Sheffield MP questions whether Hillsborough supporter safety restrictions are needed

Sheffield MP Clive Betts has waded into the debate over restrictions imposed on Sheffield Wednesday and claimed there are similar fan safety issues at Bramall Lane.

Tuesday, 3rd September 2019, 12:08 pm
Updated Tuesday, 3rd September 2019, 9:39 pm

Mr Betts, MP for Sheffield South East, has written a letter to Sheffield council chief executive John Mothersole and leader Coun Julie Dore in which he questions whether the prohibitions at Hillsborough were even necessary at all.

The restrictions now see both carriageways of Penistone Road close for up to an hour from 4.30pm on Saturday matchdays after the club agreed the measures with Sheffield Council.

Similar closures will also be in place for midweek kick-offs with a short diversion for motorists and other road users via Herries Road South.

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Hillsborough. Picture: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Home fans are also unable to exit Hillsborough via the Leppings Lane end of the ground under the restrictions, which were imposed following crowd trouble after the Steel City Derby in March.

In his letter, Mr Betts said: “There are a number of concerns that have been expressed. One is the inconvenience now which home fans are being put to, some of whom have to walk to the Kop end of the ground at Penistone Road then walk right back to Leppings Lane.

“That is obviously all right and very convenient for some more mobile younger people but not necessarily for people who may find that length of walk a challenge and little consideration appears to have been given to them in this process.

Pensitone Road closure outside Hillsborough following Sheffield Wednesday's game with QPR on August 31, 2019.

“Secondly, there is the whole issue about whether the prohibition is necessary at all. The emails [I have received] say that people who go to the game on a regular basis see the arrangements and as far as they are concerned they operate perfectly smoothly and have done over many years without any significant problems. Why is it necessary therefore to bring these new arrangements in?”

Worries about fan safety at the match led to a report being commissioned from Manchester Metropolitan University into crowd control at the club’s Hillsborough ground, which recommended that home fans should not be able to exit via the Leppings Lane end and a prohibition notice was served on the club

Fans raised concerns about the restrictions, with many saying that they led to ‘dangerous situations’ with supporters and traffic competing for space on Penistone Road before and after the Owl’s game against Luton Town – prompting the council and the club to announce the hour-long closure around full-time of matches.

MP Clive Betts.

Mr Betts also asked if it was the case that the order has been issued purely based on the university report.

He said: “If that is the case should not a bit more thorough research have been done before a decision of this magnitude was taken? It really is difficult to understand why one group of researchers unfamiliar with the ground doing one survey of one game should lead to this sort of action.”

Lifelong Wednesday fan Mr Betts, also raised concerns about fan safety at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane. He previously spoke out following the Steel City derby at the ground in November 2018.

In the letter, he added: “Could you explain how it is different to the Bramall Lane end of the Bramall Lane ground where away supporters go but home supporters come out of the same end of the ground? The amount of room at the Bramall Lane end is just as constrained, in fact probably more constrained, than that on the concourse at Leppings Lane spreading across the road.

“Obviously that arrangement is restricted if coaches are drawn up across the concourse and what has been said by some individuals is that the only problems at Leppings Lane have occurred when the police have insisted on coaches coming that close. But I come back to the point surely the Bramall Lane end at Bramall Lane is just as congested and yet away fans come out in the same point as home fans at that ground.”

Mr Betts said he wrote the letter following a ‘number of emails from Wednesday supporters who were concerned’.

He added: “I just think the whole issue of football fans’ safety is very important. I am not in any way questioning the council’s right to impose the restrictions, I am merely questioning whether all the measures are necessary for every game.”

The Star has contacted Sheffield Council and South Yorkshire Police for comment.