquests sitting in Warrington that he thought Jon-Paul was dead “because of his appearance, the colour of his face and having been a policeman for a long time.”
Another police officer, Graham Butler, was called to the ground for back-up and walked down the Leppings Lane tunnel where Jon-Paul was “thrust into my arms” by a member of the public who said “help him”.
He explained he thought he was going to deal with public disorder when he entered the tunnel but again compared the scene to “like hell”.
He carried him to an ambulance in Leppings Lane and performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the way.
Mr Butler said: “He was limp, he was discoloured. I formed the opinion that it would be very difficult to resuscitate him but we tried.”
Jon-Paul was given more CPR and ventilation in the ambulance as he was taken to Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital.
Ambulance crew members Harold Wadsworth and Jane Moffatt told the court they did not see any signs of life in the youngster during their treatment of him.
Jon-Paul’s body was identified that evening by his uncle John. the court was told.
The inquests will continue with further evidence concerning Jon-Paul’s death to be heard.