The Hillsborough Disaster – What’s it’s all about

Imagine your husband and your son going to the stadium to watch a football match. Now imagine that both of them never got back and you’ll never get to see any of them ever again. That’s what happened to the family of the 96 Liverpool supporters 20 years ago at this very day whose lives were lost during the Hillsborough disaster
On 15th of April 1989, 93 Liverpool supporters died following a horrific human crush during an F.A Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield. Two more died later at the hospital and another one never recovered from his coma to put the figure at 96. Prior to the kick-off, an estimated 5000 fans was building up outside one of the entrance of the stadium eager to get in quickly before the match begins. Entry into the stadium was very slow partly because the turnstiles at the gates were overwhelmed by the enormously large crowd.
Back in those days, most stadiums in Britain and much of the world still have standing sections instead of the all-seater stadiums we normally see today. The police force, unable to contain the growing crowd any longer, opened one of the exit gates to the stadium to let the fans in and that’s when all hell broke loose. People started streaming into the stadium non-stop, especially into that particular standing area of the stadium causing many of the people up front being crushed to death when they pressed up against the fencing by the weight of the crowd behind them. Fans were packed so tightly in the pens that many died standing up of compressive asphyxia. The pitch quickly started to fill with people sweating and gasping for breath and injured by crushing, and with the bodies of the dead. The police, stewards and ambulance service present at the stadium were overwhelmed. Uninjured fans helped as best they could, many attempting CPR and some tearing down advertising hoardings to act as makeshift stretchers.
As these events unfolded, some police officers were still being deployed to make a cordon three-quarters of the way down the pitch, with the aim of preventing Liverpool supporters reaching the Nottingham Forest supporters at the opposite end of the stadium. Some fans tried to break through the police cordon to ferry injured supporters to waiting ambulances, and were forcibly turned back. 44 ambulances had arrived at the stadium, but police prevented all but one from entering, and that one was forced to turn back due to the vast number of people who needed help.
Following the disaster, Lord Justice Taylor was appointed to conduct an inquiry into the disaster. Taylor's inquiry sat for 31 days and published his findings. As a result of the report, fences in front of fans were removed and many of the top stadiums were converted to become all-seated. Taylor’s report stated that the official cause of the disaster was the failure of police control

Justice for 96

In the aftermath of the tragedy, certain parties tried to divert the blame to the Liverpool fans. The police pointed out in defence that the crowd outside the stadium was getting out of control so they just had to open the gate into the stadium. They further accused drunken, misbehaving and ticket-less Liverpool fans contributed to the disaster. Although the Taylor Report acknowledged that these aggravated the situation, he stressed that they were only minor factors.
Merely 4 days after the tragedy The Sun, a British tabloid newspaper 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 (Police Constable) 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". These allegations contradicted the reported behaviour of many Liverpool fans, who actively helped the security personnel to stretcher away a large number of victims and gave first aid to many injured.

Lord Taylor’s report concluded that the police had failed 'to take effective control of the disaster situation. He also recognised that there had been a police-led campaign of vilification against Liverpool fans. Listing the allegations published in the Sun he concluded, 'not a single witness' supported any of them.
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 refusing to buy from shops which did stock the newspaper. The then editor of The Sun, Kelvin Mackenzie still refuses to apologize for his lies and vicious reporting up until today.

Survivor's account

“We couldn't move left, right or anything. There was no help coming to us and we knew we weren't going to get any. The police were just ignoring the screams for help. Somehow, I managed to wriggle up a little bit. I crawled over the heads of all the people, escaping through a gate in the perimeter fence.

I remember kneeling down on the pitch and getting grass stains on my knees. I broke down, started to cry, but got myself together quickly and then helped carry the injured on the advertising boards.

Afterwards, the Sun newspaper said it was our fault, which clearly it wasn't.
The allegations were that the fans were pick-pocketing the dead, urinating on a policeman while he was giving the kiss of life - even repeating the allegations is hard work. They're not even believable, are they?

I just cannot describe the rage about that. It's still there and always will be.”

- Damian Kavanagh

“I was in the front row of the stand above where it all happened. I had a bird's eye view. We saw a lad about 12 or 13 down below and I shouted: "Get him out of there." My friend managed to pull him out. Others started pulling up people to try and help them.

I went into shock afterwards. I'd be shaking quite a lot. The worst bit was when someone at work tried to tell me what had happened.
They said: "It was just the fans trying to get in." I was stunned.”

- Kenny Derbyshire

"It was already clear that people were injured. A boy of aged about 15 years was wondering alongside the touchline before the game started. His arm was broken at right angles both below and above his elbow forming a Z shape. He reached the halfway line before stewards led him away.

Fans were trying to climb out of the middle section of the End over the front railings and over the sides and fans from the stand above were pulling people up from the back. This was occurring in large numbers, not just the occasional person. Policemen were standing by the railings trying to prevent people from climbing over. I could clearly see that they were pushing people back into the stand. Even from where I was sitting, you could see that many people were in a lot of difficulty.

When the game was stopped by the referee, the Police had by then realised that many people were injured and stopped trying to push people back into the stands. However, they did not appear to be doing anything to help. Their main actions were aimed at shoving people off the pitch and preventing anyone from progressing down the pitch. As time passed, the numbers of fans on the pitch increased and the number of injured people increased"

- Daniel Bennett

“'I saw a young boy go down and knew that was it for him. He went under people's feet but no one could do anything about it. The pressure was so great.' Fans screamed at the police on the perimeter track to open the small evacuation gates on to the pitch, 'but they just seemed transfixed. They did nothing.' As fans tried to climb the overhanging perimeter fence, officers on the track pushed them back into the crowd.”

- Anonymous

“That crush barrier was a few feet to my right, but I didn't see it. Because the light was slowly closing around my head. By now I was gasping for breath, and worried that my neck wasn't moving freely. Within feet of me people were standing dead, bolt upright. Three men had long stopped breathing and were now staring, with a fixed, almost disinterested expression, into the distance. Their faces were bleached white, but turning blue, their lips a cold violet. The only comfort I could find was that thousands of people who were still alive were now shouting for help, screaming, "There are people dead in here!" There were CCTV cameras trained on us. And there were police just a few feet in front of the fence who must have realised that metal crush barriers in our pen were bursting out of the ground.”

- Adrian Tempany

Liverpool FC on Hillsborough

"The people were absolutely magnificent in enduring Hillsborough and then in the aftermath the people of Merseyside and football people in general were fantastic in the support they gave everyone and in the way they turned up to the ground to pay their respects. Even now, the eternal flame burns outside the ground and has never been vandalised in any way, shape or form. I think that's a tremendous mark of respect from football fans who come to Anfield, because it is at the away end. It shows people want to pay their respects to those who lost their lives. The more time people spend talking about the good things the better"

- Kenny Daglish, Liverpool manager in 1989

"On the day of the disaster I was still living in Spain and have to admit that at first we didn't realise the magnitude of what had happened. It was only afterwards, when I heard the stories on the news that I realised the full extent of it.

The first time I attended the annual service at Anfield was very emotional. It was amazing to see the support of the people and the respect that they were showing. It is the same every year. As a father and a family man, you think about this when you are reading the names of those who lost their lives. You look at the families and you can see what it means for everyone involved. When you think about your own daughters and imagine what it would be like for yourself, it is then that you realise the scale of such a disaster.

I'm really impressed with the families and their efforts to ensure their memory is never forgotten. The staff and everyone involved at the club will always be there trying to help them in any way we can. They should know that the club will always be behind them and we will try to support them as much as possible.

- Rafael Benitez, Liverpool Manager

"I was only nine years old when it happened. I was really, really shocked and deeply saddened to have seen the scenes live and heard the news over the radio. Unfortunately for myself and my family we got the dreaded knock the next morning to say that a member of our family was at the game and had been tragically killed.

Hillsborough is very important to this club. The 96 will never ever be forgotten, but it is important these people are remembered individually and not just as a number. This club has fought for justice ever since and will continue to do so. We have stuck together because we are not just about what happens on the pitch but we are all one off the pitch as well. Time has gone by, but the scars will never ever be healed and the fans will never forget. You can always rely on our supporters to be there for you when you need them.

I think it was such a big tragedy, that the majority of the players who have arrived from other countries are already aware of it. The players are brought up to speed about what happened at Hillsborough and they pay their respects every year, just like the rest of the staff of Liverpool Football Club."

- Steven Gerrard, Liverpool FC Captain

"As the early moments of the game developed people started to come over the barrier and we began to realise there was a problem. We just thought it was an overspill and that once it was cleared up the game would carry on. It wasn't the case and we know the sad story that unfolded after that.

In the days that followed the people of Merseyside were fantastic and the support for everyone was great. I also have to commend the players and Kenny for the way they approached things. Families would come into Anfield and we would meet them and talk to them. We went to different funerals and quite a strong bond developed between ourselves and the families. Merseyside reacted with great dignity. Not just the Liverpool side of things but Everton too. There was a great respect and a great response from the world of football.

I hope we learn from it. It's disappointing no-one has been big enough to admit mistakes were made. There were probably mistakes from all sides of it. Sometimes in life you have to be honest and hold your hand up. The blame was forced on to the fans and they didn't deserve that. They deserve justice."

- Roy Evans, Former Liverpool player, coach and manager

"I must have been 10 or 11 years old when it happened. I was quite young but old enough to understand what was going on. In those days the semi-finals were played on the same day and at the same time, so with me being an Everton fan I was at Villa Park watching Everton play Norwich.

I just remember an announcement at half-time that the Liverpool game had been abandoned. It was before the technology of mobile phones etc so no-one really understood what was going on. It wasn't until we were on our way back to Liverpool that we heard what had really happened on the car radio.

It is essential that we don't forget those who lost their lives that day. We hold the memorial at Anfield every season, and rightly so. We should never forget. The Hillsborough families have conducted themselves superbly. For people to send family and friends away to a game and for them to not return is a terrible thought. It terrifies you just thinking about it. What those people have gone through is unbelievable and the way they have conducted themselves since is impeccable.

It's hard to believe we are now marking the 20th anniversary of Hillsborough. I just hope the families keep fighting for what they believe in. No-one will ever forget what happened. We will always be there supporting the families by doing everything we can to help"

- Jamie Carragher, Liverpool FC vice-captain

Letters from the heart

Earlier this year, the Liverpool FC official cub website contacted some of those relatives and friends of the fans whose lives were tragically cut short to ask if they'd like to write a few words to their loved ones on the 20th anniversary of the disaster.
The response was truly humbling. Within days of their initial request, the letters started arriving. They came from all over Merseyside, all over England and all over the world. They came from wives, mums, dads, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, aunties, nieces, nephews and friends. Some were handwritten, others typed. Some took up pages; some were nothing more than a few lines. Some were poetic, some were angry but all of them appear here unedited, just as they arrived.

A letter to Adam Spearitt, who died aged 14 at Hillsborough, written by his mum

Darling Adam,

20 years since the day you left home with your dad. I remember you, full of excitement and anticipation, your first away match saying, 'Dad they're warning people to watch out for pickpockets'. If only that had been the worst thing to have happened.

Did you enjoy the lovely drive over the Pennines in the bright spring sunshine with your dad and his friends laughing and joking all the way?

Were you worried when you saw the crowds at the turnstiles? But then feel OK when your dad said, 'We'll just wait here to the side till it eases off, it won't matter if we miss the start.'

Then were you both surprised when the large exit gate opened and you were all allowed to go through and not even asked for your tickets?
Then delighted to find yourselves right at the front near the goal.

But then the disaster caused by 'The failure of the police to control the crowd'.

Should we have 'moved on' (in other words put it all behind us)? How could we when those to blame didn't have the courage to stand up and own up, but heaped blame on yourselves and the fans who tried so hard to save lives, ferrying the injured the length of the pitch to be given help although only a handful of you were taken to hospital, the same fans who were tarnished with obscene headlines by a certain newspaper.

Some of the police did their best on the day and have our thanks like the special constable who found a faint pulse in you, went with you to hospital and stayed a while with you after you died. As for the others, let's hope we are a constant thorn in their sides.

Love and miss you Adam

Your Mum xxx

A letter to Philip Steele, who died aged 15 at Hillsborough, written by his mother


We watched you walk away on that lovely sunny day, not a care in the world, chatting happily with your brother. So excited because you had tickets to watch your beloved LFC in the semi-final.

A wave of your hand, a smile and you were gone. How could we have known that would be your last smile to us?

You brought so much sunshine into our lives and if I close my eyes and sit quietly, I can still see your lovely smile and hear your laughter.

In our hearts every minute of every day.

Rest in peace and God bless, precious son.

Your very proud mum, Dolores

A letter to Arthur Horrocks, who died 41 at Hillsborough, written by his wife Sue

Dear Arthur,

Where do I start? 20 lonely years have passed since I last saw you and not a day goes past that I don't miss you. So much has happened in that time; your two gorgeous boys are now men of 27 and 29, and you would be so proud of them. Although I made a huge mess of my life for a while, and feel I let everyone down, I hope you can forgive me.

I have some great friends who have been there for me through thick and thin - I just wish you could meet them. Anyway struggling to write any more. It is so painful. I know I dont show my feelings easily and haven't been to any of the Memorial Services or got involved with the families but I am a private person and keep my feelings to myself. Wish I could see you just one more time and tell you how much I loved you. Until we meet again.

Your Loving Wife Sue x x x

A letter to Nicholas Joynes, who died aged 27 at Hillsborough, written by his family

Dearest Nick,

It is 20 long years without seeing your smiling face. We should have been a happy family all of us together.

With you and Mark (your brother who was killed in South Africa) I hope you are both together. We think about you both every single day, in our prayers, you are always in our hearts.

You have new family members now, Jessica, Sean and baby Emily. You remember Ian and Laura and your loving brother Paul, Sister Michelle.

We have very cherished memories of you both; we look for you in rainbows. Our loving arms will hold you when we meet again.

Thinking of that day at Hillsborough, I hope the South Yorkshire Police hang their heads in shame about what happened that dreadful day.

Your loving Mum, Dad, Paul, Michelle and family

A letter to Keith McGrath, who died aged 17 at Hillsborough, from his sister Anne-Marie

My big brother Keith,

Today it's 20 years since they took you away. My beautiful big brother. I was six then but the pain then is still as strong as it is today. All those birthdays and Christmas's without you. I only went to the shop with dad, when I got back mum was staring at the TV. I knew something was wrong.

The next few days were strange. Everyone crying, strange people around. Growing up without you is so hard. My 16th, my 18th, my 21st. Tears shed. We searched for justice but so many hurdles put in our way.

I will always love you.

Your little sister
Anne-Marie x

A letter to David John Benson, who died aged 22 at Hillsborough, from his daughter Kirsty Jade Benson

To my daddy who went to live with the angels,

Wow, 20 years without you in my life and that same star still shining so bright in the sky at night. I know deep down you are watching over me but sometimes I get a niggle. An angry niggle playing on my mind. Why me? I was only a baby at two years old who was never given the chance to remember you. Why you? At 22 years old, you were just building our future. Why my mum? The only love she knew. But all these questions racing through my mind never have an answer.

Last year your grandson, Cody, made an entrance into this world. I ached for you to be here to celebrate this magical moment in my life and to be able to hold him and cherish him forever. However, beyond my tears, was a feeling. A deep feeling. Even though you are not here in sight, you are never far away from us. You are always there to guide us and protect us.

Our little Cody, now turned one, waves night night to his grandad angel in the sky. He will always know who you are and that you are his secret friend just like you are mine and that all he has to do is whisper and you will be there to lead him the right way.

I may not have my own memories of you but through pictures and talk, I have images and they are unbreakable. No one can take them away from me.

You will continue to shine through Cody.

My daddy with the angels.

You will never be forgotten.

All my love

Kirsty xxxx

On April 15, 1989, 96 Liverpool supporters travelled on a bright summer's day to watch the team they love play in an FA Cup semi-final. Because of the incompetence of the authorities on the day, they never returned home to their families. For 20 years we have been striving for justice and our fight will go on because justice has never been done. Our thoughts today and always will be with the families and friends of our fellow fans who lost their lives on that dreadful day. The 96 will never walk alone and will always be in our thoughts.

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