Chapter 10: The 3.15pm cut-off

Pre-inquest review and further advice

2.10.27 Despite Mr Sturt's previous advice, Dr Popper held a pre-inquest business meeting hearing submissions from legal representatives on a range of issues.[9] He confirmed that the cut-off would be 'about' 3.15pm, coinciding with the arrival of an ambulance on the pitch. Counsel for the families, Tim King, requested that the cut-off be put back to 4pm. He stated that several families were:

... anxious that there be an inquest into the nature of the medical attention which was given to those who had been in the crushing, in regard to the allegation which certainly they wish to make and wish to investigate, that the absence of proper medical care facilities and attention and technique, led to those, certain of them in any event, dying perhaps when they might not have died at all or certainly dying sooner than might have been the case, and specifically the diagnosis of when somebody had actually died.

2.10.28 Dr Popper noted that while he had yet to give a ruling he was not persuaded that he 'would want to go down that road'. He would consider legal submissions on the cut-off point but he had 'strong reasons' for the decision, 'not just obstinacy'.

2.10.29 At a further meeting with the WMP team Dr Popper agreed to contact Mr Fraser to establish 'how many of those he represents wish to hear evidence to 4pm'.[10] While Dr Popper 'still favoured the cut-off point to be 3.15 ... he would not be inflexible on this point and would consider each request on its merits'.

2.10.30 Dr Popper contacted James Turnbull, the West Yorkshire Coroner who had conducted the inquests following the 1985 Bradford football stadium fire. He 'asked him what he thought about the cut-off point at 3.15 subject of course to any legal submissions'.[11] Mr Turnbull's view was 'in line' with Dr Popper's decision but to be 'pragmatic ... it might be kind if there were just a few individuals who needed this sort of information explored to deal with what happened even after 3.15'. This had been Dr Popper's inclination, 'so his view confirmed my feelings'.

2.10.31 Two days later Dr Popper contacted Mr Sturt, the Kent Coroner.[12] Mr Sturt 'didn't think it was right to deal with issues of WHY something happened we were there to establish HOW the deceased came by his death and that of course meant and [sic] investigation of the circumstances as well as the immediate cause of death, though one had to have some causal connection'.

2.10.32 Regarding the 'rescue', Dr Popper was concerned that 'the same person may be praised by one and possible [sic] condemned by another on the grounds that they had left their son/loved one too soon'. Mr Sturt replied that 'even if it were true that in the heat of the moment and under pressure somebody made some error in the extent of the resuscitation this was not something for which they could be blamed'. Although he had voiced his intention regarding the 3.15pm cut-off, Dr Popper decided to delay the final decision.

2.10.33 As discussed in the previous chapter, families continued to write to Dr Popper to request the reopening of their mini-inquests to consider unresolved issues. They also expressed disapproval of the 3.15pm cut-off. Dr Popper noted that in most of the correspondence families 'have completely misunderstood (a) what is happening and (b) what the "objects of an inquest are"'.[13]  

2.10.34 He wrote: 'I can see at the moment no reason why I should depart from my decision to treat the cut-off point as far as the how is concerned at about 3.15 or in fact even earlier'. It appears that the depth of criticism levelled by families against the scope of the mini-inquests had no effect on Dr Popper's determination to proceed with the 3.15pm cut-off.

[9] Business meeting, Medico-Legal Centre, Sheffield, Transcript of Proceedings, 30 October 1990, SYC000110260001, pp16-18 and p37.
[10] Minutes of meeting at Nechells Green Police Station, 2 November 1990, SYC000001270001, p113.
[11] File note, 'Telephone Conversation with Jim Turnbull, 5 November 1990, SYC000001270001, p115.
[12] File note, 'Token Conversation with Mr Sturt', 7 November 1990, SYC000001030001, p39.
[13] File note, 16 November 1990, SYC000001400001, p18.