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Former officer tells inquests of frustrations accessing pen

Collapsed pen at Hillsborough Credit: Hillsborough Inquests

Mr Crawford described his frustrations as he tried to get inside the pen.

He told the court: "There was a young woman of about 18 years who was intertwined in that pile of bodies and I actually had contact with her and tried to drag her up the way, away from the bodies, but it was impossible." He continued: "In actual fact, the fans knocked me back from the top of the fence…. They were actually using the pile of bodies as a platform to get up over the fence. When I got knocked back I was getting a bit frustrated because I couldn't get in." He told the court he went back to the pen gate where he eventually got into the pen and spent "some time" removing the bodies.

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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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