Inquests into the deaths of 96 victims of Hillsborough disaster

All the latest from the inquests into the deaths of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster that are taking place at a purpose-built Coroner's Court in Warrington.

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A Merseyside Police officer has denied "trying to hide something" at the Hillsborough inquests

Inspector Keith Wilkinson was one of 14 mounted officers from the Liverpool-based force brought in to provide assistance to South Yorkshire Police for the 1989 FA Cup semi-final. A lawyer for the families acting for seven of the bereaved families suggested there were a number of changes between his two accounts of events. The fresh inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans heard that Mr Wilkinson made one report nine days after the disaster in April 1989 and typed a statement himself the following January. In the second account, the court heard, the witness made more references to alcohol and claimed his horse had been hit on the head. Peter Wilcock QC suggested the jury would hear evidence that a number of Merseyside police officers made a second statement on 11th January 1990. He asked the witness: "Can you remember making this statement at the same time in the same afternoon in the same building as other officers from the Merseyside mounted police?" Mr Wilkinson replied: "I can't. I can't remember that." He agreed that he had never been involved in anything as tragic as the Hillsborough disaster. The barrister continued: "How is it that, in that context, you cannot remember one of the only two statements that you have ever made about it? Are you trying to hide something?" He responded: "There is nothing to hide." Mr Wilkinson denied someone told him to make the alterations. "If it is in my statement, then it is what I remember or remembered at the time," he said. He said he had no criticism of any officer he observed on the day of the disaster. Earlier, Mr Wilkinson told the court that he had surmised that his horse was struck and did not see the animal being hit.

Former mounted officer challenged about Hillsborough evidence

Mounted police on Leppings Lane Credit: Hillsborough Inquest
Mounted police at Hillsborough Credit: Hillsborough Inquest
Mounted police on Leppings Lane Credit: Hillsborough Inquest

Quizzed by Peter Wilcock QC, representing seven bereaved families, it was suggested the jury could not rely on Mr Thomas's previous evidence about smelling alcohol in the air. The barrister asked if the witness might have got a bit carried away. The witness answered: "I can't possibly remember whether I did or not, to be honest. I’m trying to think back 25 years."

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Police lost control of Hillsborough crowd officer tells inquest

A mounted officer, who policed the Liverpool fans' turnstiles on the day of the Hillsborough disaster, has told a court that police lost control of the crowd. The fresh inquests into the 1989 tragedy heard from Steven Thomas, a sergeant at the time. Christina Lambert QC, counsel to the inquests, asked: "In your judgement was the control of the crowd lost by the police officers, mounted and foot?" "In hindsight, yes," he replied. She continued: "Were you aware of thinking at the time that you had lost control, you and your colleagues?" Mr Thomas said: "Yes I would definitely say that, yes... As the build-up happened, in my opinion, the number of foot officers just seemed to dissipate. Whether they were caught up in the crush on the turnstiles or whether they were being deployed somewhere else, I couldn't answer." The witness described the noise at the turnstiles as being "absolutely incredible" and said traffic on the police radio was "immense". He added that he did not receive any instructions from his superior officer at the time of the crush at the turnstiles. He said: "You couldn't get a message through on the radio. I was so intent on trying to do my job that I was just aware of what was happening around me to a certain extent. But I never got any instructions from him." Mr Thomas described using the police horses to form a cordon to try to relieve the pressure on the turnstiles, where people were packed "like sardines." He added: "Even though we had actually formed the cordon of horses, you still got fans trying to get underneath the horse's head or push behind the horse's back between the two horses. It were as though they just didn't seem to want to wait. They were so intent on just getting into the [turnstile] pen area." Ms Lambert asked if the fans' behaviour was influenced by alcohol. He replied: "When you get a compact crowd in one area, you can actually smell the air - and the air smelt of alcohol." The court heard a section of the witness's initial account of events had later been removed from a typed version without discussion. The jury was told that he had, however, signed each page of the typed version.

Officer tells Hillsborough Inquests South Yorkshire Police were negligent

Gates at tunnel entrance under the west stand Credit: Hillsborough Inquests

The Hillsborough inquests heard that the former police inspector Harry White was "extremely unhappy" at the time he was medically retired and had attempted to sue South Yorkshire Police for negligence.

Rajiv Menon QC, representing ten bereaved families, said: "You and other officers were alleging that the South Yorkshire Police had been negligent in failing to prevent overcrowding in the central pens, is that right?"

He replied: "That is correct."Mr Menon continued: "And that that negligence caused the disaster and the deaths of the 96 Liverpool fans; is that fair?"

"I think that was the conclusion," he responded.He agreed that he was concerned that there had been a number of failings, including:

  • Fans being left to find their own level
  • A failure to delay the match kick-off
  • Superior officers failing to institute any system for regulating the passage of fans into pens after exit gate C was opened
  • No order being given to close the tunnel into the central pens
  • A preoccupation to prevent a pitch invasion resulted in insufficient consideration being given to the safety of fans entering pens
  • Senior officers not considering the danger of overcrowding pens- Lack of leadership to monitor the filling of pens
  • Lack of leadership to monitor the filling of pens
  • A failure for those in the control box to observe or recognise overcrowding and crushing and taking steps to alleviate the pressure of the weight of people entering those pens.

Mr Menon asked: "Of all those failings… the most catastrophic of all was the failure to order you or any other inspector or officer in the inner concourse to close the tunnel.

That was the most catastrophic error of all, wasn't it?"

He replied: "I would think so."

Mr White agreed that it would have been straight forward to close the tunnel, had he been given an order from the police control box to do so.

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Hillsborough inquests see original account from witness

Inspector Brian Huckstepp was a constable in 1989, tasked with policing the area outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles at Hillsborough.

The court was shown a passage of Mr Huckstepp's original account of events at Hillsborough which was later removed. It read:

Mr Huckstepp's original account Credit: Hillsborough Inquests

"Throughout the incident both outside and inside the ground there seemed to be communication problems. It seemed that many didn't know what was going on or what was the best course of action. The crush outside the ground could possibly have been better controlled with more police officers and a better regulation of the glow of fans up to the turnstiles. At the time when the crush reached its height our particular serial [group of officers] seemed to be down to a quarter strength of what it should have been. "I believe that opening the outer gates was a very necessary decision as the situation was becoming out of hand and a serious risk of injury. Knowing the Hillsborough ground as I do and how the Leppings Lane end fills up it might possibly have been better to direct the fans coming in through the open gates into the flank areas, which I saw were by no means full."

– -

The witness said he was content with the removal and signed the amended version without pressure. He later discovered his claims about the strength of his serial were inaccurate.

He said: "I put my initial account in on the understanding that the organisation wanted to know what had happened on the day. It was put in opinions, how you felt about things, all the kind of things that I wouldn't normally have put in a criminal justice statement. And then I understood that the process on from that, that then those accounts would now be required for a legal process with the Taylor Inquiry and that they needed to be put into a position that they then became factual accounts as opposed to accounts that included opinion."

Mr Huckstepp, who was a young officer with two years' experience in 1989, agreed that while parts of the removed section were expressions of opinion, others were observations of fact on the day.

Pete Weatherby QC, representing 22 of the bereaved families, put it to him that the deletion came about because there were aspects which were "embarrassing or difficult for South Yorkshire Police."

He replied: "Whether that was the case or not, that was not the reason that was given to me and that’s not the reason I agreed to it being removed."

Mr Weatherby continued: "You put it in because that’s what you had observed or that was your truth. You didn’t take it out because it wasn't the truth, did you?"

"No," he responded. "I was happy to put it in at the time and I’m happy that it’s still in."

Sergeant in charge of policing Liverpool fans at turnstiles says he would've been in trouble if he hadn't completed paperwork

John Beggs QC, representing three retired match commanders, asked the witness more about hearing fans would arrive late, drunk and without tickets.

He asked: "I am going to suggest to you that if that was said at that briefing or thereabouts, it certainly wasn't said by chief superintendent Duckenfield. I don't think you could dispute that, could you?" He replied: "No, because my memory is vague again. It is a memory I’ve got in my head that that was given at that briefing... It may well be that there were several people giving different parts of that briefing." Sam Green, a barrister representing the Police Federation, read the witness instructions from the Operational Order for the 1989 game.

It said: "The arresting officer will then complete the necessary paperwork which he will hand to the process supervisor in the gymnasium." Mr Green asked: "Back in 1989, within the almost military hierarchical culture of South Yorkshire Police, would you, as a sergeant, have read that as giving you any discretion whatsoever to leave your paperwork until some later point?" He replied: "Absolutely not. I would have been in trouble if I'd left it." The coroner asked the final question to the witness.

Lord Justice Goldring at Hillsborough Credit: PA

Lord Justice Goldring said: "Were you ever told why you were being 'encouraged’ to mention Liverpool fans and drink?" Mr Payne responded: "Not that I can remember. It’s just a memory I've got from somewhere of that happening. I can’t remember how it happened, where it happened. I can only guess that it was some sort of protective instinct for the force."

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