Part 1: Hillsborough: 'what was known'

Hillsborough Stadium

1.51 Hillsborough Football Stadium opened in 1899. Two miles from Sheffield's city centre, it was located initially on what was described as a greenfield site adjacent to the River Don. Eventually, it became tightly confined by terraced housing on its west and north flanks.  

Hillsborough stadium
Figure 1: Map of Hillsborough Stadium and surrounding area. From Lord Justice Taylor's Interim Report

1.52 Considered one of England's leading football grounds, it underwent significant structural change, particularly as a venue for the 1966 World Cup. Like so many other venues, it was modified to meet the requirements of the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975.  

1.53 The Act was a response to the Wheatley Report into the 1971 Ibrox Park disaster. Almost three decades after the Moelwyn Hughes Report, the Act introduced a licensing system including safety certificates for designated stadia. As noted above, it was supported by the 1976 Green Guide. The Guide was reviewed in 1986 following recommendations made in the Popplewell Report.

1.54 In 1981, following serious crushing at the FA Cup Semi-Final between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers, resulting in injuries to 38 fans, Hillsborough was withdrawn from the FA Cup semi-final list. Tragedy had been averted by opening gates in the perimeter fencing and allowing spectators to sit on the perimeter track.

1.55 Modifications to the Leppings Lane terrace introduced lateral fences dividing the terrace into three separate enclosures or pens. In 1985 the police requested further lateral fences, resulting in five pens.

1.56 The two central pens were fed from the rear by a tunnel sloping downwards at a gradient of 1 in 6 beneath the West Stand, the latter constructed in preparation for the 1966 World Cup. Emerging from the tunnel, fans walked to the right or left of a fence into pens 3 or 4 respectively. A high, overhanging fence mounted on a wall separated the terrace from the perimeter track. Access to the track was restricted to a single narrow, locked gate at the front of each pen.

West Terrace of Hillsborough stadium
Figure 2: Arrangement of barriers on the Leppings Lane terrace. From Lord Justice Taylor's Interim Report

1.57 Previously reviewed in 1979, the crush barriers were a mix of recent and old. Modifications made in 1985 and 1986 resulted in a different barrier distribution in each pen. In pen 3, for example, a diagonal uninterrupted channel stretched from the tunnel access to a barrier close to the foot of the terrace. Congestion down this channel placed the front barrier under considerable pressure.

1.58 While parts of the stadium had been upgraded, the essential fabric of the Leppings Lane terrace remained unchanged. Terrace modifications had prioritised crowd control and segregation. At the east end of the stadium, the Spion Kop was a modern standing terrace licensed to accommodate 21,000 spectators.

1.59 The capacity of the uncovered Leppings Lane terrace was set at 10,100. Above the terrace, the West Stand seated 4,500 spectators. Entry into the North Stand was also from the Leppings Lane turnstiles. Thus 24,256 fans converged on 23 turnstiles located within a small, divided outer concourse. The 10,100 fans with tickets for the Leppings Lane terrace walked through outer gates onto the concourse to queue at seven turnstiles.

1.60 The remaining 14,156 ticket-holders for the North and West Stands accessed 16 turnstiles via the adjoining section of the concourse. In the hour before kick-off this tightly confined concourse, with a shop wall to the left and a fence above the River Don to the right, received the majority of 24,000 people unfamiliar with the layout of the stadium.

1.61 The old turnstiles frequently malfunctioned. An electronic counting system recorded the numbers accessing the terrace, but the distribution between the pens was not recorded. The two central pens, with capacities of 1,000 and 1,100, were always the first to fill. The doors at the head of the tunnel feeding the central pens could be closed once it was estimated that the pens' capacities had been reached. It was a calculation based on observation rather than an accurate counting system. This ignored the 1946 Moelwyn Hughes recommendation that each enclosure should be accurately monitored.

Click here to watch a video clip showing the layout of the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough Stadium as it was on the day of the disaster.

Policing Hillsborough: Operational Orders

1.62 Operational Orders are issued within police forces to meet the particular demands of a time-limited and pre-planned operation. They form the basis for briefing officers involved, covering their deployment and, where appropriate, the responsibilities and duties of all involved.

1.63 Policing a large-scale operation such as a football match, involving hundreds of officers, many with discrete responsibilities, is underpinned by an extensive Operational Order naming all officers involved, the serials (or small operational teams) to which they are assigned, the duties of each serial and the chain of command.

1.64 Reinstated as an FA Cup venue, Hillsborough hosted the Semi-Final between Leeds United and Coventry City on Sunday 12 April 1987. The match was due to start at 12 noon.  Approximately 20 minutes before the kick-off, Chief Superintendent Brian Mole, the experienced Match Commander who had written the Operational Order, delayed the kick-off to accommodate spectators from both clubs who had been held up while travelling to Sheffield.
1.65 Despite the sequence of events in 1987, the Operational Order for the 1988 Semi-Final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest provided no contingency plan for delays in travelling to the stadium. While Nottingham Forest supporters had a relatively short journey, this was not the case for those travelling from Liverpool.

1.66 The 1988 match passed without serious incident. There were, however, two issues of significance. First, on approaching the ground spectators recalled being requested by police officers to show their tickets. Second, others, including police officers on duty, remembered being crushed in the central pens, 3 and 4. Police officers closed access to the tunnel once these pens were considered full and fans were redirected to the side pens.

1.67 On 20 March 1989 Liverpool were drawn again to play Nottingham Forest and Hillsborough was chosen by the FA as the most suitable venue. Following a controversial but serious incident, unrelated to his duties as Match Commander, C/Supt Mole was relieved of his duties just three weeks before the Semi-Final and moved to another location. He was replaced by C/Supt Duckenfield, who had minimal experience of managing football matches.

The Police Operational Order, 1989

1.68 With minor amendments, the previous year's Operational Order was re-issued. It consisted of a 12-page general overview, signed by C/Supt Duckenfield, and a detailed account of the responsibility of each serial of officers on duty. The officers allocated to the serials, usually ten police constables under the command of one sergeant, were named.

1.69 The Operational Order emphasised 'public order and safety both inside and outside the football ground' and the responsibility to 'segregate and control opposing fans' to prevent 'unnecessary obstruction of the highway and damage to property'. There was an implicit acceptance within the Order that the police took responsibility for managing crowd safety inside the stadium.

1.70 No detail was given as to what this responsibility entailed. It referenced 'emergency and evacuation procedures' but solely in terms of a bomb call or fire response. In such circumstances, and following the public broadcast of a coded message, senior officers would initiate evacuation. There was no reference to emergency procedures in the event of overcrowding, congestion or problems on the terraces.

1.71 Twenty-one officers were allocated to the perimeter track, facing the crowd before the kick-off, at half time and full time or if there was 'crowd unrest'. They were instructed to pay 'particular attention ... to prevent any person climbing the fence to gain access to the ground'. The perimeter fence gates were to 'remain bolted at all times' with 'no-one ... allowed access to the track from the terraces without the consent of a senior officer'. The latter statement was capitalised and underlined.

1.72 Two serials of officers were responsible for policing both the rear north and south enclosures of the Leppings Lane terrace. They were instructed to enforce ground rules concerning banners, weapons, missiles and alcohol. No mention was made of crowd management or safety. In the event of evacuation, officers were to assist fans in leaving safely through the exit gates. Four serials were stationed at the Leppings Lane turnstiles, their duties consisting of enforcing ground rules.

1.73 The Operational Order provided details of the regulatory functions governing the policing of football. Spectators travelling to and arriving in Sheffield were to be tracked, directed, randomly stopped and searched, disembarked and 'supervised'. Those met at railway stations were to be bussed or 'walked ... under police supervision' to the stadium. Street access was controlled and crowd barriers outside the stadium were policed to guarantee segregation of supporters.

1.74 Coaches and minibuses were to be stopped at random by 'search squads' to check match tickets and ensure that passengers were not under the influence of drink or carrying alcohol. Officers had to be satisfied that fans were 'fit to attend this event'. Following a thorough search, vehicles would be permitted to complete their journey displaying labels of approval. 

1.75 According to the Order, a 'great majority' of public houses would close throughout the afternoon, and those opening would 'operate a "selective door" whereby football supporters are not admitted'. Responsibility for enforcing these agreements lay with police serials outside the stadium, monitoring 'the behaviour of persons resorting ... to those premises that remain open'.

1.76 The Operational Order did not provide information or advice about the known bottleneck outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles, nor did it comment on the well-established risk of congestion. These problems were known to SYP and there had been serious congestion the previous year. There were no contingency plans in the Order for delaying the kick-off, as had happened in 1987, for relieving congestion at the turnstiles, for identifying overfull pens or for closing the tunnel, as had happened in 1988.