SHEFFIELD – as well as Liverpool – wants to see all information about the Hillsborough disaster come out in the open, MP Clive Betts told the Commons this week.
In an emotional speech in which he recounted how he cried as the events unfolded in front of him 22 years ago, Mr Betts, who was the leader of Sheffield City Council at the time, spoke of the need to end any suspicions of “cover-ups”.
He said: “This was a tragedy, of course, above all else for the people who died, for their families, for the people who were injured, for Liverpool as a football club and for Liverpool as a city, but it was also a tragedy for Sheffield and Sheffield Wednesday as well.
“We went a few days later outside the ground to see the scarves, the flowers and the messages from football fans all over the country. This was a tragedy for football and football fans, and it could have happened to any club and many grounds up and down the country, but it happened there on that day. Therefore, although the tragedy is with Liverpool, there is also a desire in Sheffield to have all this information come out in the open.”
Then people can really believe “that the cover-ups are at an end and they can reach their own decisions”.
Mr Betts pointed to “real concerns” about the coroner’s inquiry and the “artificial” 3.15pm cut-off point. “In my view, that should never have happened. I hope that this might let some light fall on that.”
A debate on Monday, prompted by an e-petition signed by 140,000 supporters, led to a promise that all documents relating to the disaster, in which 96 Liverpool fans died at the FA Cup semi-final with Nottingham Forest on April 15, 1989 will be released.
Mr Betts, MP for Sheffield South East and a Sheffield Wednesday supporter, described how he was in the directors’ box at the match. “I remember when things started to happen that, initially, there was a feeling that there might be a bit of disturbance in the crowd. We could see people start some movement. People were trying to clamber over the fences.
“Eventually, it became apparent that something more serious had happened—an accident of some kind. The thought was that people had been crushed and perhaps fainted.
“It took an awful long time for even people sitting there watching the events to realise the horror of what had actually happened.
“Initially, we were told that 60-odd people had died. Then it became more, of course, as the events unfolded. I remember simply going back to the directors’ box, being kept abreast of events and just simply sitting with the directors and one or two friends who were there and crying. What else could we do?
“This was in our city, in my football ground: 96 people had died before our eyes. What else could we do?
“Next morning, I went back to the ground, after the Prime Minister had been there, with representatives of the three councils – Liverpool, Nottingham and Sheffield – and the clubs to look at the scene where things had happened, and people simply stood and cried again.”
Mr Betts, who was also a member of the police authority at the time, said he had gone around Hillsborough with a senior police officer the previous year to look at the arrangements for a semi-final.
“My understanding is that they were somewhat different on the day of the disaster than they had been in the previous year.”
Penistone and Stocksbridge MP Angela Smith, a season ticket holder at Hillsborough, said every time she walks through the Leppings Lane entrance, it is “impossible not to think of what happened there that fateful day”.
Although she was not at the semi-final, she said that Hillsborough was seen at the time as one of the best and biggest stadiums in the country. “In nature, the stadium was typical of many major English football grounds at the time, and indeed its layout was similar to that of Aston Villa’s Villa Park and Manchester United’s Old Trafford.
“My point is that, given that the stadium was one of those with the highest standards in the country, it is absolutely unbelievable that Sheffield Wednesday did not have a safety certificate for it. That alone tells us a great deal about the standards in football at the time, and we should never forget that.”
Ms Smith said the coroner, Dr Stefan Popper, decided to limit the main inquest to events up until 3.15pm on the day of the disaster, “his rationale being that all the victims were dead by that time.
“This decision has, quite rightly, angered the families of the victims, many of whom felt that this meant the inquest was not able to consider the response of the police and the other emergency services after that time.”