Inquests into the deaths of 96 victims of Hillsborough disaster

The jury at the new inquests into the Hillsborough disaster is expected to deliver its verdict on Tuesday, after sitting for more than two years.

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Catastrophe was "narrowly averted" eight years before Hillsborough

The Hillsborough inquests have heard claims a catastrophe was "narrowly averted" at the Sheffield Wednesday ground eight years before the 1989 disaster.

The jury heard evidence from Professor Norman Fenton, who was secretary of the Sheffield Spurs Supporters’ Society when his team played Wolverhampton Wanderers in the 1981 FA Cup semi-final at the stadium.

He told the court how he had expressed concerns about the allocation of the Leppings Lane end for Tottenham Hotspur supporters.

The jury has previously heard how there was a crushing incident on the Leppings Lane terrace on the day. No-one was killed but 38 were injured, some with broken bones.

Prof Fenton said he could "see everything" from his seat on the north terrace.

"There was crushing even at that time, which was 50 minutes before kick-off. There was significant crushing. It was particularly bad in the centre and to the far side," he told the court.

He said police and stewards started to let people out of the terracing and onto the pitch up to half an hour before kick-off.

Prof Fenton wrote to Peter Robinson, then Chief Executive at Liverpool Football Club, following the 1989 disaster.

He told the court: "I had seen on TV and heard people say the same mistake had been made in terms of the wrong allocation.

"The other thing that prompted me to do it was I had heard someone from the FA, I think Graham Kelly, at the time boasting on TV they had never had any problems at Sheffield Wednesday for a semi-final before."

He said he strongly believes the views he made in the letter that a catastrophe as bad as the 1989 disaster "was narrowly averted in 1981."

John Beggs QC, representing the three retired match commanders for the 1989 game, suggested several thousand Spurs supporters had been able to purchase tickets for the opposing Kop end in 1981.

Prof Fenton said some were trying to get into the Leppings Lane end with other Spurs supporters.

Mr Beggs said: "When you describe the crushing at the turnstiles in the Leppings Lane end, in some measure that was the responsibility of the Spurs fans who chose to ignore the basic rules, wasn’t it?"

"Well you could see it that way but having been in that position myself, I would probably have done the same thing," he replied.

Mr Beggs added: "If football supporters in 1981 just played by the rules, even if they were disgruntled by the rules, the police wouldn't have faced that very difficult situation would they?"

"Probably not," replied the witness.

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