Liverpool

Public health expert: Hillsborough emergency response 'woefully inadequate'

The Hillsborough disaster Image copyright Inquest handout
Image caption Ninety-six fans died as a result of a crush during the 1989 FA Cup semi-final

A doctor at Hillsborough who attended the match as a fan has told the inquests the emergency response to the disaster was "woefully inadequate".

Professor John Ashton, a public health expert, said he led the assessment of casualties behind the Leppings Lane end because no-one else was taking charge.

He also told the jury he received a call after the 1989 disaster telling him to stop criticising the response.

Ninety-six Liverpool fans died after a crush at the FA Cup tie in Sheffield.

Speaking at the new inquests into the disaster, held in Warrington, he said ambulances were slow to arrive and there was a lack of basic equipment such as stretchers.

Prof Ashton, a Liverpool supporter, was at the match with two of his sons and his nephew.

After arriving at the stadium at about 14:30 BST, he told the court he felt "fear" in the atmosphere and had to step back from the crowd as he was getting claustrophobic.

'It was chaos'

He told the jury he approached a police officer and said: "You've got to get a grip of the situation, it is out of control, there's going to be a tragedy."

When questioned about the officer's reply, he said it "wasn't a positive reaction".

Prof Ashton said while entering the stadium he saw someone warn a police officer that children were "dying in there", but there was no response.

He told the court that, after finding his seat, he spotted people being pulled from the terraces below and returned to the concourse area to help.

"It was just chaos," he said. "There were lots of casualties, there were a certain number of police, there was no evidence of any health service people."

Prof Ashton said he became aware of police taking people with apparently minor injuries out to be taken into an ambulance.

He said there "wasn't a systematic approach to casualty clearance" to allow priority to those who needed treatment first.

'Taken aback'

The doctor said he started to assess casualties to judge who should be prioritised, but said there was a lack of medical equipment at the ground.

Questioned by Christina Lambert QC, who asks questions on behalf of the coroner, Prof Ashton said he gave an interview to a radio station on the night of the disaster describing his experience.

Two days later, he said he received a phone call from a Dr Aldersdale, who was medical director of the Trent Regional Health Authority.

Prof Ashton said he was asked to refrain from criticising the emergency services.

He told the jury: "I was quite taken aback. I didn't respond.

"I have my own views on what happened. I saw what happened. I have told the truth about this matter throughout."


Who were the 96 victims?

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BBC News: Profiles of all those who died


Earlier, the jury heard Dr Ed Walker voluntarily went to Sheffield's Northern General Hospital after watching BBC coverage of the semi-final and recognising there would be casualties.

The then junior anaesthetist at Rotherham Hospital arrived at about 15:20 and treated nine patients in quick succession before the on-call senior consultant in charge was able to attend and set up a triage system.

The hearing was told the first two casualties he attended to were young boys who both needed resuscitation and later died.

The next morning, Dr Walker said he believed he saw a 15-year-old boy whom he had treated sitting up in intensive care.

Dr Walker told the jury that the youngster "probably would not have survived had I not been in the room at that time".

Others treated by Dr Walker were said to have survived.

He said: "Certainly for the first very brief intensive period that we were receiving casualties, I was the only person in the accident and emergency department who was able to intubate [clear airway and deliver oxygen] patients."

He confirmed he was unaware a major incident had been declared by the emergency services or the hospital when he arrived.

The hearings are due to resume on Friday.

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