Chapter 1: 1981-1989: unheeded warnings, the seeds of disaster

Conclusion: what is added to public understanding

  • In 1981 before the FA Cup Semi-Final between Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers there was serious congestion at the Leppings Lane turnstiles and crushing on the confined outer concourse. It resulted in the opening of exit Gate C to relieve the crush. The disclosed documents indicate that entry into the stadium was managed by South Yorkshire Police (SYP) officers on duty and Sheffield Wednesday Football Club (SWFC) stewards.
  • What followed was a serious crush on the terraces in which many people were injured and fatalities narrowly avoided. At that time lateral fences did not divide the Leppings Lane terrace into pens, and fans were able to move sideways along the full length of the terrace; others escaped onto the perimeter track through the narrow gates in the perimeter fence.
  • The disclosed documents show that police officers located on the inner concourse, between the turnstiles and the rear of the terrace, restricted access to the central tunnel under the West Stand, diverting fans to the side access points to the terrace, thus relieving pressure at the centre. Crowd density figures available to the Panel demonstrate that the maximum capacity for the terrace was significantly exceeded.
  • The disclosed documents demonstrate that, following the 1981 incident, there was a breakdown in the relationship between SWFC and SYP. SWFC refused to accept the seriousness of the incident and held SYP responsible for the mismanagement of the crowd. SYP considered that the maximum capacity for the Leppings Lane terrace, set at 10,100, was too high, a view strongly contested by SWFC.
  • On the recommendation of SYP the construction of lateral fences in 1981 created three pens, with movement between pens limited to a small gate at the head of each lateral fence. According to SYP these gates were used to manage segregation at league matches but were not 'stewarded' by the police.
  • From the earliest safety assessments made by safety engineers commissioned in 1978 by SWFC, it was apparent that the stadium failed to meet minimum standards under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 and established in the Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds (known as the 'Green Guide'), 1976. Documents released to the Panel confirm that the local Advisory Group for Safety at Sports Grounds carried out inadequate and poorly recorded inspections. There is clear evidence that SWFC's primary consideration was cost and, to an extent, this was shared by its primary safety consultants, Eastwood & Partners.
  • Following the near tragedy in 1981, Hillsborough was not used for FA Cup semi-finals until 1987. During this period the Leppings Lane terrace underwent a series of significant modifications and alterations, none of which led to a revised safety certificate. The introduction of further lateral fences created two central pens accessed via the tunnel beneath the West Stand. Recommendations to feed fans directly from designated turnstiles into each pen, thus monitoring precisely the distribution of fans between the pens, were not acted on because of anticipated costs to SWFC.
  • Consequently the turnstile counters were rendered irrelevant. Although they provided a check on the overall numbers entering the terrace, there was no information regarding crowd distribution between pens, each of which had an established maximum capacity.
  • It is evident from the disclosed documents that SYP were preoccupied with crowd management, segregation and regulation to prevent potential disorder. SWFC's primary concern was to limit costs. The Fire Service, however, raised concerns about provision for emergency evacuation of the terraces. As the only means of escaping forwards was onto the pitch, concern was raised specifically about the width of the perimeter fence gates which was well below the standard recommended by the Green Guide. The gradient of the tunnel under the West Stand leading down onto the terrace also significantly breached the Green Guide's recommendation.
  • While modifications were made inside the stadium, the issue of congested access to the turnstiles outside the stadium remained unresolved. As Lord Justice Taylor's Interim Report noted, of the stadium's 54,000 capacity, over 24,000 fans were channelled through 23 turnstiles feeding the North Stand, the West Stand and the Leppings Lane terrace.
  • Following alterations, the safety of the existing maximum capacity for the Leppings Lane terrace was questioned repeatedly yet the decision was taken by the Club and the safety engineers not to revise the figure.
  • From the documents disclosed to the Panel, key issues - positioning of safety barriers, elevation of the tunnel, adequacy of the perimeter fence gates - were not discussed or recorded at the annual safety inspections. Following the delayed kick-off at the 1987 FA Cup Semi-Final and the crushing at the 1988 FA Cup Semi-Final, it is evident that debriefings held by all parties were inadequate. Crucial information arising from these events was not shared within SYP, nor was it exchanged between SYP and other agencies. There is no record provided by SWFC of debriefings held between Club stewards and their managers. The Club denied knowledge of any crowd-related concerns arising from the 1987 or 1988 FA Cup Semi-Finals.