A police operation to deal with bereaved families in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster was ‘utter chaos’ and ‘a shambles’, according to a former archdeacon of Sheffield.
Stephen Lowe volunteered to help after seeing the situation at the Sheffield Wednesday ground develop on TV, and was told to open Hillsborough Boys’ Club as a meeting point for families involved.
The officer in charge was the now Metropolitan police commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, who was then an inspector in the South Yorkshire force.
Mr Lowe said: “There was no organisation, no information, no sense of the police working in partnership at the club where anxious families were kept waiting for news.”
He said one member of the clergy and one social worker were allocated to each family at the boys’ club, but Insp Hogan-Howe and his police officers kept themselves apart while providing no information about the many people missing.
“The inspector was not working as part of the team. There was no organisation – it was utter chaos, a shambles. The police were defensive, we could not get information. There was no sense of partnership or that they were there to help us do what was needed.”
The boys’ club was opened on the Saturday evening because Hammerton Road police station could not cope with the numbers of distraught people seeking news.
Mr Lowe said he did not know why communication was poor, but police radios may not have been working well.
“The families had to wait for hours at the boys’ club in very unsatisfactory circumstances, then those whose relatives had died were taken to the gymnasium at the football ground to identify the body. The screams I heard from the families that night will stay with me forever.
“The trauma of Hillsborough was not just the deaths, it was the aftermath as well. The boys’ club is an important part of what happened at Hillsborough,” he added.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission is looking at police’s treatment of relatives of the dead and injured.
A formal complaint has been lodged against Sir Bernard by the family of Adam Spearritt, one of the fans who died.
They have expressed concern that his name was mistakenly read out on a list of those who were “alive and well” to families waiting for news at Hillsborough Boys Club in Langsett Road, and about an absence of any statement of evidence from Sir Bernard to previous inquiries.