Chapter 4: Emergency response and aftermath: 'routinely requested to attend'

What was already known

2.4.1 As spectators became crushed by the growing pressure within the central pens, they began to suffer serious consequences, principally from the severe restriction of their ability to breathe. Without recognition of their predicament, release from the intolerable pressure and urgent immediate care, they were in mortal peril.

2.4.2 As discussed in Part 1, the initial police response was conditioned by their focus on potential crowd disorder, and initially spectators were unable to convey what was happening. Their attempts to escape by climbing fences, particularly the perimeter fence, were misinterpreted as an attempted pitch invasion, and police reinforcements were summoned. 

2.4.3 When the reality and severity of the disaster was realised, the other emergency services were notified. Police officers eventually opened the perimeter gates and began to drag injured spectators through the small openings, while others were pulled over the fences.

2.4.4 Less injured spectators managed to tear holes in the perimeter fencing to allow escape, and some exited through the tunnel at the rear when pressure lessened. Others climbed over the lateral fences or were pulled up into the stand above the terrace. When the Fire Service eventually arrived with cutting equipment that could have speeded evacuation, the pens had emptied.

2.4.5 As spectators emerged or were dragged onto the pitch, it was clear that many were injured, unconscious or close to death. Amid scenes of chaos, some police officers began to resuscitate casualties, quickly aided by the less injured spectators, some of the few ambulance staff and the St John Ambulance personnel present.

2.4.6 The South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service (SYMAS) despatched ambulances, mostly via Penistone Road North to the area close to the gymnasium at the base of the North Stand. This was diagonally across the full length of the pitch, and as word spread spectators tore down advertising hoardings as makeshift stretchers to carry the injured.

2.4.7 Inevitably, given the growing realisation of the seriousness of the disaster, some fans were desperate at what they perceived as a slow rescue response, venting their anger at officials. A few Liverpool fans, goaded by Nottingham Forest fans on the packed terrace at the opposite, Spion Kop, end who were unaware of the disaster, ran towards them, and a police cordon was established across the pitch to prevent their progress.

2.4.8 For a prolonged period, the number of casualties and their serious nature overwhelmed those involved in the initial rescue, whether spectators or officials. Many of those pulled from the pens were beyond help. Criticism of the effectiveness and efficiency of the emergency response began almost immediately after the event.

2.4.9 Subsequently, the Taylor Inquiry referred to failings of communication and coordination. Based largely on medical evidence that those who died had suffered traumatic asphyxia resulting irreversibly in death within a few minutes, the Taylor Interim Report considered that the emergency response could not have aided them in time, and the Coroner imposed a 3.15pm cut-off on the resumed inquests, excluding almost all evidence on the response.

2.4.10 As established in Chapter 5, the premise that for all who died death was inevitable after a few minutes was flawed.