Chapter 10: The 3.15pm cut-off

Preparation for the generic hearing

2.10.15 In late August 1990, a preparatory meeting between the Coroner, Deputy Chief Constable Mervyn Jones and WMP investigating officers was held to prepare for the generic hearing, anticipated to run for 31 days over six weeks.[4] The minutes record a recognition at the meeting that some of the bereaved would 'probably' request 'full Inquests into how their loved ones died'. This had been 'indicated' already by two families (Devonside and Hicks), 'but we cannot think that these will be the only ones who will want to trawl over the evidence. You will probably be able to identify these [others] as well as ourselves'.

2.10.16 The WMP officers advised Dr Popper 'to restrict most carefully the amount of evidence you will hear and on what subjects'. Having 'already dealt with the "why", "where", and "when", in the preliminary Inquests ... we may have to re-open those to satisfy certain individuals, but generally speaking we should be able to dismiss fairly quickly those aspects of your Inquests'.

2.10.17 As WMP officers also liaised with the bereaved, they were aware that issues were outstanding from the mini-inquests. Yet at this meeting WMP officers appeared dismissive of the substance, motives and intentions behind families' queries. Regarding the scope of the generic stage, they stated: 'we would suggest that you [the Coroner] concentrate on the period between say 1420 hours when the crowd had noticeably built up, through to Superintendent Greenwood running on to the pitch at 1505 hours plus to stop the match'.

2.10.18 The investigation team offered to prepare a schedule and a list of witnesses appropriate to this time sequence. Establishing an appropriate timeframe was an issue in deciding 'what additional evidence to lay'. It was suggested this could be addressed 'in a general sense giving a flavour of the evidence ... from a West Midlands Police officer'. The background information would focus on the build-up and crush at the Leppings Lane turnstiles and the contribution made by 'drunkenness and unruliness'.

2.10.19 Soon after the meeting Dr Popper consulted with Richard Sturt, the Kent Coroner, concerning the scope of the inquests and a cut-off time for the evidence presented.[5] He asked for advice 'on what in short we refer to as the "rescue"'. According to Dr Popper, Mr Sturt's 'initial reaction was that we might have to repeat that because it might go to causation, but upon further reflection, he agreed with me that one could certainly argue that it was post incident and therefore not necessary to repeat it'.

2.10.20 Mr Sturt was of the view that the inquests had the potential to become 'completely out of hand'. He advised Dr Popper to remain aloof from the legal representatives, to 'keep a distance and be rather magisterial' and not to hold a pre-inquest review prior to the generic hearing.

2.10.21 Meeting with the WMP team a month later, Dr Popper stated that he intended to hear evidence 'at least until Chief Superintendent Nesbitt [sic] arrived on the scene at 3.20pm'.[6] Regarding background, he would hear evidence, for example, 'on the routes, the pubs, local residents, etc.'.

2.10.22 Two days later Dr Popper noted a conversation with Doug Fraser, the Hillsborough Steering Committee representative, in which Mr Fraser offered the 'view' that 'probably 6 minutes past 3 was the cut off point'.[7] Dr Popper responded that he 'had in mind' a 'few minutes beyond that'.

2.10.23 He had 'dealt with the "rescue" during the interin [sic] inquests' as 'it was only fair that the families should have some idea of the amount of effort and time that had been put into this and also that should they wish to have this explored at another place, they would at least know who the people were who were involved'. The phrase 'another place' in this context would have been understood as a reference to the High Court on any application for judicial review. Dr Popper asked Mr Fraser if families' queries from the mini-inquests were substantial. Mr Fraser 'said he didn't think so ... as far as he could recollect they were relatively minor matters'.

2.10.24 Having established agreement for the cut-off with the families' legal representatives Dr Popper again met DCC Jones and the WMP investigation team.[8] Dr Popper noted the discussion of the scope of the inquests and agreement 'that a convenient point at which we ought to draw the line would be the arrival of the first ambulance on the pitch ... intended as a marker'.

2.10.25 A problem could arise, he stated, should there be an allegation 'that the medical treatment had caused the death'. If this was proposed as a 'serious suggestion, one might have to take that inquest out'. This would then be dealt with 'on that basis and not as part of the Hillsborough disaster'. In other words, this would constitute a cause of death distinct from that which Dr Popper considered to be common to all who died.

2.10.26 The reasoning evident in this disclosed document ignores the proposition made by families in the immediate aftermath and following the mini-inquests, that in some cases lack of access to swift and appropriate treatment was a possible contributory cause of death.

[4] Meeting held on 31 August 1990 at Nechells Green Police Station to discuss the proposed inquests, SYC000001180001, pp74-79.
[5] File note, 'Telephone Call to Mr Sturtt [sic]', 11 September 1990, SYC000001270001, pp103-104.
[6] Summary of meeting at the Medico-Legal Centre, Sheffield, 10 September 1990, SYC000001360001, p10. 
[7] Note of a conversation between Dr Popper and Mr Fraser, 12 September 1990, SYC000000900001, p66. 
[8] File note, Meeting at Nechells Green Police Station, 24 October 1990, SYC000001270001, pp105-108.