Friday 23 February 2018

Hillsborough inquest: Police superintendent reveals he did not know the crowd capacity of Leppings Lane end

The 1989 Hillsborough disaster remains a painful and controversial issue 25 years on
The 1989 Hillsborough disaster remains a painful and controversial issue 25 years on

Ian Herbert

The former police superintendent in charge at the Leppings Lane end on the day of the Hillsborough Disaster said today that he had not read the stadium’s safety certificate before the 1989 FA Cup semi-final game and did not know the crowd capacity it allowed.

Ex-Superintendent Roger Marshall’s testimony revealed that the South Yorkshire force approached the game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest comfortable and confident in the belief that the previous year’s semi-final, between the same two teams, had gone well. The inquest has heard evidence that the threat of crushing which caused 96 deaths in April 15, 1989, had been evident the year before. Fans complained of severe congestion in the tunnel leading to pens behind the goal in 1988. But ex Supt Marshall said that he had not attended a debrief for the previous year’s game – “It may have been my day off but I don’t remember going,” he told the inquest at Warrington”– and that he believed the 1988 event had “problems but was a success.”

A knowledge of the safety certificate would have told Supt Marshall the number of turnstiles the Sheffield Wednesday had allocated for the Liverpool fans: 23 in total to feed over 24,000 Liverpool fans into the grounds and seven for the 10,100 Liverpool fans who would gain access to turnstiles. He was not aware of that.

Ex Supt Marshall’s confidence that the event would run as smoothly as 1988 kept him convinced at around 2.15pm on the day of the disaster that there would be no problem. Though 5,700 fans still needed to get into the ground as late as 2.30pm, Supt Marshall still did not take an elevated position on a nearby bridge parapet to view the scene because “I just didn’t think of it,” he said.

The Local Liverpool Legends and International Liverpool Legends give a minute's applause before their 'Celebration of the 96' match at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, northern England April 21, 2014.
The Local Liverpool Legends and International Liverpool Legends give a minute's applause before their 'Celebration of the 96' match at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, northern England April 21, 2014.

Neither did he use the powers at his disposal to request a delay to kick off time, to ease the congestion. “I could have requested a delay to kick off,” he told the court. “I can tell you that it is one of my most profound regrets that I didn’t do so."

His testimony and video footage played to the courtroom, where 100 families have been present today, captured the mounting chaos which Supt Marshall was helpless to deal with by the time that the enormity of the problem had struck him. “I was in the middle of the crowd. I was waving my arms about and gesticulating. It was impossible [to give directions.]” he said. “You could not hear yourself speak. The perception I had at the time was that we were virtually in the midst of a battle were not going to win.” As he began to fear for “young people: young people in amongst this and lots of decent, nice fans in there as well,” his police issue radio then failed. “My radio was dead and you don't need much imagination to realise what a difficult situation that was.”

His evidence composed the picture of a South Yorkshire police force whose concerns before the match related to identifying known hooligans, rather than dealing with crowd control. The retired officer said that the discussion of Liverpool at the pre-match briefing with the match commander, chief superintendent, David Duckenfield, centred on the distribution of images - ”I think you call them mugshots” - of previous troublemakers they would arrest. “Spotters” were allocated this task, though Supt Marshall said that Merseyside Police “did not send us any spotters on the day.”

His described in moralistic terms the drinking that he was witnessing three hours before the fateful crush. “I was a little bit saddened that people had to drink so much, early in the day, to come and watch a football match.” But he, the most senior officer among the Liverpool fans that day, rejected the idea that the alcohol translated into anti-social behaviour. “No; not really, no” he replied to that notion. “The behaviour was quite good. It was a lovely day. People were enjoying the sunshine.” He suggested that their conduct had contributed to his belief that the afternoon would pass off successfully. At 2.15pm he had “what you might even perceive to be a naive belief that people would cooperate with us,” he said.

The retired officer dismissed claims from his former colleague, Supt Frank Brayford, that Supt Marshall had wanted a policing role outside of the stadium because of a fear of crowds. Ex Supt Marshall said: “I have a soft spot for Frank. We go back 40 years and I am sorry to hear he is [now] ill. But when I read his statement, my conclusion was that this was rubbish. He talks in his statement about me being averse to being in crowds but he “fails” to recognise the fact that I had been running football matches for three years. I love big occasions and I get a buzz out of being in the middle of a big crowd.”

He admitted it had been a mistake to not call in extra officers to create natural barriers at the Leppings Lane end and prevent the crowd massing on the turnstiles. “On hindsight I should have done that.” He initially said he had lacked the resources to make much of a difference with extra officers. “They key [was] resources. I had ten men and one inspector [I could have called in],” he said. But he subsequently agreed that he had a further 24 offices available in reserve. “Yes I should have summoned the reserve serial.”

Tribute: Football fans’ scarves on the Shankly Gates before a memorial service to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster at Anfield yesterday.
Tribute: Football fans’ scarves on the Shankly Gates before a memorial service to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster at Anfield yesterday.

He was not aware that Sheffield Wednesday’s club office had the technology to tell him how many tickets fans had not passed through the turnstiles.  The inquest continues.

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