Chapter 6: Parallel investigations

Conclusion: what is added to public understanding

  • Documents disclosed to the Panel by SYP show that on the morning after the disaster senior officers discussed privately the 'animalistic behaviour' of 'drunken marauding fans', but agreed not to make this a public issue in case they were perceived as avoiding responsibility.
  • No contemporaneous documents have been disclosed concerning the briefing given to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary by SYP when they visited Sheffield on 16 April 1989. The Prime Minister's Press Secretary later revealed, however, that he had been informed on the day that drunkenness and violent crowd behaviour were significant causes of the disaster.
  • The disclosed documents show that in the immediate aftermath of the disaster SYP prioritised an internal investigation and the collection of self-taken, handwritten statements in preparation for the imminent external inquiries and investigations. SYP Counsel advised that the police should approach its information-gathering exercise by considering themselves 'the accused'.
  • A subsequent SYP internal report ('the Wain Report') informed the SYP submission to the Taylor Inquiry. Key elements of the SYP submission emphasised exceptional, aggressive and unanticipated crowd behaviour: large numbers of ticketless, drunk and obstinate fans involved in a concerted action, even 'conspiracy', to enter the stadium.
  • The SYP submission also noted structural deficiencies within the stadium and its management by SWFC. This line of argument was further developed in advice from a senior police officer from another force commissioned by SYP in support of civil proceedings. In contrast, the SWFC submission specified serious failures in policing in monitoring the pens, processing the crowd and opening Gate C without preparing for the consequences.
  • Reports commissioned by SYP and SWFC from two experienced senior police officers reveal how, when confronted with consistent information from two distinct and potentially culpable institutional interests, significantly different conclusions were drawn.
  • The submission by Counsel to the Taylor Inquiry focused on the build-up of fans outside the stadium, insufficiency of turnstiles and lack of control of the numbers distributed between the pens.
  • An initial investigation into the condition of the Leppings Lane terrace and its approaches was conducted by Sheffield City Council. It found deficiencies in the placement of safety barriers and in the width of the perimeter fence gates.
  • In its more detailed investigation, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) established that the safe maximum capacity of the pens had been set too high and that the crowd density in pen 3, where most of the deaths occurred, was substantially higher than the Green Guide maximum.
  • The HSE established not only that the maximum capacity of the terrace and the central pens had been significantly over-calculated, but that alterations to the terrace had not been considered in establishing safe capacity. It concluded that the terrace safety barriers were considerably below the recommended height and that this deficiency should have reduced further the maximum safe capacity.
  • The restricted approach to the Leppings Lane end and the comparatively low number of turnstiles resulted in inevitable congestion and delays in entering the stadium at capacity matches. The HSE noted that the number of fans that had to pass through each of the Leppings Lane turnstiles was between 2.9 and 3.5 times higher than at turnstiles serving other parts of the stadium. The calculated rate of admission shows that the crowd could not have completed entering the ground until approximately 40 minutes after the kick-off.
  • Many of these issues were also raised in Professor Leonard Maunder's advice as one of the assessors to the Taylor Inquiry. The advice from the police assessor, Chief Constable of Lancashire Brian Johnson, criticised SYP's failure to review the 1988 Police Operational Order to identify 'shortcomings'; poor communications between senior officers; and the consequent failure to divert the crowd away from the tunnel once Gate C had been opened.
  • It is evident from the Salmon letters issued to SYP, SWFC, Sheffield City Council and Eastwood & Partners (disclosed to the Panel) that there was an understanding within the Home Office of the central issues of responsibility to be examined by the Taylor Inquiry.
  • In documents disclosed to the Panel it is evident that the primary concern of the Government at the time was the potential impact (positive or negative) on the Parliamentary passage of the planned Football Spectators Bill.
  • Following the publication of the Taylor Report, the Prime Minister was briefed that 'the defensive - and at times close to deceitful - behaviour by the senior officers in South Yorkshire sounds depressingly familiar'. The Government did not seek to protect the SYP Chief Constable and it was considered inevitable that he would resign. His resignation, however, was rejected by South Yorkshire Police Authority.
  • Access to Cabinet documents reveals that in an exchange about her Government 'welcoming the Report' the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, expressed her concern that the 'broad thrust' of the Taylor Report constituted a 'devastating criticism of the police'.
  • In reaching a decision on criminal prosecutions, the Director of Public Prosecutions was advised that responsibility for the disaster lay with SWFC, Eastwood & Partners engineers, Sheffield City Council and SYP. While the most significant proportion of responsibility was attributed to SYP, it was considered that the legal case for manslaughter or any other criminal offence could not be established.
  • Disciplinary proceedings against Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield and Superintendent Bernard Murray were brought only following a direction from the Police Complaints Authority (PCA). Responding to legal advice, SYP had decided that disciplinary charges should not be brought. The PCA was concerned that subsequent delays in bringing disciplinary proceedings were 'tactical'. A significant cause of the delay was the impact of the 'review and alteration' of SYP statements and their evidential unreliability.