Chapter 2: The 'moment' of 1989


2.2.1 Part 1 of this Report establishes the recent historical context to the 1989 Semi-Final at Hillsborough, coincidentally a repeat of the previous year's match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

2.2.2 The strong assertion made in previous reports and analyses that the period from the near tragedy of 1981 on the Leppings Lane terrace to the 1989 disaster was infected by institutional complacency regarding crowd safety is affirmed by the documents disclosed to the Panel and reviewed in the previous chapter.

2.2.3 The decision by the Football Association (FA) to hire Hillsborough Stadium for a semi-final for a third consecutive year was, in itself, a demonstration of confidence in the facility, its management and its policing. Further, it confirmed that in the professional judgements of all agencies concerned the stadium and its operation was once again 'fit for purpose' following a five-year absence from the FA's roster of semi-final venues.

2.2.4 Issues of concern, not least the chilled relationship between Sheffield Wednesday Football Club (SWFC) and South Yorkshire Police (SYP) but also negotiations about stadium safety and alterations, had not been made public.

2.2.5 Relying on limited documentary disclosure, the previous chapter reveals the focuses of these concerns. Significantly, given the controversy about safety, stewarding and policing after the ill-fated 1981 Semi-Final, the not dissimilar problems that occurred in 1987 and 1988 apparently were not debriefed and nor were they recorded.

2.2.6 In retrospect, as the previous chapter demonstrates, taken alongside the near tragedy of 1981, the 1987 and 1988 events provided, at minimum, a clear warning of potential dangers on the concourse outside the Leppings Lane end, at the turnstiles, in the tunnel approach to the central pens and on terraces confined by perimeter and radial fences.

2.2.7 Despite this, the FA had been reassured by SWFC and by SYP that the previous semi-finals had been successful, had passed without problems, and that the 1989 Semi-Final could operate as a rerun of the 1988 match. This was reinforced when it transpired that the same two clubs were involved.

2.2.8 Yet there was one significant difference regarding policing. Chief Superintendent Brian Mole, Hillsborough's most senior and experienced match commander, was transferred from the local police division in highly controversial circumstances.[1] He was replaced by Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield 21 days before the Semi-Final. No further information on this sequence of events has been made available to the Panel but, as this chapter shows, it was a significant development. Based on the documents disclosed to the Panel, what follows considers the immediate context, circumstances and aftermath of the disaster.

[1] Phil Scraton, Hillsborough: The Truth, Edinburgh: Mainstream (2009) pp18-20.