Hillsborough disaster

From Academic Kids

The Hillsborough disaster was a deadly human crush that occurred on April 15, 1989, at Hillsborough, a football stadium in Sheffield, England, resulting in the loss of 96 lives.



Liverpool F.C. were involved in their 17th FA Cup Semi-Final, to be played against Nottingham Forest F.C. at Hillsborough, the home of Sheffield Wednesday F.C..

At the time most stadiums had placed high chainlink fencing between the spectators and the pitch, in response to hooliganism which had plagued the sport for years. Hooliganism was a particularly strong influence in the United Kingdom, where it often involved pitch invasions and the throwing of a variety of missiles. This fencing was later identified as one of the main factors leading to the disaster. The part of the stadium where the problem occured was also a "terrace" area, terraces were cheaper standing areas without seats and it was subsequently concluded that this was also a major contributing factor. Terraces were frequently divided by further chainlink fencing into sections called pens to aid crowd control.

The Hillsborough Stadium was segregated between the opposing fans as was customary at all large games at neutral venues: the Liverpool supporters being assigned to the Leppings Lane End. Kick off was scheduled for 3.00pm but due to a variety of factors including traffic delays on the route to Sheffield from Liverpool many of the Liverpool supporters were later than usual arriving. Between 2.00pm and 2.45pm there was a considerable build up of fans in the small area outside the turnstiles at the Leppings Lane End, all eager to enter the stadium before the match started. A bottleneck developed with more fans arriving than entering the stadium. With an estimated 5,000 fans trying to get through the turnstiles and an increasingly dangerous situation, the police decided to open a second set of gates which did not have turnstiles (Gate C). The resulting inpouring of hundreds, or possibly thousands, of fans through a narrow tunnel at the rear of the terrace and into the already overcrowded central two pens caused a crush at the front where people were pressed against the fencing. The people entering were unaware of the problems being experienced at the fence and for some time the problem was not noticed by anybody (other than those affected), it was not until 3:06pm that the referee stopped the game. By this time a small gate in the fencing had been opened and some fans escaped the crush by this route — others climbed over the fencing, and further fans were pulled up by fellow fans into the upper tier above the Leppings Lane terrace.

The pitch quickly started to fill with people sweating and gasping for breath, those with crush injuries, and with the bodies of the dead. The police and ambulance services were overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster and fans helped as best they could, many attempting CPR and some tearing down advertising hoardings to act as makeshift stretchers.

The crush ultimately took the lives of 96 people, with 766 fans receiving injuries.

Graphic footage of the disaster was available because the match was being broadcast and this, along with the number of fatalities made an extreme impact on the general UK population.

A permanent tribute to those who lost their lives can be found alongside the Shankly Gates at Anfield. A further tribute was set up in 1999 at Hillsborough.

The Taylor Inquiry

Following the disaster, Lord Justice Taylor was appointed to conduct an inquiry into the disaster. Taylor's inquiry sat for thirty-one days and published two reports, one interim report that laid out the events of the day and immediate conclusions and one final report that made general recommendations on football ground safety. As a result of the inquiry, fences in front of fans were removed and stadia were converted to become all-seated. This became known as the Taylor Report.

There was considerable debate over some aspects of the disaster; in particular, attention was focused on the decision to open the secondary gates. It was suggested that it would have been better to delay the start of the game as had often been done at other venues and matches. In defence the police claimed that they were concerned that the crush outside the stadium was getting out of control and accusations were made that some Liverpool fans did not have tickets and were trying to force the turnstiles. Other accusations of misbehaviour were made in relation to the crowd, however, no substantial evidence was presented to support these claims.

The Sun newspaper

On the Wednesday following the disaster, Kelvin MacKenzie, then editor of The Sun, a British tabloid newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, used the front page headline 'THE TRUTH', with three sub-headlines: 'Some fans picked pockets of victims'; 'Some fans urinated on the brave cops'; 'Some fans beat up PC giving kiss of life'.

The story accompanying these headlines claimed that 'drunken Liverpool fans viciously attacked rescue workers as they tried to revive victims' and 'police officers, firemen and ambulance crew were punched, kicked and urinated upon'. A quote, attributed to an unnamed policeman, claimed that a dead girl had been abused and that Liverpool fans 'were openly urinating on us and the bodies of the dead'.

In their history of The Sun, Peter Chippendale and Chris Horrie wrote:

'As MacKenzie's layout was seen by more and more people, a collective shudder ran through the office [but] MacKenzie's dominance was so total there was nobody left in the organisation who could rein him in except Murdoch. [Everyone] seemed paralysed, "looking like rabbits in the headlights", as one hack described them. The error staring them in the face was too glaring. It obviously wasn't a silly mistake; nor was it a simple oversight. Nobody really had any comment on it—they just took one look and went away shaking their heads in wonder at the enormity of it. It was a "classic smear".'

Lord Justice Taylor's official inquiry into the disaster disparaged The Sun's story and was unequivocal as to the disaster's cause:

'The real cause of the Hillsborough disaster [was] overcrowding, the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control.'

Following The Sun's report, the newspaper was boycotted by most newsagents in Liverpool, with many refusing to stock the tabloid and large numbers of readers cancelling orders and even refusing to buy from shops which did stock the newspaper.

MacKenzie explained his reporting in 1993. Talking to a House of Commons National Heritage Select Committee he said "I regret Hillsborough. It was a fundamental mistake. The mistake was I believed what an MP said. It was a Tory MP. If he had not said it and the chief superintendent had not agreed with it, we would not have gone with it." This explanation was not accepted by families of Hillsborough victims. Even fifteen years after the Hillsborough disaster, the circulation of The Sun in Liverpool is still believed to be only 12,000 copies a day where previously it was around 200,000.

The Sun itself issued an apology "without reservation" in a full page opinion piece on 7 July 2004, saying that it had "committed the most terrible mistake in its history." The Sun was responding to the intense criticism of Wayne Rooney, a Liverpool-born football star who then still played in the city (for Everton), who had sold his life story to the newspaper. Rooney's actions had incensed Liverpool dwellers still angry at The Sun. The Sun's apology was somewhat bullish, saying that the "campaign of hate" against Rooney was organised in part by the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo, owned by Trinity Mirror, who also own the Daily Mirror, arch-rivals of The Sun. Thus the apology actually served to anger some Liverpudlians further. The Liverpool Echo itself did not accept the apology, calling it "shabby" and "an attempt, once again, to exploit the Hillsborough dead."

In fairness to The Sun, it should be noted that some other newspapers also detailed the same allegations on the same day, which apparently originated from a source within South Yorkshire Police attempting to divert blame, but the Sun attracted particular opprobrium for its use of the huge "THE TRUTH" headline and its subsequent refusal to issue an apology, something the other newspapers were quick to do.

"Hillsborough" television drama

In 1997, the ITV television network in the United Kingdom screened a ninety-minute one-off drama-documentary recounting the events of the disaster, written by the acclaimed Liverpudlian scriptwriter Jimmy McGovern, who had previously been responsible for hard-hitting television productions such as Cracker.

Produced for the network by Granada Television and titled simply Hillsborough, the drama starred Christopher Eccleston as Trevor Hicks, whose story formed the focus of the script. It drew much praise for its sensitive handling of the subject matter, which was heavily critical of the actions of the South Yorkshire Police.

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