Hillsborough remains the most contentious issue in British football's long and often troublesome history. We tell the story of an Ipswich Town supporter and survivor who gratefully accepted tickets to the 1989 FA Cup Semi-Final.
Date: 15 April 1989
Location: Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield, England
Inquiries: Taylor Report (1990), Hillsborough Independent Panel (2012)
Coroner: Dr. Stefan Popper
Hillsborough Family Support Group:
The horrific events at Hillsborough in 1989 when 96 innocent football fans lost their lives as a result of compelling negligence from the police and football authorities have been well documented. It’s something I’ve been reluctant to write about as doing the deceased and the families’ justice is a difficult task indeed; I’m not a Liverpool supporter and I wasn’t there when it happened.
A little while ago, I met up with Mike Brown (not his real name); Mike was in the Liverpool end at Hillsborough that day. He witnessed what went on and has subsequently become a campaigner for justice. What was interesting with Mike though is that he isn’t a Liverpool fan.
Mike grew up in Essex where everyone was either a West Ham or Ipswich fan. Following their ‘78 FA Cup win, Mike chose the latter – though like a great many of his peers, he always had a grudging respect for the likes of Dalglish, Beardsley and Hansen.
Mike was a student at Sheffield Poly when a Liverpool supporting friend secured them both tickets to the ‘89 semi-final against Nottingham Forest:
“I was going to an FA Cup semi-final, not something that happens too often to an Ipswich fan, but sod it, it’s a big match and I’m not going to turn my nose up at this.”
On the day of the game – outside the stadium - Mike and his friend began to feel uncomfortable with the crowds and with how the police were managing the situation. They decided to try to get out of the crowds, even if it meant missing the kick-off:
“As the pressure mounts I say to the lads I’ve had enough, I don’t care if I miss the kick off, don’t care if I miss the match, this is dangerous and I want out. I love my footie but someone is going to die here, make no bones. I head off to the side, pushing myself out of the crush and towards the edge of the fans. Sorry lads, I just can’t cope with that. Then someone shouts,” the gate is open” and I find myself looking at an open gate, a couple of coppers and a few fans jumping through. I go for it but as I arrive the copper is trying to pull it shut. I stuck my foot on the bottom and jump through, the last one in as the copper pulls it shut behind me. Half expecting to get nicked, I go to show my ticket but the copper isn’t bothered. I’m in, but what the fuck is going on outside?”
Mike tried to wait inside the ground for his friends, but was pushed forwards onto the terraces:
“I got lucky as I was only on the terrace for a few minutes. I entered the stadium when the gate was opened and made my way onto a full terrace as best I could. I was at the head of the fans so I knew there would be a few more behind. I got partly down the terrace, with great difficulty when there was an almighty surge. I presume now a barrier had broken but my luck was in landing on the fence very close to one of the exit gates. I was on the terrace for a matter of minutes and I know people trapped for much longer than me saw/witnessed things that you just don't ever talk about. Seeing, smelling and witnessing people die and thinking you are going to die - it's just not something you ever forget.”
Mike remembers the police on horseback outside the stadium, charging around and making things worse. He remembers the police stopping fans that were trying to escape and turning their backs on them, and he remembers the police telling him to “shut up” when he asked to go back and get people to help:
“The worst thing to see was police pushing people back over the fences, still not helping despite the severity being pretty clear. I had fallen to my knees when I got out and I was very, very lucky. When I saw a doctor three days later, she pointed to a print of the fence on my right shoulder. I had no idea it was there - three days later and there were marking of the fence on me…I was only trapped for a couple of minutes.”
Following the disaster, Mike contacted the police helpline. The West Midlands Serious Crime Squad was given the task of collating the evidence and presenting it to Lord Taylor who was the judge in charge of the enquiry.
He contacted the police and they came and spoke to him about what he had witnessed. The interview turned out to be a thinly veiled threat against Mike making any trouble for the authorities. They suggested he got his ticket from a tout and that he and his friends were drunk; both untrue. They also suggested Mike was some sort of student agitator with a grudge against the police and promised to look into his background for any criminality. There was none.
Finally they suggested he withdraw his statement and his allegations against the police or else risk facing charges of wasting police time. When his statement was read back to him, he asked that a number of things be changed as they were very different to what he had stated. He still feels to this day that the evidence and statement he submitted was altered and was not what he wished to submit.
Mike suffered psychologically for a number of years after Hillsborough. As he worked overseas frequently and wasn’t a Liverpool fan, he never really became involved in the early ‘Justice for the 96’ campaign. He finally attended the 20th anniversary at Anfield:
“…I, like many joined in the chants of 'Justice for the 96'. I felt uneasy, this was a memorial, but I soon found myself letting out an awful lot of pent up frustration. This had been going on too long, and lots of us knew about the police cover up.
What annoys me most is that 90% of what was released by the HIP (Hillsborough Independent Panel) was already in the public domain, yet the judges/politicians chose to ignore it. We knew police statements were changed. We knew that blood tests were done on the dead. We knew that Kevin Williams was alive at 4pm - a serving policewoman had gone on record. We knew that the police had turned away ambulances. What more evidence do you need to assert that the 3.15 cutoff was nonsense as was ‘Accidental death’ verdict of the coroner, who chose to ignore all the evidence after that time.”
After that day, Mike got involved via social media; he joined some the Facebook pages dedicated to fighting for the truth and regularly posted up thoughts to anyone would listen. But the real breakthrough came when the HIP report came out. Like many other survivors he was a bit nervous.
They had been let down before and lied to so many times but this time they were cleared. The police had covered up the truth and tried to shift the blame onto the fans. He had known that, but now the world knew that too. So what to do? Well simply put, he has gone about telling anyone and everyone who cares to listen.
He contacted the press and has done interviews on Radio, TV and in the print media. He is not a scouser, not a Liverpool fan and has no links to the city at all. So he hopes his testimony would not be dismissed along the lines of "he would say that wouldn't he".
Mike is still angry and like most people who were there that day, and most football fans in general, he wants justice:
“What needs to be done is that those responsible for the disaster should be held to account as should those behind the cover up. Recently a twitter slander led to major damages after a Lord was wrongly labeled a paedophile for 6 days, yet 3000 football fans were labeled murderers for 23 years and nothing has happened. Chris Huhne got 9 months in prison for lying about who was driving a car. How long should you get for fabricating evidence? For changing statements? For ordering the taking of blood samples? For ordering the CRB checks? For threatening key witnesses? For stealing CCTV tapes?”
I’ve always supported any campaigns regarding justice for those who lost their lives and campaigns to bring to light the amount of negligence and corruption involved in the disaster. Though, broadly speaking there is good public support (at least now there is; there wasn’t always) for the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, I’ve always been a little disappointed that there has never really been a massive outcry and demand to get to the bottom of what happened and punish those who lied and cheated all those years ago.
The Heysel disaster was only four years prior and at the time, English football fans were seen as little more than scum. I wonder if the lack of public sympathy would be antithetic if it happened to followers of a different sport.
When it comes down to it, it's regular football fans vs. people of influence, standing and power. Sadly, it's still no contest.
Mike Brown has written a series of blogs about his experiences, which you can read in full here: http://bluelagosontour.blogspot.co.uk/
Support the Justice for the 96 campaign at the Hillsborough Family Support Group:
KEY HILLSBOROUGH INDEPENDANT PANEL FINDINGS
- NO Liverpool fans were responsible in ANY WAY for the disaster.
- Main cause was a "lack of police control" and crowd saftey was "compromised at every level".
- Up to 41 of the 96 who perished might have survived.
- Emergency services reactions and co-ordination was inadequate.
- Medical teams placed fans who were "merely unconscious" on their back and it could've resulted in deaths.
- 164 witness statements were altered and 116 were removed.
- Smear campaigns attempted to discredit statements.
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By the grace of god go us....
It's incredible to think how badly football fans were treated just 2 decades ago.
The cover up and lies never ceases to shock me.