Professionalism/Hillsborough Disaster


The Hillsborough Disaster was a fatal human crushing accident that happened during the 1988-89 FA Cup Semi-final. Liverpool F.C. and Nottingham Forest F.C. entered the FA Cup semi-final after defeating Brentford F.C. and Manchester United F.C., respectively. As FA Cup rules specified that the semi-finals and finals were to be hosted in a neutral venue, the match was scheduled at 15:00 on April 15, 1989, at Hillsborough Stadium, the home venue of Sheffield Wednesday F.C. The fatal crushing started less than 10 minutes after kick-off as supporters of Liverpool flooded into pens no.3 and no.4 on the western side of the stadium. The accident resulted in 766 non-fatal injuries and 96 deaths[1], mostly from compressive asphyxia[2]. The accident marks the worst sporting disaster of the British history to date.[1]

Significance of FA CupEdit

A typical British football season of the 1980s consisted of three major events: The Football League First Division (present day Premiere League), The League Cup and the Football Association Cup (FA Cup). Of the three events, the FA Cup was the only one in which all 700+ member teams of the Football Association of Britain competed. Started in 1871, it is the oldest national football competition in the world.[3]

The AccidentEdit

Because the match was hosted in a neutral venue, different sections of the stadium were allocated for supporters of opposing teams. The west and north stands were reserved for Liverpool fans.[4] To enter the west and north stands, Liverpool fans first needed to pass the temporary perimeter gates near Leppings Lane. From there, they proceeded through the stadium entrance which consisted of a limited number of turnstiles.

Illustration of the Hillsborough Stadium and the Leppings Lane Entrance

At about 14:45, fifteen minutes before the scheduled kickoff, there were still an estimated number of 5000 Liverpool fans waiting outside the turnstiles near the Leppings Lane entrance. Two minutes later, in fear of possible fatalities occurring outside the stadium due to the large number of crowds, Superintendent Roget Marshall, the senior officer responsible for crowd control at the Leppings Lane entrance, radioed Superintendent David Duckenfield, the police officer in charge of the match in general, to ask for permission to open Gate C, an exit gate to the south side of the turnstiles. Central pens no.3 and no.4 directly behind the goal were already tightly packed.[5]

Superintendent Duckenfield gave his permission to open Gate C.[5] Hundreds of Liverpool fans entered through the gate and into pens no.3 and no.4 through the tunnel underneath the west stands. Since all the pens were separated from each other and the turf with metal fences, and those standing inside the two central pens could not disperse to neighboring pens or to the turf, victims were crushed by sheer force as of others trying to enter the central pens through the tunnel.

The matched was halted at 15:06 when Superintendent Roger Greenwood ran onto the field and notified the referee of the unfolding disaster.[4] Police officers and staffs around the fences tried to help victims climb out of the pens. A small gate on the fence was forced open by the crushing, and some victims escaped through it. Audience on the upper level stands managed to pull victims up away from the crowd below.

As police officers and medical staff were overwhelmed, fans helped those who were injured during the crushing. Only one ambulance managed to get into the pitch.[6] Of all the 96 victims who suffered fatal injuries, only 14 were transported to the hospital.[7]


Following the disaster, tensions rose over who to blame. The immediate response of both the police and the media was to entirely blame the Liverpool fans.[8][9] Several fan incidents prior to the Hillsborough disaster, such as the Heysel Stadium disaster, had built Liverpool fans an international reputation of rebelliousness. Thus, the fans' denials of responsibility were initially ineffective.[9]

Cover UpEdit

Poster in The Sun boycott campaign

A cover up campaign promptly ensued. Only three hours after the disaster, BBC Radio 4 reported that ticketless fans had kicked down the exit gate to gain entry to the stadium.[9] Despite the police order to open the exit gate, the police federation and its senior officers fed journalists the lie that the fans had caused the crush by forcing open the gate.[10] "It seemed as if all South Yorkshire Police officers were giving interviews left, right and centre."[9] In part because of Liverpool's fans' reputation, the SYP statements held substantially more credibility than the fans' accounts.

Within days, popular tabloids such as the Evening Standard, Sheffield Star, and The Sun published the police statements. Of these, The Sun gained the most notoriety. They published an article headlined "The Truth" which blamed only the fans. Bullet points on the article's front page accused fans of pick pocketing victims, urinating on the police, and beating up a police constable administering CPR. The article infuriated the public. Thousands of copies were stolen and burned, and a boycott of The Sun followed.[9]

To mitigate a conflict of interest, the West Midlands Police, under Chief Constable Geoffrey Dear, investigated the disaster. Still, a conflict of interest developed when the WMP allowed SYP's senior officers to take their own officers' witness statements. Outside convention, the senior officers instructed the police witnesses to write down on plain paper their recollections of the disaster. The senior officers then contaminated future litigation by altering these statements to exclude all criticisms of the senior officers' conduct before they were submitted as evidence to the WMP. Ray Powell, one of the police witnesses, reported: "I wasn't aware of what they'd taken out because you basically trust your prosecution services, or legal adviser, or whatever. I browsed through my statement. Nothing was added that I didn't disagree with, and I therefore signed the statement."[10]

The WMP knew that the statements had been altered. However, they did not know by how much they differed from the originals, nor did they ask. Like Powell, Chief Constable Dear felt it was natural to trust the professionalism of the senior officials at SYP. Dear cited a "tree of trust" between police officers; he felt he "could trust the force even if it hurt them to come forward with the truth".[10] As a result, at least 116 written police statements were changed. Only statements blaming the fans remained.[10]

Taylor Inquiry and ReportsEdit

In the days following the disaster, Parliament appointed Lord Peter Taylor, a judge on the Court of Appeal, to oversee an investigation into the causes of the disaster and make recommendations to ensure crowd safety at sporting events. Because of the urgency required for the protection of fans' safety, the investigation proceeded quickly and Taylor released the Interim Report of Inquiry on August 1, 1989, two weeks before the beginning of the next soccer season. The report found that a series of mistakes and failures led to the disaster. Among them was the poor design and layout of the Leppings Lane entrance and the west end terraces. Another was the lack of proper safety certification of the facility by the club and the local authorities. Taylor wrote: "The performance by the City Council of its duties in regard to the Safety Certificate was inefficient and dilatory. The failure to revise or amend the certificate over the period of three years preceding this disaster, despite important changes in the layout of the ground, was a serious breach of duty."[11] And finally, Taylor blamed the disaster on the lack of police leadership and control as the disaster unfolded (specifically the hastily-made decision to open Gate C without preparation or proper response to the situation created by that decision). In the report, he castigated the response of the senior police officers. Referring to Duckenfield, he said: "the likeliest explanation of [his] conduct is that he simply could not face the enormity of the decision to open the gates and all that flowed therefrom....He froze."[11] Regarding the police officers' testimony during the investigation, he said: "for the most part the quality of their evidence was in inverse proportion to their rank" and "the senior officers in command were defensive and evasive witnesses."[11] He concluded that "neither their handling of problems on the day nor their account of it in evidence showed the qualities of leadership to be expected of their rank" and "the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control."[11]

In the interim report, Taylor outlined 43 specific recommendations, 28 of which he said should be implemented before the start of the season. The primary purpose of these recommendations was to "reduce numbers on the terraces, to increase vigilance and to achieve a proper balance of crowd control between prevention of disorder and maintenance of safety."[11]

The final report, which Taylor released in January 1990, focused on the general state of the sport in England and long term solutions to prevent another Hillsborough disaster. In this report, he criticized the sport's leadership for allowing the stadiums and facilities to become outdated and fall into disrepair. He also criticized the rampant hooliganism and drunkenness which had become common among English soccer fans.

Hillsborough Stadium West Stand after its conversion to all-seating

In the final report Taylor suggested the removal or at least reduction in perimeter fencing, the formation of a committee on sports grounds construction, and stricter crackdowns on violence on the field and between fans. He also proposed to end the torturous procedures of segregation of fans of opposing teams, which had been implemented at most stadiums to discourage hooliganism. He reasoned that "segregation breeds an 'us and them' attitude" and "[hooliganism] may even have been intensified by the segregation."[12] However, the most significant change he suggested was the elimination of the pens and the conversion of stadiums to all-seating within 5 years for the top-tier league stadiums. He argued: "There is no panacea which will achieve total safety and cure all problems of behavior and crowd control. But I am satisfied that seating does more to achieve those objectives than any other single measure."[12] This recommendation was implemented throughout English soccer and is the most visible legacy of the Hillsborough disaster.

Hillsborough Independent PanelEdit

In 2009 Parliament formed the Hillsborough Independent Panel to oversee the release of documents related to the disaster and to produce a report to help clear up remaining controversies, and appointed Rt. Rev. James Jones to head the panel. On September 12, 2012, after several years of reviewing all of the evidence available, the panel released their report along with over 450,000 pages of documents related to the disaster.

The panel faulted the police for their preparation for the match and their decision-making leading up to and during the crisis. The panel found that "the collective policing mindset prioritised crowd control over crowd safety."[13] The panel also found that the SYP attempted to shift responsibility away from themselves. During the initial investigation, the coroner ordered that the victims' blood alcohol levels be measured and their criminal histories searched in an apparent effort to establish alcohol or criminality as a factor in the disaster. Also, the panel documented the editing of the officers' statements and confirmed that the senior SYP officials had "removed or altered comments unfavourable to SYP."[13]

A significant section of the report criticizes the previous investigations and legal proceedings for failing to investigate any actions by the police or the emergency respondents after 15:15 on the day of the disaster because they believed that all of injuries sustained by those who died happened before that time. The panel found evidence however that many of the victims were still alive after 15:15 and may have survived with prompter medical attention. And finally, the report faulted the initial media reporting (particularly The Sun's coverage) of the disaster for blaming Liverpool fans causing for the disaster. The panel pointed to this as the primary source for the widespread and persistent perception among the public that the Liverpool fans were to blame, in spite of the public evidence.

Professionalism LessonsEdit

Integrity is a professionalism requirement. The purpose of assigning the WMP to investigate the disaster was to prevent the conflict of interest of the SYP investigating themselves. The precaution was in vain. Trusting the professionalism of their suspects, the WMP allowed SYP's senior officials to take and alter witness statements. Had the WMP held integrity in their investigation, they would have treated the SYP officers as suspects, not peers, vetting them appropriately. Had the SYP officials held integrity, the witness statements would have been left intact.

A lapse in integrity can also have long-term effects on reputation. When The Sun published "The Truth," journalists failed to take into consideration the fans' perspective. Ironically, due to a lack of diligence in research, an article intended to expose truth perpetuated lies. Despite the tabloid publishing a second article in 2012 entitled "The Real Truth" which rescinded the lies in the original article, the boycott campaign has remained in effect.[14]

With professionalism must come confidence and expertise. A professional must have confidence in his expertise to respond to high-pressure situations with quickness, calmness, and correctness. David Duckenfield lacked these traits. When a professional's guidance was needed most, Duckenfield froze. Despite his position, "he simply could not face the enormity of the decision to open the gates."[11]


  1. a b "1989: Football fans crushed at Hillsborough". BBC. 15 April 1989. Retrieved 6 May 2017.
  2. "How and when all 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster died". ITV. 26 April 2016. Retrieved 6 May 2017
  3. "The first FA Cup final: A shilling to get in, no nets and seven up front". BBC. 28 May 2015. Retrieved 6 May 2017
  4. a b "How the Hillsborough disaster unfolded". BBC. 26 April 2016. Retrieved May 6 2016
  5. a b "The opening of Gate C". Hillsborough Independent Panel. Retrieved 6 May 2017.
  6. "Ambulanceman: 'There were a lot of demands'". BBC. 15 April 2009. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  7. "How the Hillsborough disaster happened". BBC. 14 April 2009. Retrieved 6 May 2017.
  8. "The Immediate Aftermath – The Police Response – Hillsborough Football Disaster". Retrieved 3 May 2017. 
  9. a b c d e "The Immediate Aftermath – The Media Reaction – Hillsborough Football Disaster". Retrieved 3 May 2017. 
  10. a b c d "BBC Panorama 2013: Hillsborough Disaster. How They Buried the Truth.". 
  11. a b c d e f Taylor, The Rt Hon Lord Justice. (1989). The Hillsborough Stadium Disaster Interim Report (presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for the Home Department). London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office. [1]
  12. a b Taylor, The Rt Hon Lord Justice. (1990). The Hillsborough Stadium Disaster Final Report (presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for the Home Department). London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office. [2]
  13. a b Hillsborough Independent Panel. (2012). The Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office. [3]
  14. "Don't Buy The Sun". Anfield Road. Retrieved 9 May 2017.