Chapter 3: Custom, practice, roles, responsibilities

Introduction

2.3.1 As established in Part 1 and in the previous chapters, and central to the submissions to the Panel from bereaved families, key issues of concern focus on crowd management, crowd safety and the condition of the stadium.

2.3.2 While the behaviour of the crowd and its predictability was the overarching priority for those responsible for managing, controlling and policing, the important question, noted in Lord Justice Taylor's Interim Report, was whether an institutional mindset that focused on hooliganism compromised thorough planning to prioritise the safety of the crowd.

2.3.3 The bottleneck at the turnstiles, the restricted flow through the turnstiles and the expectation of processing a capacity crowd within a confined outer concourse area were problems identified previously by the South Yorkshire Police (SYP).

2.3.4 Packing the pens (especially the central pens), the steep tunnel leading down to the central pens, the policing and stewarding of fans within the inner concourse area, the recognition of overcrowding in the pens, and the monitoring and closure of the tunnel access were raised regularly following the 1981 incident.

2.3.5 Given these complex yet recurrent issues the debriefings after previous semi-finals, especially the near tragedy in 1981, were crucial to informing Operational Orders and the responsibilities of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club (SWFC) stewards and police officers. This was particularly significant as there was no reliable count of the number of fans entering individual pens and police officers had raised concerns about crushing inside and outside the stadium.

2.3.6 Regarding responsibility for the safe passage of fans and their well-being once inside the stadium, the disclosed documents demonstrate that serious deficiencies were accommodated, even rationalised, by established custom and practice. Warning signs that were clearly evident in the management of the crowd at previous semi-finals were, at best, not taken seriously. At worst they amounted to serious negligence in the face of foreseeable and imminent danger.

2.3.7 This chapter relies on documents disclosed to the Panel and released into the public domain that add significantly to knowledge regarding previous events and their centrality, once ignored, as factors that contributed to the disaster.

2.3.8 It reflects on the released documents to explore the following key issues:

  • allocation of areas of the stadium to rival fans and the assumptions underpinning crowd segregation
  • organisation of the approaches to the stadium, filtering the crowd in the vicinity of the stadium and congestion at the Leppings Lane turnstiles
  • 'packing' the Leppings Lane terrace and filling the recently constructed pens
  • apparently contrasting views held by SWFC and SYP regarding responsibility for crowd management and distribution within the stadium
  • significance of the tunnel beneath the West Stand in feeding the central pens within the Leppings Lane terrace
  • what was known about the tunnel, and its use as a means of restricting access to the central pens, by SYP officers of different ranks and by SWFC.