Chapter 3: Custom, practice, roles, responsibilities

The acceptance of the senior officers' statements

2.3.142 In his Interim Report LJ Taylor concluded that in 1988 the tunnel leading to the central pens had been closed when the pens were full. It was a straightforward manoeuvre, 'for a few officers to act as a cordon at the entrance to the tunnel and divert fans elsewhere'. He considered it unfortunate that 'the 1988 closure seems to have been unknown to the senior officers on duty at the time'.[95] 

2.3.143 The subsequent WMP criminal investigation concurred with LJ Taylor that senior officers neither knew nor authorised the 1988 tunnel closure. While fans had stated that police officers had formed 'a blockade' across the tunnel entrance it had not been 'documented and was not a decision made by the Senior Officers present at the 1988 game'.[96] 

2.3.144 According to the WMP report the 'probability' was that officers had acted 'on their own initiative turning supporters away having recognised that part of the terrace was full'. In 1989, the report concluded, 'the fact that access to the tunnel was not controlled aggravated the overcrowding in pens 3 and 4 and [was] a significant factor in the deaths of the 95 people'.

2.3.145 After investigating the matter internally, Chief Inspector Norman Bettison stated that the 'fullest information on the closure of the tunnel at the 1988 Semi Final' showed it was 'an informal initiative at junior level not reported to command level.  It was performed exclusively by the police'.[97] This conclusion was also drawn by the Coroner who directed the inquest jury that the senior officers had not been aware of diversions from the tunnel by police officers in 1988.[98]

Conflicting evidence about the senior officers' knowledge of tunnel closure

2.3.146 Minutes of debriefing meetings held in the immediate aftermath of the disaster and disclosed to the Panel indicate that senior officers were aware of contingency plans involving tunnel access. At a meeting on 17 April 1989 C/Supt Duckenfield explained to the Chief Constable, Peter Wright, that it was the responsibility of 'Inspector White with serials 14 and 15' to divert people from the tunnel. There were 'specific instructions on the order at phase 2 [once the match was under way]'.[99]

2.3.147 He added that 'once the central tunnel becomes full ... it is shut off and people directed to the wings'. The Chief Constable observed, 'there were contingencies to deal with the filled stand, i.e. the shutting of the tunnel'. In the minutes of discussions with SYP Counsel on 26 April it was clear that C/Supt Mole had been aware of contingency plans to seal the tunnel.[100] 

2.3.148 The SYP Deputy Chief Constable, Peter Hayes, stated: 'Superintendent Freeman is alleged to have had a contingency to block off the tunnel in the event of a build up of fans in the enclosures'. C/Supt Mole replied: 'So did I. We blocked them off. The fans always go for the area behind the goal. We put a cordon and send them round'.
2.3.149 Statements from C/Supt Duckenfield and C/Supt Mole, demonstrate that, whatever their knowledge of 1988, both officers were aware that the tunnel could be used as a means of preventing overcrowding in the central pens. This is consistent with C/Supt Mole's evidence to the Taylor Inquiry when he stated that, faced with full central pens, he would close the tunnel.[101]

Police investigation into the role of stewards in tunnel closure

2.3.150 Following the disaster and for the contribution hearings, the internal SYP team had responsibility for gathering evidence relating to the 1988 tunnel closure. Its investigation focused on the possibility that there were more stewards than police involved in the closure and on identifying the source of the instruction for closure, thus providing evidence for apportioning liability.[102]

2.3.151 A fax from Peter Metcalf, SYP solicitor, to DCC Hayes stated that if stewards were involved or if the instruction came from them 'then the Club's responsibility is correspondingly increased'.[103]  Obviously, this deflected responsibility from SYP to the Club.

2.3.152 In the course of the SYP investigation into the 1988 closure of the tunnel, Detective Inspector John Cleverley reported to C/Supt Wain. His report, a consequence of SYP inquiries requested by the SYP solicitors, included the following summary:

This question was covered at the time of the Taylor Enquiry, and I would refer first to the Note to Counsel (11) made at that time. Nothing has been found to alter the basic conclusion of that enquiry, namely that officers had acted on their own initiative to close off the tunnel at a critical time when the pens were becoming full. There were apparently two types of control.

We have interviewed again the officers who closed the gates. The instruction to do so came from police sources, not the club so far as they knew. No stewards were involved. The operation seems to have been simple and low key, with not much more than three officers involved, and not lasted longer than the full surge of incoming spectators before the start of the match.

When the match began other officers who had been on the turnstiles were no longer needed because the flow of spectators had diminished, they also went to the tunnel and stood inside near the pens. (They probably hoped to see a little of the match from there!). The gates were no longer closed off at that time. They could see that the pens were full. As late comers tried to get in down the tunnel to the pens, they were turned back by those policemen and directed to the side pens.

No evidence has been found of club involvement.[104]

Further internal SYP enquiries into tunnel closure for the contribution hearings

2.3.153 SYP enquiries were also carried out regarding the actions of PS Crawford, PC Lang, PS Higgins, Inspector Raymond Hooley and Inspector Raymond Walker. A Note to Counsel stated:

Sergeant CRAWFORD was in charge of Serial 13 which had responsibility for the West Stand in 1988. Part of that duty would include officers in the Leppings Lane enclosure supervising the stairways to the West Stand seating area. He recalls receiving an instruction, from whom or how he does not recall, that there were to be no more fans allowed into the central pens, and therefore the wooden gates at the rear of the tunnel were to be closed, denying access. The actual task, according to him, was undertaken by PC LANG.

PC LANG was a member of Serial 13 and was responsible for the stairway giving access to the seating area in the West Stand, this stairway being at the South end of the Leppings Lane enclosures. PC LANG confirms that he received an order to close the gates at the top of the tunnel which gave access to the central pens, he closed the right hand gate and directed fans to the wings.

Ex [retired] Sergeant HIGGINS was in charge of Serial 14. He confirms that because of the large number of fans in pens 3 and 4 he received an instruction, again there was no indication as to how or from where, to close the gates, and thereafter direct fans to the two outer pens.

Inspector Raymond HOOLEY was in charge of Serial 13 with responsibility for the West Stand. This officer has no recollection of any events relating to the tunnel gates. So far as he is concerned, they were open.

Inspector Raymond WALKER was in charge of Serials 14 and 15, with responsibility for the Leppings Lane terracing. He has no recollection of any actions being taken to shepherd fans to any particular part of the ground nor any problems with fans in the tunnel. He recalls passing through the tunnel himself on several occasions.

You will recall that Chief Superintendent MOLE was not aware of any policy or instructions in relation to the filling of the central pens.

It seems therefore that officers have acted on their own initiative to exercise control and direction of the tunnel. They are, of course, expected to use initiative and take independent action as circumstances dictate, which were the very matters we were discussing in respect of command structure last week.  It does seem, however, that the hierarchy were not made aware of this independent action.

It also seems likely in the light of events to date, 5 June, as revealed by Chief Inspector CREASER, that we exercised some control over that tunnel in 1987. West Midlands have already asked for the 1987 Operational Order, and I anticipate that we shall have requests for statement from serials working at the Leppings Lane enclosures. I do not, therefore, at this moment in time, propose to initiate our own enquiries unless you yourself indicate you would like some early indication of what is going to be said.[105]

2.3.154 Thus, knowledge of the 1988 tunnel closure apparently was related inversely to rank and seniority - and managerial responsibility. The lower ranked officers involved directly claimed they followed instructions. The more senior officers claimed they had no knowledge of the closure or of any difficulties regarding the crowd management or overcrowding in the pens.

2.3.155 In advance of the civil trial, and as a consequence of commissioning the Phillips Report, SYP did not concede 'that the failure to block the entrance to the tunnel on the opening of Gate C itself amounted to negligence'.[106] Referring to the evidence given by officers Creaser, Calvert, Darling and Sewell, the SYP solicitor, Peter Metcalf, proposed that the use of the word 'monitoring' was ambiguous. He stated:

What I would like to understand is whether those officers, on reviewing the transcript, agree that it gives the true flavour of what they meant to say. In other words in relation to this semi-final: 1. Were they expecting any Police Officer to be checking the pens, not merely for individual signs of overcrowding, but by way of making regular and deliberate assessments as to whether they were full with a view to closing off such pens? 2. If not were they expecting any other body to be undertaking this duty? ... I would be grateful if the Officers referred to could review their inquiry evidence and if, in the light of that review, they believe that statements explaining the purport of their evidence can be given, then perhaps these could be taken by the Hillsborough Inquiry Team. I attach a draft format but, as long as the points are covered, it would be preferable if the statements were self taken to preserve individual style.

2.3.156 Mr Metcalf concluded: 'I am sure I don't need to emphasise that there is no point in any officer putting forward evidence which he cannot honestly sustain in cross examination'. He required a further statement '[o]nly if the officers consider that the transcript does not fairly state their true position'.

2.3.157 Following a request from the solicitors, officers Creaser, Darling, Calvert and Sewell were approached and asked to review the evidence in their statements in relation to filling the pens. All four declined to add to their original evidence.[107]

[95] Rt Hon Lord Justice Taylor, The Hillsborough Stadium Disaster, 15 April 1989, Interim Report, Cm 765, August 1989, London: HMSO, para 230.
[96] West Midlands Police Interim Report (2), Hillsborough Stadium Disaster, Sheffield Wednesday Football Ground, Saturday 15 April 1989, HOM000026960001, pp22-23.
[97] Report of Norman George Bettison, 'PREPARATION OF CASE FOR HILLSBOROUGH CONTRIBUTION HEARINGS', 12 July 1990, SYP000113470001, p16.
[98] Inquest transcripts, day 75, 21 March 1991, SYC000109210001, p102.
[99] Minutes of meeting, 17 April 1989, SYP000096360001, pp43-49.
[100] Discussion with Counsel, 26 April 1989, SYP000096360001, p81.
[101] Transcript of C/Supt Mole's evidence to the Taylor Inquiry, day 7, 24 May 1989,  SWF000002030001, pp65-66.
[102] 'Hillsborough-contribution action', 30 May 1990, SYP000098230001, p3.
[103] Faxed letter to DCC Hayes from Hammond Suddards, 31 May 1990, SYP000098250001, p3.
[104] 'Interim Report 3: Result of enquiries requested by Hammond Suddards', 1 July 1990, SYP000119460001, p8.
[105] Note to Counsel, SYP000098390001, p7.
[106] Letter from Peter Metcalf, Hammond Suddards, to DCC Hayes, 19 July 1990, SYP000118290001, pp4-6.
[107] 'Interim Report 6: Further enquiries requested by Hammond Suddards', 8 August 1990, SYP000098530001, p2. See also SYP000118290001, p1 for details of police action raised in this regard.