Liverpool

Hillsborough inquests: Officers 'shut pen gate twice in crush'

Hillsborough disaster Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption There was a "delay" in police realising the "gravity of the situation", says Terence Howells who was in pen 4

Police officers at Hillsborough tried to shut a gate that flew open under pressure from the crowd on the terraces, the inquests have heard.

The gate at the front of pen three opened twice before kick off, according to PC Peter Smith.

Mr Smith told colleagues to stop trying to shut the gate after realising fans were being crushed.

The jury also heard from a fan who said there was a "delay" in police realising the "gravity of the situation".

'Not in pain or distress'

Ninety-six Liverpool fans died following the crush at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final held at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground.

Mr Smith did not appear in person at the inquests because he is unwell. His evidence to previous inquiries was read to the jury.

He told the Lord Justice Taylor public inquiry in 1989 that when the teams came on to the pitch before kick off, a "cheer went up" and the crowd surged to the front of the centre pens.

"The surge certainly went back... At some stage the gate actually flew open of its own accord," he said.

He said that "there would be no other way for that gate to have been opened other than simply the pressure of the crowd".

He walked over to the gate in pen three and closed it.

Asked if he "could see people still pressing on that fence and that gate" when he closed it, Mr Smith replied: "Certainly not."

After another surge fans were "shouting and screaming", he added, but "not in pain or distress".

The gate opened a second time, the hearing was told.

Mr Smith and two colleagues then "held the gate partly to", though he said he did not think "it was ever shut again".

'In a state of shock'

He left his colleagues so he could get a better view inside the pens.

He saw the crowd had not "fallen back" up the terrace as usual and that fans were being "pressed up against the fence".

"I think some people were shouting 'open the gate, we are crushed', something like that," he said.

He thought there was "room at the back for people to have eased back again" and he shouted for people to "get back".

After getting no response from the crowd he shouted to his colleagues to "open the gates".

"I'm not sure what happened. Panic was setting in," he said.

He confirmed to Lord Justice Taylor that he had been "holding [the gate] and trying to close it".

He agreed that, when he told the officers to open the gate, he meant "stop trying to close it".

Mr Smith said "a few people" came out of the open gate but then "it just seemed to get blocked up".

Some of the fans were abusive to the police saying it was their fault, the jury heard.

As the disaster unfolded, Mr Smith agreed he was "considerably distressed" and "in a state of shock".

The court has previously heard how the police's orders said the gates in the perimeter fence should only be opened in a medical emergency.


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BBC News: Profiles of all those who died


'Out of control'

The jury also heard from Terence Howells, who survived being inside pen four.

In 1989 he had been a member of the fire service for 12 years and lived on the Wirral.

He said in a statement "police appeared to ignore the plight" of those in the pens.

Mr Howells told the jury: "There was definitely a delay - they didn't realise the gravity of the situation, what was happening.

'It was just one of those incidents which... went out of control very, very quickly."

But he said when individual police officers realised the seriousness of the situation they did their best to help.

The inquests in Warrington continue.

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