How the Hillsborough disaster unfolded

A memorial plaque to those who lost their lives in the Hillsborough Disaster outside Anfield Credit: Nick Potts/PA

The 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest ended in tragedy when 96 fans suffered fatal injuries in a crush on the Leppings Lane terrace of the Hillsborough ground.

The police chief on the day of the tragedy, David Duckenfield, has been found not guilty of the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans.

Here is how the disaster, on April 15, 1989, unfolded.

10am: Match commander David Duckenfield briefs officers on duty on the day. He tells them: “I cannot stress too highly the word ‘safety’.” The briefing lasts just under 20 minutes.

2.15pm: Duckenfield enters the police control box at about this time. The box, which had screens showing CCTV images from around the ground, was above the Leppings Lane terrace.

2.17pm: Superintendent Roger Marshall, who was on duty at the Leppings Lane turnstiles which were allocated to Liverpool fans, requests the road is closed to traffic.

2.30pm: Duckenfield asks Superintendent Bernard Murray if all the Liverpool fans will get in by 3pm. More than 5,000 Liverpool fans with standing tickets still have to enter but he is told “no problem”.

Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield has been cleared of the deaths of the Liverpool fans. Credit: PA

– 2.40pm: The police control box is experiencing problems with radios but a communications officer is working to fix the issue. Outside the turnstiles on Leppings Lane, fans are beginning to get crushed and a young boy is carried above the heads of the crowd to safety.

– 2.43pm: A request is made for a traffic vehicle with a Tannoy system to go to the Leppings Lane end. The operator in the police control box says: “We have a large crowd at that location and they are causing crushing at the gates.”

– 2.46pm: Commentator John Motson comments there are spaces at the side of the terraces at the Liverpool end of the ground.

– 2.47pm: Mr Marshall sends one of three radio messages to police control to ask for permission to open the exit gates to prevent injury at the turnstiles.

– 2.48pm: Exit gate C at the Leppings Lane turnstiles is opened for a short period to eject a fan. Between 100 and 150 fans go in before it is closed again.

The 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster - Andrew Devine became the 97th when he died in July 2021. Credit: PA Images

2.51pm: Radio recordings capture a conversation from the police headquarters at Snig Hill. One man says: “Bloody chaos at Leppings Lane, thousands can’t get in. They’ve just broken gates down and Superintendent Marshall is screaming for them to open inner gates to let people in and Murray is saying in control we’ve got to monitor tickets, if we get Liverpool mixed up with Nottingham Forest we’re going to have trouble.” Someone can be heard saying “Seriously open the gates, open the gates to the Lepping…” over the radio.

2.52pm: Following an order from Duckenfield, gate C is opened for a second time and remains open for a longer period. This comes after a final radio request from Mr Marshall warns of a risk of death outside. More than 2,000 fans come through the gate, many making their way down the tunnel, which is straight ahead of them, and into pens three and four of the Leppings Lane terrace.

2.54pm: Video footage shows 27 of the 96 victims of the disaster in pen three at this time. Some of these, such as Thomas Howard, 39, and his son Thomas Howard Junior 14, had entered the ground through exit gate C. Others had been in the ground longer, such as David Steven Brown, 25, who went through the turnstiles at 2.11pm.

A football fan holds his head in his hands after the Hillsborough disaster. Credit: PA

– 2.59pm: Pc Michael Ryan, in the police control box, tells police headquarters in a radio transmission: “It’s chaos at the moment.” Supporters climb out of the pens on to the pitch perimeter track.

– 3pm: The match kicks off.

– 3.03pm: In pen three, the density of people is estimated to be about 10 people per square metre. Fans can be seen on the pitch and climbing the fence to get out of the pens. A radio message from the police control box asks for dog handlers to go on to the pitch.

– 3.04pm: Liverpool’s Peter Beardsley hits the crossbar of the goal.

– 3.05pm: Radio recordings show officers in the control box calling for Operation Support – which was used to deal with spontaneous disorder. Superintendent Roger Greenwood runs on to the pitch and the referee stops the match.

– 3.07pm: The police control box requests a fleet of ambulances at the ground.

– 3.12pm: A request is made over the radio for the fire service to attend with cutting equipment.

Advertising boards which were used as stretchers in the Hillsborough stadium. Credit: PA

3.16pm: A St John Ambulance vehicle arrives on the pitch. In the police control box, Duckenfield meets Football Association boss Graham Kelly and tells him gates to the ground were forced.

3.17pm: The police control box asks for a casualty inquiry bureau to be set up. The operator says: “There are a lot of casualties.”

3.20pm: An ambulance is driven on to the pitch.

5pm: The South Yorkshire coroner Dr Stefan Popper gives orders for 82 bodies in the gymnasium to be kept there until they had been identified. Ninety-four of the victims died between 2.57pm and 5pm that day. Lee Nicol, 14, died two days later. Tony Bland, 22, died on March 3 1993. Duckenfield was not charged with Mr Bland’s manslaughter as he died more than a year and a day after the incident.