Hillsborough is a new two-hour documentary that’s been put together about the tragedy that took place at the Sheffield Wednesday football ground on April 15th, 1989, for the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
As the timeline on the day is followed, you’re literally watching the horrific events play out almost in real time, but with the knowledge of what was to follow including people trapped at the front of the pens who had been crushed to death.
As you’d expect, there are contributions from all the family members who lots loved ones on that day, plus input from journalists, members of South Yorkshire Police and Professor Phil Scraton, author of “Hillsborough: The Truth”.
Warnings from the semi-final, eight years earlier, showed when a number of fans had to be allowed to sit on the side of the pitch because it wasn’t safe where the fans could normally go when entering via the Leppings Lane Terraces. The subsequent introduction of pens in 1985 meant that, as it got busier and busier, the fans stood behind the goal weren’t able to spread out to the sides because they just couldn’t get there, and the harrowing footage shows just how badly the fans were packed tight and it makes you weep that such a thing could be allowed to happen.
The police not closing off areas that were full, when more fans were allowed in, thus compounded the problem. Meanwhile, there were areas left comparatively free of fans, which could all be seen from where Chief Superintendent David Dukinfield was sat in the control box, so how could he get it so wrong? Blame is laid at the fact that he didn’t know a great deal about football and what to do in the case of an event like this. Well, I know very little about football, but you can tell when a situation needs urgently resolving, and if I was in his shoes, I would be taking advice from those who DO know about the game.
The match was abandoned after six minutes, the pens were opened and while some got out that way, others were actually crushed to death at that point, as they were trapped at the front of the pens. One person comments in the documentary: “It’s like looking at fish in a trawler net…. I couldn’t see a whole person”.
The police lied about the Liverpool fans being to blame, stating the exit gate was broken by them, allowing all the fans to come in, and adding more lies about them being drunk and violent, when the exit gate was opened upon Dukinfield’s instruction. There was also no emergency action plan for a situation like this, followed by police hierachy cover-ups, telling cops not to enter any details about this in their pocket book because “it would all be covered in the disaster log”. Police statements had been reviewed and altered by those higher up.
Lies also came from Bernard Ingham, Margaret Thatcher’s press secretary. They both attended the ground the following day, and he wrote that it was all the fault of a “tanked-up mob”. Further lies came in The Sun’s “The Truth” article, where they said cops had been punched, kicked and urinated upon by the fans.
Coroner Stefan Popper also picked a rather arbitrary time of 3.15pm as a cut-off for disregarding evidence from anyone who died after that time, as well as taking the unprecedented step to take blood alcohol levels of everyone who’d died, including the children.
More recently, thanks to the work of the Hillsborough Indepenedent Panel getting to the truth of what happened, this led to a two-year inquest, the conclusion result being released on April 26th, this year, that the fans were “unlawfully killed”. Finally, after 27 years, there was justice for the 96.
Overall, there’s so much about this that makes it a monumentally-intense programme to watch, yet it’s essential viewing.
Hillsborough is broadcast tonight at 9pm on BBC2, after which it will be available on the BBC iPlayer, up until June 7th, and click on the top-right image for the full-size version.
Overall: Essential viewing
Producer/Director: Daniel Gordon
Original music: Tim Atack
Editor: Andy R Worboys
Executive Producer: John Battsek
Director of photography: Nick Bennett