Young father ‘could have survived’ Hillsborough disaster

James Hennessy, one of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster. Picture courtesy of the Liverpool Echo.
James Hennessy, one of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster. Picture courtesy of the Liverpool Echo.
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A father-of-one who was crushed to death at Hillsborough might have been saved if he had been treated earlier by medics, the new inquests heards.

James Hennessy, 29, showed signs of life after being pulled out of pen three on the Leppings Lane terrace of the ground where 96 Liverpool fans were killed on April 15 1989.

His eyes flickered and his arm twitched and he also vomited when a police officer gave him chest compressions, which suggested he was alive, or his heart and breathing had only just stopped, at around 3.15pm or 3.20pm.

The original inquests in 1990 had a cut-off time of 3.15pm imposed on the evidence - ruling all the fans were dead or beyond help by that time.

Despite efforts to revive Mr Hennessy he was later taken to the gym at the Hillsborough stadium and pronounced dead by a doctor because he had fully dilated pupils.

But Dr Jasmeet Soar, an intensive care expert who has reviewed the medical evidence, said such a check was an ‘unreliable’ way of confirming life extinct.

He had gone to the FA Cup semi final against Nottingham Forest at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough ground with friends, including James Delaney, 19, who was also killed.

Mr Hennessy was shown on TV footage at 2.56pm amongst the crowd, but three minutes after the 3pm kick-off a photo showed him with his mouth open, eyes closed grimacing.

An exit gate opened shortly before kick-off led to thousands of fans pouring into the already crowded central pens behind the goal, the inquest has heard.

In earlier evidence Pc Carl Maltravers said he saw Mr Hennessy was lying on his side on the pitch around 3.15pm or 3.20pm and went to attend.

He saw Mr Hennessy’s arm twitching and after slapping his face there was movement in his eyes which made the officer believe he could be saved.

Along with a St John Ambulance man he gave emergency first aid and Mr Hennessy vomited and they thought he began breathing but it was not sustained and colour began to drain from the fan’s face.

Mr Hennessy was put on a stretcher and taken to the stadium gym, turned into an emergency mortuary, where a doctor said Mr Hennessy’s eyes were fully dilated and he was pronounced dead at 4.09pm.

Another fan had to be pulled away, asking the officers to ‘try and try again’ to save him, the inquest heard.

Dr Soar said the eyes opening and arm movement while Mr Hennessy was on the pitch suggested there was a “strong possibility” Mr Hennessy was alive then or his breathing and heart had only just stopped within the preceding minute.

He added: “I think it most likely James was in cardiac arrest by the time he is placed outside the gym, but there’s a small but nonetheless real chance that he was still alive at that point.”

Judy Khan, representing Mr Hennessy’s family asked the witness: “On all of that available evidence, it is right, isn’t it, that it is likely that an earlier intervention, earlier medical intervention, in Jimmy’s case could have saved his life?”

Dr Soar replied: “Potentially, yes.”

The witness also said looking at a person’s pupils alone to diagnose death “would be unreliable”.

He added: “The fact that he had CPR following signs of life, I would want a more formal assessment at the end of that.”

The jury heard the medical findings would support Mr Hennessy being alive at 3.15pm to 3.20pm, time of death occurring between then and 4.09pm, caused ultimately by compression asphyxia.

The jury has previously heard that the coroner at the original inquests took the “highly controversial” decision that those who died were beyond help after 3.15pm, which acted as a cut-off time for evidence heard in the 1990 hearings.