Newport man who lost friend to suicide claims Hillsborough survivors have been ‘let down'

Dean Harris (Left) with Chris Lam (right). Credit: Dean Harris

A man from Newport who survived the Hillsborough disaster has claimed those living with trauma are being “let down” by not being offered enough support. 

Dean Harris, 50, was just 16 when he was caught in the crush at the football match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forrest in 1989. 

He told ITV News that he is witnessing other survivors lose their lives to suicide as a result of the trauma suffered from that day. 

Ninety seven people were unlawfully killed during the match on April 15 1989. 

Floral tributes at Hillsborough, 1989. Credit: PA Archive

One Hillsborough survivors group said they know “of at least four people” who were there that have taken their lives this year.

Dean was only 16-years-old when he was caught in the crush at the Leppings Lane stand of Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield. Over the years he became friends with other survivors, like Chris Lam, while raising money for the Hillsborough campaign for justice. 

But in April this year, aged 52, Chris took his own life at his home in Widnes, Cheshire. His family said that he had struggled with his mental health since the disaster.

Dean travelled on the Gwent supporters bus to Sheffield. Credit: Y Byd ar Bedwar

In his first television interview about his own mental health struggles since Hillsborough and the loss of his friend, Dean told the current affairs programme Y Byd ar Bedwar: “He took his life a week before the anniversary of Hillsborough.”

“And I’m not saying for one second that was his only issue, but over the years you can’t tell me that what had happened didn’t have a massive factor on Chris taking his life.” 

Completing the IronMan was part of Dean’s recovery, having struggled with his mental health in the decades that followed the disaster. 

“My mum said to me: ‘The boy I sent to Hillsborough that day didn’t come back’. That was hard to hear.’ 

“No one deserved to go through that,” he added. 

Hillsborough remains Britain’s worst sporting disaster. Liverpool fans were blamed, until they were finally exonerated in 2012. 

 An inquest in 2016 found that police failings were mainly to blame. 

To this day, no one has been held accountable for the disaster. 

Dean, who was diagnosed with chronic PTSD in 2019 revealed to presenter Dot Davies that he had never been offered any form of professional counselling by the authorities in the years that followed the disaster. 

“We were on our knees, literally begging for help and support.

“There was no open counselling, there were no offers of support. Yes, you could go to your doctor and say I’m struggling. You had the general, oh take some tablets, but that’s not the root cause of the problem.”

Chris (left) and Dean (right) revisiting Hillsborough years after the disaster. Credit: Dean Harris

The Hillsborough Survivors Support Alliance (HSA) is based in Liverpool and is the only organisation offering targeted support to those affected by the disaster.

In 2019, with the help of a therapist, they created a specific form of therapy designed to treat survivors. Many Welsh fans have received the therapy, including Dean. 

It was set up in response to the desperation felt by many survivors and families. The organisation knows of four people that were in Hillsborough that have taken their own lives this year alone. 

Vice-chair Peter Scarfe said it’s a story they’re all too familiar with. 

“I met a guy through HSA and he’d travelled to Sheffield with 12 other people, so 13 of them travelled to Hillsborough together. 

“All 13 of them travelled back home again, but between 2019 and 1989  - six of them have taken their life by suicide. That’s six too many.” 

Over 120 people have received the therapy provided by the HSA, which is run by Peter Scarfe and other survivors. Credit: Y Byd ar Bedwar

The HSA, which pays for the therapy through their fundraising, want to see more support from the Football Association of England. The FA were responsible for choosing to hold the match at the stadium. 

Offer that support. We’re doing it off our own backs. We haven’t got endless amounts of money,” said Peter. 

The FA said it appreciates the work that survivor groups do and will continue to meet and listen to them. 

Anyone affected by the disaster can get in touch with the Hillsborough Survivors Support Alliance via their website.

Y Byd ar Bedwar airs on S4C on Monday, 31 October at 8.00pm. English subtitles are available.