The Hillsborough disaster explained

By Chris Rattue

File photo a lone soccer supporter sits by the damaged fencing at Hillsborough Stadium. Photo / AP
File photo a lone soccer supporter sits by the damaged fencing at Hillsborough Stadium. Photo / AP

Overnight a jury found that 96 football fans were "unlawfully killed" in the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium disaster because of mistakes by the police. The verdicts mark the conclusion of inquests that lasted more than two years into Britain's worst sporting disaster.

Hillsborough, the home of Sheffield Wednesday, was the neutral venue for the 1989 FA Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, a tragic match that will live on in infamy.

A human disaster led to the deaths of 96 people, and well over 700 were injured. Inept policing and crowd control had collided with the inherent British football problem of outdated football stadiums as the innocent were crushed at the Leppings Lane end of the ground, the area allocated to the Liverpool fans.

The background to the disaster was years of football hooliganism which had blighted football leading. One crude solution to hooliganism was the building of high steel fences blocking spectator entry to the pitch. In those days, spectators stood in certain parts of all grounds, something that is not allowed any more.

Read more:
Jury finds 96 fans 'unlawfully killed' in 1989
Football players react to Hillsborough inquest verdict

The crushing of spectators had occurred in England previously, dating back to Wembley's opening game in 1923 when 1000 people were injured. Other disasters included many deaths at grounds in Bolton and Glasgow. There had also been a previous problem at Hillsborough when 38 people were injured during an FA Cup semifinal in 1981.

The problems on this tragic April day in 1989 began outside the ground, with insufficient turnstiles operating for the late arrival of fans. The bottleneck was so bad that police officers considered delaying the kickoff, but did not.

Police ordered a Leppings Lane exit gate opened eight minutes before kickoff, enabling about 2000 fans to to flood into the jam-packed central pens behind the goal, with the police and stewards failing to divert some towards the side pens. Shortly after the 3pm kickoff, this dangerous situation was exacerbated as fans pushed even further forward when Liverpool had a strike on goal. It was later found that the compression was so great that many fans died of asphyxia while standing.

Five minutes into the match, ambulance officers began to take note, the police superintendent ran on to the pitch to stop the game, and ambulances were called for. Injured, distressed and angry fans spilled onto the pitch. Some climbed to safety. Rather than relieving the pressure, the police had tried to block fans escaping the crush and even prevented ambulances entering the stadium.

By 4.30, 42 ambulances had taken more than 150 people to two hospitals, but a dreadful tragedy had already unfolded.

The coroner instructed that bodies be placed in a gymnasium until they had been photographed and identified. By the evening, 82 people were declared dead. A further 12 were declared dead in hospital. One man died two days later, and another who suffered severe brain damaged died in 1993.

- NZ Herald

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