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  1. ITV Report

Hillsbrough Inquests: no plan for ambulances getting on to the pitch

A former senior ambulance officer who helped draft an incident plan for Hillsborough stadium has told a court he never considered it might be necessary for ambulances to gain access to the pitch.

The Hillsborough inquests also heard claims that there was no document to assist ambulance officers arriving at the ground who didn't have the knowledge of two key workers.

Gerald Wilkinson was divisional officer in charge of control and communications at South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service (SYMAS) between 1986 and 1988.

The jury heard he helped develop a template for football grounds in South Yorkshire following visiting stadiums, including Sheffield Wednesday's.

Hillsborough Memorial Credit: ITV Granada

Christina Lambert QC, counsel to the inquests, asked: "When you made your visit to the stadium in July 1986, did you consider that it might be necessary for ambulances to gain access to the pitch?"

The witness replied: "That was something that I had never considered at all.

Basically, the reasoning behind that was that at the Bradford [fire] disaster following the Popplewell Report, most of the people ran onto the pitch, so there's a lot of confusion.

There’s a lot of stressed people. There’s a lot of things happening in people’s minds but to take ambulances onto the pitch people would be trying to get patients into them, relatives or whatever, and it would have been a dangerous place really to have them.

So it was something that certainly never crossed my mind."

Inquests are taking place at Birchwood Park Credit: ITV Granada

Mr Wilkinson said the emergency plan provided access for ambulances via the Penistone Road entrance to the ground, on the opposite side to Leppings Lane, but there must be a degree of flexibility "because of circumstances at the time [of an incident]."

He said he had seen a narrow alleyway between the Spion Kop and north stand that provided theoretical vehicular access to the pitch.

"I knew that that area could have got ambulances onto the pitch but I certainly hadn't considered under those circumstances when we were planning that it would be necessary to take them onto the pitch," he said.

Mr Wilkinson said he was not aware that a disabled ramp had been erected in the alleyway in 1988.The witness also said he was not aware at the time that there was a route by the south stand which took access for the ground from Penistone Road through to Leppings Lane.Jo Delahunty QC, a barrister acting on behalf of some of the bereaved families, put it to him that that was a "serious omission".

The witness said it wasn't, because they had surveyed the ground and "the routes could have been altered completely on the day because of circumstance."

He continued: "Information for that time for major incidents isn't the same as it is now but those routes would have been decided by the police.

Through consultation with the police those routes would have been opened up and it would have been developed from that particular point.

If you have an officer there that knows the area it is much easier."

Hillsborough stadium sign Credit: PA

Ms Delahunty asked:

"There is no document at all that assists any person arriving at the ground that doesn’t have the knowledge of [station officers] Mr Higgins or Mr Keyworth to know what it can provide. Why is that?"

He responded: "I can't comment on that, and you need to speak to operations in relation to passing that information through. But the initial response to all those incidents would have been by people who regularly moved in those particular areas at the time."

Mark George QC, representing 22 families, asked whether he was aware of reports of crushing at the ground at semi-finals in 1981 and 1988.

The witness said he wasn't.Mr Wilkinson said his site visit to Hillsborough in July 1986 to begin a process to improve safety at sports grounds "seemed a little bit disappointing".

The court heard club secretary Richard Chester had introduced him to the groundsman and club physiotherapist.

Mr George asked: "The fact that you were shown around by the man who cut the grass was an indication that Sheffield Wednesday didn’t seem to be giving this the priority that you had hoped for; is that fair?"

The witness replied: "I think its very difficult to say that… but as a senior ambulance officer, along with senior police officers going, I was hoping that we would be talking to someone who could make executive decisions and that didn't happen."