Report summary

Summary of Chapter 3: Custom, practice, roles, responsibilities

The spectators at an FA Cup semi-final do not comprise the large, mostly local, home-based crowd with limited away support usual at regular league matches. Rather, there are two sets of fans, approximately equal in number and unfamiliar with the stadium. 

The supporters allocated to the Leppings Lane end, in this case Liverpool, were allocated the entire terrace and the West Stand above it. This intensified the problems of access that were already inbuilt into the restricted approaches, inadequate provision of turnstiles and subdivision of the terrace into separate pens.

Over preceding years, police custom and practice had evolved in response to crowd management issues unique to FA Cup semi-finals, particularly filtering access to the concourse through ticket-checking on the approaches, directing incoming spectators away from the central pens when they were estimated to be near capacity, and closing the tunnel when capacity was estimated to have been reached.

None of these practices appear to have been recorded and none formed part of the Operational Order or the police briefings before the 1989 Semi-Final.

Throughout the 1980s there was considerable ambiguity about SYP's and SWFC's crowd management responsibilities within the stadium. The management of the crowd was viewed exclusively through a lens of potential crowd disorder, and this ambiguity was not resolved despite problems at previous semi-finals. SWFC and SYP were unprepared for the disaster that unfolded on the terraces on 15 April 1989.

26. Based on the established policy of maintaining segregation of fans within the stadium and its approaches, particularly at FA Cup semi-finals, the documents disclosed to the Panel demonstrate that SYP determined the allocation of the stadium's stands and terraces to each club's fans. The tickets allocated to Nottingham Forest fans significantly exceeded those allocated to Liverpool fans, an issue raised by Liverpool Football Club and the Football Association.

27. The confined outer concourse area serving the Leppings Lane turnstiles accommodated the entire Liverpool crowd, heading towards three discrete areas within the stadium (North Stand; West Stand; Leppings Lane terrace). It was a well-documented bottleneck and at matches with capacity attendance presented a predictable and foreseeable risk of crushing and injury.

28. From statements provided to the Panel, at previous FA Cup semi-finals SYP managed congestion in the outer concourse area and its approaches by filtering the crowd and checking tickets on the roads leading to the ground. This did not happen in 1989. The former SYP match commander, Chief Superintendent Brian Mole, denied that filtering the crowd's approach to the turnstiles had been previously adopted as police practice.

29. SYP proposed that preventing ticketless fans from approaching the turnstiles was not possible because no offence had been committed. This was contested and criticised by Counsel to the Taylor Inquiry.

30. In their 1989 statements some SYP officers referred to crushing in the outer concourse area at the 1988 FA Cup Semi-Final. They were asked by the SYP solicitors, Hammond Suddards, to reconsider and qualify their statements.

31. Concerning the distribution of the crowd on the standing terraces inside the stadium, Chief Superintendent Mole stated that officers on the perimeter track and in the Control Box estimated when full capacity of each pen was reached 'based on experience'.

32. SYP officers with extensive experience of policing Hillsborough, including Chief Superintendent Mole, stated that the fans' distribution between the Leppings Lane terrace pens was based on an informal practice that allowed fans to 'find their own level'. In the aftermath of the 1989 disaster, SYP claimed that 'find their own level' was a flawed practice 'devised' by the safety engineers and SWFC.

33. From the SYP statements disclosed to the Panel it is evident that SWFC stewards and SYP officers with experience of managing the crowd on the Leppings Lane terrace had adopted the practice of redirecting fans to side pens when the central pens were estimated to be full. At semi-final matches in 1987 and in 1988 the gates at the entrance to the tunnel opposite the turnstiles and leading into the central pens were closed temporarily by police officers who redirected fans to the side pens. In 1988 many fans in the central pens experienced crushing and minor injuries. Neither the gate closures nor the crushing were recorded in debriefing notes.

34. Although an established practice, the use of the tunnel entrance gates as a means of regulating access to the central pens was not included in the Operational Order for capacity crowd matches.

35. The disclosed documents reveal persistent ambiguity throughout the 1980s about SYP's and SWFC's responsibilities for crowd management. The SYP position, exemplified by Chief Superintendent Mole's statements, was that while safety was a concern for SYP the 'prevention of hooliganism' and 'public disorder' was the main priority. The custom and practice that had evolved within SYP for packing the pens was concerned primarily with controlling the crowd.

36. In the view of Chief Superintendent Mole's successor, Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, crowd distribution between the Leppings Lane terrace pens was the responsibility of SWFC stewards but police officers, particularly those on the perimeter track, were expected to react to overcrowding in the pens.

37. In its post-disaster assessment the West Midlands Police investigators concluded that the failure to anticipate that unregulated entry of fans through exit Gate C and down the tunnel would lead to a sustained crush in already full central pens had a 'direct bearing on the disaster'.

38. SYP officers with experience of the inner concourse and terrace access stated that previously they had controlled access to the tunnel once the central pens appeared to be full, particularly in 1988. The disclosed documents reveal that this information was deleted from some officers' statements. Several officers declined a further invitation by SYP solicitors to reconsider their statements regarding SYP responsibility for monitoring the pens.

39. Senior SYP officers denied knowledge of tunnel closures at previous semi-finals, particularly 1988. They placed responsibility for that information not being given at debriefings on the officers responsible for the closures. Yet SYP officers responsible for closing the tunnel access in 1988 claimed that they had acted under instructions from senior officers.

40. Whatever their personal knowledge of the 1988 tunnel closure, both Chief Superintendent Mole and Chief Superintendent Duckenfield admitted their awareness of the practice of occasionally restricting access to the tunnel to prevent overcrowding in the central pens.