‘I heaved and strained, my body wouldn’t move an inch. Those pressed tight around me were heavy, some were unconscious. I began to float away, taking in the final seconds of my life’
On Saturday 15 April 1989, eight of us set off from Nottingham for Sheffield under a beautiful blue sky. Liverpool were playing Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough, and our two cars – one carrying four Forest fans, one four Liverpool fans – made short work of the motorway. We had made a loose arrangement to meet up after the game (no mobiles back then), but when our driver parked the car a mile or so from Hillsborough, we realised we’d come in at the west end of the ground, behind the Leppings Lane stand – the Liverpool end.
I’d been a Liverpool fan since I was six years old. I went to my first cup final at 16, and had my first season ticket on the Kop before I’d left school. But in 1988-89, aged 19 and in my gap year, I couldn’t afford one. Two weeks before the semi-final, the phone went. My brother, a Forest season ticket holder, had a spare. “It’s for the Forest end, mate,” he said. “Come and educate yourself.”
Now, as we approached the stadium on Leppings Lane, we split up – I’d only met the other three lads for the first time that day – and I set off for the Forest end. The residential streets around the stadium were barricaded at each end, so I approached two policemen and asked how to get round the ground. “You don’t,” they said. I moved on to the next street, where a senior officer, wearing a flat hat, was talking to a constable. I asked again. “You a Liverpool fan? You’re not going up the Forest end. Forget it.” They turned away.
I hid any trace of my colours and gave it one last try. Fifty yards on stood another senior officer. He stopped me before I got within five yards of him. “I’ve just seen you,” he said. “You’ve already spoken to four of my men and I know what they’ve told you.” He pointed at the entrance to the Leppings Lane stand. “Now get to that turnstile right on the end. The fella there is letting in fans with Forest tickets.”
Strangely, I turned to walk away. That fella wasn’t going to let me in with a Forest ticket. But I hadn’t walked a few steps before the policeman shouted at me. I’ll never forget his words: “This is your last chance,” he said. It wasn’t an offer. Two minutes later, I was through the turnstile. As I made my way towards the tunnel that led to the terrace behind the goal, I didn’t dare look back. I couldn’t believe my luck.
It was 2.15pm when I walked into pen 3 on the Leppings Lane and took up a spot just to the right of Bruce Grobbelaar’s goal, about 10ft from the perimeter fence. I had travelled to matches alone since I was 15, and today, as always, I made for the liveliest spot, right among the choir and the comedians. For 10 minutes I stood in the sun, taking in the sight of a big old stadium slowly filling up on FA Cup semi-final day, leaning idly on one of the crash barriers that stood like staples on the terraces to limit a crowd surge.
By 2.30pm it was getting strangely uncomfortable. Looking around, I could see that fans older and clearly more seasoned than me were getting edgy. I shrugged two people off my back and pushed my way under the crush barrier, so that it was now behind me, and not on my chest. Ten minutes later, it would have been too late. By then, 20 minutes before kick-off, the crowd around me was wheezing and sweating and settling slowly, grudgingly, like cement. I had been in tight crowds before, but this was different. A silence was falling over the people around me. Some were hyperventilating, others were fainting. I was starting to panic now, but I was stuck. The pressure was tightening like a vice. My eyes began searching for police, or stewards, but no one was coming. Slowly, my legs, my backside, my arms and finally my chest went numb. One ear was folded in against my cheekbone by the head of a man to my right. I could move my head, my eyes and my mouth, and no more. My right foot seemed to move involuntarily, until I realised it wasn’t on the ground but planted on the calf of a man in front of me.
I had never felt anything like this before: not on the Kop, not at Wembley. And it was about to get worse. Behind me, Peter Carney, a 30-year-old fan from Liverpool, was one of hundreds of people now being swept into the packed central pens from the concourse. “We were walking through the tunnel at about 10 to three when, whoosh, this surge came and I was off my feet,” he remembers. “I actually entered the stadium with my back to the pitch.” Just as Peter thought he would be OK, a crush barrier went down. “I knew there was a gap in the crowd, which was odd – it was like: ‘What the fuck’s that?’ The people pressed against the barrier had fallen as it buckled, the people leaning on their backs fell on them, and a third row went down, too. There was a stack of bodies.”
That crush barrier was a few feet to my right, but I didn’t see it. Because the light was slowly closing around my head. By now I was gasping for breath, and worried that my neck wasn’t moving freely. Within feet of me people were standing dead, bolt upright. Three men had long stopped breathing and were now staring, with a fixed, almost disinterested expression, into the distance. Their faces were bleached white, but turning blue, their lips a cold violet. The only comfort I could find was that thousands of people who were still alive were now shouting for help, screaming, “There are people dead in here!” There were CCTV cameras trained on us. And there were police just a few feet in front of the fence who must have realised that metal crush barriers in our pen were bursting out of the ground.
Unbelievably, at 3pm, the match kicked off. I remember the roar of the crowd around the ground, and the stillness that followed in pen 3 as people gave up screaming for help to save the air in their lungs. By this time my lungs were burning and freezing with alternate breaths. I was paralysed from the neck down. Rival chants were bouncing the length of the ground, and I thought of my brother, watching from the opposite end of the stadium, where I should have been. Two police officers were sharing a joke, nervously, on the cinder track, 10ft away. No one was coming to help.
Behind me, Peter Carney was about to have a near-death experience. “Whenever I see a fish come up to the surface, that’s how I must’ve been,” he remembers. “My head was tilted back, gasping for air. Then I lost consciousness. The sky became white cloud, the white cloud became a tunnel shape, and I went down this tunnel. It was like looking down a pipe. It was never-ending. Then I’m looking back at the pens, me in the middle of a perfect circle of people, and heads, and I’m going down, and I’m looking at the top of my head.”
Eight feet or so in front of Peter, I was about to have my own moment of reckoning. I had been crushed on that terrace for over half an hour. I was exhausted, and stiff with shock. Incredibly, two people to my left had managed to climb above the crush, and were now crawling on all fours over the shoulders and heads of people around me, to the fence at the front. Unable to move, too exhausted now to shout, I wondered how they had managed to get out. And why it had been decided that I wouldn’t.
It was then that I caught the eye of a policeman just the other side of the fence. It was an unmistakable, meaningful moment: because for four or five seconds, across the heads of scores of people, we looked each other in the eye. I lost him when I mouthed the words, “Help us.” He smiled to himself and shook his head at me, and walked on, a little uncertainly.
At that point I thought: “We’ve been left to die.” Many people already had. People bigger than me, smaller than me, and smarter than me were gone. Now it was my turn. Fifty seconds, my brain was telling me: you’ve got 50 seconds left. I don’t know where the figure came from, but there wasn’t a moment of doubt in my mind: just a calm, orderly voice telling me to hurry up and take in the final minute of my life. As the seconds ticked down to 45, 40, 35, my lungs began to falter. I screwed up every ounce of strength left in my body – to lever myself into the air, climb on to someone’s shoulders, escape. But as I heaved and strained, my body wouldn’t move an inch. Those pressed tight around me were heavy, some were unconscious; others were gibbering, trying to black out what was happening.
I counted down to 20 seconds, and then at 15, or 14, I gave up. At 10 seconds, nine, eight, I floated away for a moment, briefly euphoric. Then I settled into my body, opened my mouth towards the sky and sucked what I could out of it. And then I closed my eyes. Five seconds later, they opened. The sky was still blue. And the police had finally opened the gate in the fence and were swearing at us. And I had survived.
The people on the Leppings Lane who didn’t survive were daughters, husbands, sisters, sons. The oldest victim was 67, the youngest a 10-year-old boy, the cousin of a then eight-year-old Steven Gerrard. Many of them died standing up, of traumatic asphyxia. Others, in their last moments, were borne across the pitch on advertising hoardings, towards ambulances that never came. Some of the dead had lost their footing in the crush and had been trampled. Others, unfortunate to be leaning against the crush barriers, were killed by a weight on their chest equivalent to a small car.
In his interim report, Lord Justice Taylor concluded that the main cause of the disaster was overcrowding, and that the main reason was “a failure of police control”. As the police neglected to manage the build-up of fans on the streets outside the Leppings Lane stand, the senior officer, Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, ordered a large concertina gate leading into the ground to be opened. More than 2,000 people moved through the gate and into the Leppings Lane terrace, straight for the two packed central pens behind the goal: no one thought to direct them to the two outer pens, which were lightly populated. Swept along a narrow tunnel by a growing swell from behind, the fans ploughed into pens 3 and 4, unaware that their fellow supporters were being ground into the barriers, the fence, and each other.
Lord Justice Taylor stated of the senior officers on duty 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”. To this day, no one has ever been successfully prosecuted for the deaths of 96 people at Hillsborough.
Written by Professor Phil Scraton, Hillsborough:
The Truth is recognised as the definitive analysis of the disaster, and all that followed. Commenting on the updated edition, Scraton says: “Twenty years on, many bereaved families and survivors are remarkably resilient. Yet beneath the surface lies unimaginable grief, compounded by an overwhelming sense of injustice. Brought together by an avoidable tragedy, they were treated appallingly on the day, then betrayed by a flawed investigation, inadequate inquests and a criminal justice system that protected the authorities. All police statements were reviewed and, in many cases, altered by a team of senior officers. Anger is understandably directed towards those responsible, those who made deceitful allegations against fans, and those who perpetuate the myth of hooliganism.”
That the very act of surviving a major tragedy changes people’s lives and personalities is obvious. But to what extent is not. Family and friends who knew me then and now will tell me I’m the same person. I think they’re right, a few psychological bumps and bruises aside.
After escaping through the gate in that fence, I carried two people across a football pitch to a gym that had become a mortuary. One was barely alive when, along with six or seven other fans, I picked him up off the grass and laid him on an advertising hoarding. By the time we had run the length of the left wing, he was dead. We went back for another: there was a row of bodies by the goal-line. Help yourself, the police seemed to be saying. We kicked another board over, but as it lay flat on the ground a policeman walked over and stood on it. “You can’t just vandalise the stadium,” he said. So we picked up this lad by his arms and legs. As we ran his big, heavy body along, bumping his head on the grass in the vain hope of reviving him, I gazed down at the little ring of blue marks now swelling round his belly, like a baby’s footprints.
We stopped in the corner of the pitch, at a bottleneck by the football club’s gym. People were waiting for orders, ambulances, oxygen. There were dozens of fans there, holding the injured and the dead – on boards, by the arms and legs, in their arms. I stood there looking up for my brother, wondering how he was dealing with this. As we entered the gymnasium, there were medics going to work on people; policemen and fans with their heads in their hands, priests administering the last rites. The man we were holding now was dead when we picked him up, but I found it hard to let go of his hand. Eventually his body, coated in a gelatinous sweat, slipped from my grasp and on to the shiny floor.
A few bumps and bruises? The truth is that I will never know if the person I am today, nearing middle age, was the man I was always likely to be – the result of my genes, my schooling, my childhood friendships – or whether I am the reconstructed remains of that traumatised teenager. This leaves me something of a mystery to myself – a problem common among survivors. Peter Carney has never discovered who saved his life in pen 3. “Between passing out and being found lying out the back, I can’t find any footage or witnesses to confirm what I think went on,” he says. “This has been part of my struggle for my sanity, to find the people who carried me out.”
It would take a psychologist to unlock parts of my mind that have been numb for 20 years, and some that I have surrendered. If in a sense I have come from Hillsborough, I am not prepared to go back. What I have long suspected is that, emotionally, the clock stopped at 19. Since holding death at arm’s length I’ve held the advancing years there, too. I was a mature teenager, but I haven’t grown up since at the same pace as my friends. I haven’t had kids. I won’t let my own youth go just yet. I will turn 40 next year, but to most people I seem to be around 30.
It wasn’t until many years later that I realised I’d suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. It lasted for four years. I cried a lot, and randomly. I felt cold and angry, and empty. I’d never felt like this before. At times I felt overjoyed to be alive. The next day, I might wake up feeling half-dead. I woke up one day on the kitchen floor, after blacking out. (Get up, make a cup of tea, don’t tell Mum and Dad.) I drank heavily, but socially, and verbally abused police officers in the street, and I spent two nights cooling off in a police cell, in the early 90s, for my troubles. (Still haven’t told Mum and Dad.)
Then, strangely, one day it was over. Since then, since my mid-20s, I have never begrudged Hillsborough its place in my life. If I had lost someone that day then I would feel differently. But it is such an integral part of my life, and I have to live with who I am.
Perhaps the most important thing Hillsborough taught me is honesty. There is so much about 15 April 1989 that is wrong, and false, and dishonest, that survivors cling to what they know to be true. Lord Justice Taylor described the Liverpool fans’ reaction at Hillsborough as “magnificent”. But to experience something so terrible, to be accused of thieving and pissing on police officers when you were in the process of trying to save lives, or comforting people in their final moments, is an insult so deep in the psyche that honesty becomes the key not just to remembering but to anything that really matters in life. And it’s honesty that allows me to look other survivors in the eye and know that we did what we could.
Some of this will be news to my friends and my family reading this. And to my girlfriend, too, who was my girlfriend that day. But then, there are many secrets to a disaster – not to surviving one, but to living with one. Today, 20 years on, thousands of people still bear the scars of Hillsborough – some more visibly than I do, others inevitably less so.
So what is it like to lose your son in a disaster watched by millions on television?What was it like to be the only ambulance attendant to reach the chaos of the Leppings Lane end? What was it like to be one of the players on the pitch? Few of the surviving victims of Hillsborough have been heard outside of a courtroom in Sheffield in 1990. Below, some of them tell us how that beautiful spring day changed their lives for ever.
The ambulance man: Tony Edwards
The only professional ambulance attendant to reach the Leppings Lane, Tony left the ambulance service in 1995 now lives on the Isle of Bute
We were at the Northern General when we got a 3-9 call to an incident. They told us there was a fatality, but when we got to the ground there were ambulances from everywhere, even Derbyshire. As we pulled up a policeman came to my window and said: “You can’t go on the pitch, they’re still fighting.” A senior ambulance officer came to the door, and it was him who put the horns on. We said: “The policeman says they’re fighting – we can’t go on.” And he said: “I don’t give a fuck who’s told you you can’t go on. You get on that pitch and you don’t stop until you get to the end.”
As we went along, the police were starting to form a wall across the pitch. We went through them and then saw people running towards us. As we got to the goal there was an absolute sea of people. I’ll never forget the sound … it was like a large swimming pool; there was screaming and shouting, it was deafening. People were banging on the side of the ambulance, shouting “Help!” and “Over here!” I didn’t have a clue what was going on. We’d been told there was one fatality, that was it. We had these walkie-talkie radios and we tried to see if there was anyone I could report to, but the radios were useless. I was being pulled in different directions, people were shouting for oxygen, all sorts of demands. And I thought: “I can’t help everybody.” I was looking back up the pitch for other ambulances, but nobody was coming.
There were two girls on the grass, getting CPR. I decided to take one into the ambulance, but when I got back there were three bodies on board: one on the stretcher, and two piled on top of each other on the floor. There was a woman got into the vehicle doing mouth-to-mouth on a guy in the bulkhead. There was a young girl’s body with a guy bent over her trying CPR, but he was blowing vomit into her chest. I got the girl on the stretcher and then I looked down … and it wasn’t the girl I’d wanted to take. This is the problem I’ve lived with ever since.
I asked again to be put in touch with ambulance control, but the radio wasn’t working. I went to get my oxygen mask and bag, but they were gone. I looked up the pitch again and no one was coming. And I said to the driver: “We’re gonna have to fuck off here,” and we asked a policeman to close the door.
We weren’t doing any good. You’re used to having one casualty in the back, but there were too many bodies to deal with. We just didn’t do a very good job that day. We left people on that pitch who were being worked on, and there were no professionals there to help them.
A few years later we attended an accident on the A1M. There are people alive today because of the treatment we gave them; we were just so good, as a team. But we were never given the chance at Hillsborough. There were 44 ambulances waiting outside the stadium – that means 80-odd staff could have been inside the ground. But they weren’t allowed in. There was no fighting! The survivors were deciding who was the priority, who we should deal with. The police weren’t. We weren’t. Can you imagine a rail accident where all the ambulances wait on the embankment while the survivors bring the casualties up? I took away the wrong people.
I was the only professional ambulance attendant to reach the Leppings Lane, but I was written out of the disaster. I was given a commendation (which I ripped up), and I represented the South Yorkshire ambulance service at the memorial service, but I wasn’t called to the Taylor inquiry. I didn’t exist. You look at the Taylor report – I didn’t exist. When I was interviewed by the West Midlands police I questioned the whole thing: why was I put in that position, you know? They didn’t want that aired in court.
I know I dealt with it wrong. I know that. But I should never have been put in that position.
The Taylor inquiry was told my ambulance never got on to the pitch: it would’ve contradicted evidence given in another case. But I was there, in the police CCTV videos. All these questions they would have had to ask me are key to the mismanagement of Hillsborough. If they had asked me, it would have been disastrous for the police and the ambulance services.
Afterwards I blamed myself so much. I still do. I still get angry with myself, for not stopping and taking a deep breath, for not changing the course of things. I couldn’t deal with it afterwards. I ran marathons, triathlons. I took it out on my partner at the time. I went on holiday to Dallas in 1992 and I came back and I realised I wasn’t in control. I split up with my partner. But who’s to say I wouldn’t have done that anyway?
In the summer of 1995 we got a call to a suicide in Rotherham. Nothing unusual in a suicide. But he had a T-shirt, jeans and trainers on. That’s what almost everyone was wearing at Hillsborough, in that makeshift mortuary. I just went to pieces: I was hyperventilating, I could hear the screaming again. And I left, I went off sick that day, and I never returned to the ambulance service. By October I was living here, on Bute. My partner joined me and we’ve been here ever since. I needed to get away, and this felt right straightaway. It was the turning point. People here know about Hillsborough, but they are very good – no one talks about it.
I’ve had two children since we’ve been here, and I have two from my first marriage. For the first nine years I ran a bicycle repair shop, but I’ve been a community recycling project manager since 2004. We’re a social enterprise; we employ people who’ve had difficulties. We’ve won awards, and people have come up from England to have a look at us. I’m very busy, and it’s a very positive part of my life. It’s very therapeutic here. Everything here is positive.
The ex-wife: Angela Woolfall
Her husband survived, but their marriage broke down as a result of the mental and physical injuries he had suffered Michael was 32 when he went to Hillsborough. He was a steward at Anfield and had got into pen 3 at around 2.15pm. He leant on a crush barrier to read his programme and before he realised, he found he was trapped. The crush became so bad he began to pass out. Two lads in front of the barrier had a bit more room, and they kept slapping his face to keep him conscious. But the pain was too much, and he couldn’t breathe. The next thing he knew he woke up in the Northern General in Sheffield.
The hospital phoned me at 6.30pm to say they had Michael. I said: “I had a feeling I was going to hear from you.” I just knew. I had been glued to the television, but my daughter, Sam, who was two at the time, kept saying: “I want to watch Thomas the Tank … Thomas the Tank, Mummy!” I was going out of my mind. My brother’s wife drove us over the Pennines. The thing I remember most was all these half-empty coaches coming back.
Michael had ended up hanging over this barrier. He severed the nerves in the top of his leg, which has left him partially disabled, and he suffered broken ribs – one of these fans had been hammering on his chest to revive him. He only found out what had happened three weeks later, when he went to the rearranged match at Old Trafford and bumped into these lads. One of them said: “Last time we saw you, you were dead!” They had been giving him the kiss of life when a policeman came over and said: “You’re wasting your time, lads, leave him there with … ” (there was a line of bodies, you know). These lads got the fright of their lives when they saw Michael on his crutches, but they were overjoyed because their efforts hadn’t been in vain.
Nine months later, there was a TV documentary about Hillsborough, and the camera zoomed down the tunnel and on to the terrace. Michael went into a trance, watching it; he relived it all, there on the sofa. He was saying: “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I’m going to die!” And he had stopped breathing. He was speaking, screaming, clutching his trousers … I witnessed what he’d been through, but when he came round he couldn’t remember.
It was about 18 months later that he learned his injuries were permanent. Michael had been a scaffolder, but although he gave it a good go he had to call it a day in 1990. He hated not being able to work, and I had to work full-time as a legal secretary. He’s not on crutches any more, but he says it’s like having toothache in the top of his legs.
We were assigned a family counsellor, and that helped, but Michael became a very selfish person. He began to go out a lot – he was out all the time – and he was drinking more than he had before. His excuse was that it was the only way he could sleep. He was frightened to go to sleep, and frightened that he might not wake up.
Everyone loved him; he was just an outgoing, good bloke. But he would never speak about the fact that he was left for dead. When he was having counselling I was sitting there thinking: “I’m suffering too, you know.” Because he was shutting me out – there was no way of helping him, and that upset me a lot.
Our second child, Ben, was born in 1991, which was a lovely surprise, but Michael just couldn’t snap out of it. I was thinking: “If Hillsborough hadn’t happened, I’d be really pissed off with you.” But it was like: “What will people think of me if things don’t work out? It will be my fault.” I was burnt out trying to support him, and it became one-way support. He just wanted to go into his own world.
The eldest knew by the time she was six or seven that Daddy had been through something terrible, and the kids began to dread Saturdays – match days. I began to sense things weren’t going to work out in about 1994 or 95, but it took me two years to pluck up the courage to end it. We went to the pub and I said: “This isn’t working any more.” He looked quite relieved, actually. We split up, and then divorced in 1998. He remarried in 1999 or 2000.
It’s only in the past 18 months I’ve started to feel like I’m my own person again. Sam is 22 now, and Ben’s 17. None of us blames Michael for what happened, and we’re all still friends. The most important thing is that he’s alive. But I lost my husband at Hillsborough, and that gets overlooked. I’ve found it hard to commit to a new relationship, but when you have kids you have to get on with things, and as a mother they come first.
The Liverpool player: Peter Beardsley
Peter was playing for Liverpool when the game was abandoned. He is now based in Newcastle, doing PR for Newcastle United and also working in the community Four minutes into the game I had a shot that hit the crossbar. Naturally, at the time I was disappointed. In hindsight, it was good that I didn’t score, because people outside the ground heard the roar when I hit the bar and tried even harder to get into the terraces. They were just excited; they didn’t know what was happening at the front. If I had scored, the fans would’ve been even more excited and more people could have been crushed. But as soon as I hit the bar I turned round, and from even way up the pitch I could see there was trouble behind the goal. There were people climbing over the fences. We didn’t have a clue what was going on.
A policeman ran on to the pitch and told the referee to take the teams off. We sat in the dressing room, waiting. Graham Kelly, the chief executive of the FA, came in and told us he would get the game back on as soon as possible. He came in every 15 minutes or so and said that. We didn’t have a clue that people were losing their lives outside. But the dressing rooms backed on to a car park, and we could hear the sirens. There were players in that dressing room who had been at Heysel, so they were fearing the worst. We were still sat in our kit at 4.30pm. We didn’t know what had happened until we left the dressing room and met our families.
I went to a funeral of one of the victims, in Burnley. The family were magnificent with me, but I found it really hard. I’d only been to one funeral before that, but this one was for a teenage boy. I can go to funerals now, of young children who I’ve met in hospital and who’ve died. And as sad as it is, I can cope with it now. But I couldn’t then. It was terrible. The likes of John Barnes, Alan Hansen and Kenny Dalglish were better men than I was. They went to so many funerals. Kenny and his wife Marina went to over half of the funerals. They went to three in one day on more than one occasion. From the moment the disaster began, right to the end, Kenny was unbelievable. Many of the players feel that the reason Kenny left the club in 1991 was because mentally he’d had enough. The whole Liverpool ethos changed when he left, in terms of the managers. It’s taken them a long time to get back in contention for the title.
We had a two-week break from football after the disaster. We went and visited survivors in hospital, here, there and everywhere. But I couldn’t wait to get back on the field and play: it took my mind off things. Barnesy couldn’t face it for a while.
We lost the league title decider to Arsenal a few weeks later. I wasn’t too bothered, to be honest. My wife Sandra had gone into labour and I went straight from the match to hospital. After what had happened at Hillsborough, people had lost children and I was just about to have one. Our son was born the next morning. Hillsborough made me realise how lucky I was.
I was a fan myself in the 70s and 80s, watching Newcastle at St James’s Park, and I’d been in some uncomfortable situations. It made me realise what the fans had to go through to follow the team. Meeting some of the families who lost their children that day made me realise that I was born lucky. No money in the world could buy the memories I have of playing for that team. I’m just so relieved I didn’t score that day.
The widow: Jenny
Her husband Ian committed suicide two years ago. He had never been the same since suffering post-traumatic stress disorder following his experience at Hillsborough I met Ian when I was 14 and he was 15, and we married five years later. At the time of Hillsborough, we had two children, both under eight. Ian was a psychiatric nurse at a high-security hospital and I’d just started a degree course in criminal justice.
He went to the match with a group of workmates: some had seat tickets, but Ian and his best friend Joe were in the Leppings Lane. They had been swept into one of the pens behind the goal by the surge. It was so strong it carried them two-thirds of the way down the pen. Ian was right in front of Joe and they were squashed together. He could always feel Joe’s hands on his shoulder, and he kept up a discussion with him, saying: “We’ll get out this way.” When he got out of the pen Ian was still talking to Joe, and he could swear Joe was talking back. But at the inquest Ian was told this was impossible, because Joe was dead before Ian even got out of the pen. He couldn’t get over the fact that their conversations hadn’t happened. Ian got out through a hole in the fence and he assumed Joe was with him. He wasn’t.
I didn’t hear from Ian until 9pm, when he called to say Joe was still missing. They’d been to the mortuary at the stadium several times, and there were Polaroids of the people they had there. But Joe’s face was so contorted Ian couldn’t recognise him in the photo. It was a logo on his shirt they noticed, then they went to check the body, and it was Joe. He was very tall, which put him at a disadvantage: his chest had been damaged by the heads of so many people around him.
Ian was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder just a few weeks after. He wasn’t seriously injured, but he was a wreck. He was a man’s man and he said he didn’t need help, so he went straight back to work. Two weeks later he came home from his night shift, went upstairs and smashed the bathroom up. He wasn’t an aggressive person, but he couldn’t handle the emotions.
Ian agreed to have counselling. Being a psychiatric nurse didn’t help him, because he didn’t want to be seen needing the support he was giving other people. He saw it as some kind of failure. He was prescribed Prozac, was on it for three months, and it helped. But he had a lot of nightmares. I thought he was through the worst, but Hillsborough was like a spectre. He never went to football after that: our son lost so much bonding time with his dad because he wouldn’t go to the game.
About two or three weeks before Ian died, there was all this stuff about Kelvin MacKenzie being on Newsnight, and Ian got really angry. I didn’t realise just how much it bothered him. His sleep was being disturbed, but he was also worrying about his business. He gave up nursing 10 years after Hillsborough and he set up a computer company. For seven or eight years it went well, then it started going downhill.
Ian died on the Tuesday. The weekend before, we’d gone up to the Lake District and had a lovely time; there was no hint of any anxiety. He said everything at work would be fine. On the Monday night he was a bit tetchy, a bit tired. In the morning I remember him getting up before the alarm and turning it off. I’d just rolled over to where he’d been sleeping, and I thought, “Ooh, I’m glad he’s not coming back to bed,” because where he’d been lying was lovely and warm.
Ian got up and had a shower and put his work clothes on. He did everything he’d normally do: he had a cup of tea, went into the garage and fed the rabbit. At about quarter to eight my daughter came up and asked me something and I said: “Oh, ask your dad,” and she said: “Dad’s gone,” and I said: “He hasn’t gone this early; he hasn’t even said goodbye.” She said: “He has. He’s not downstairs.” So I came down and his van was still on the path. I called his mobile and it rang in the living room. We went out into the kitchen and the garage door had the key in, so my daughter ran out to the garage. And Ian had hanged himself in there. She started screaming.
My daughter was barely a teenager. Luckily she didn’t see his face. Ian was on a small ladder; he was still standing on it. At first she thought he was standing on it to reach something, so she started to talk to him, but then she noticed that he had something round his neck. When I went in I saw his face.
Sometimes I feel angry, and I think: “Why didn’t you talk to me? I could’ve helped.” In the weeks after Ian’s death I felt that if my youngest hadn’t been there, I’d have taken an overdose. Sometimes I think he didn’t mean to do it; it was a cry for help. Then I just think: “He’d gone into the garage to feed the rabbit and thought: ‘I can’t go back, I’ve had enough,’ and he snapped. He’d seen a way out.”
Ian was never the same after Hillsborough. He was like a coiled spring. The least thing, he would get worked up. He was always on edge. He’s been gone two years now. We had his funeral in the church we got married in, and it was lovely, really comforting. But his death has made us all a lot more insecure. I do have faith, and I have to believe there’s an afterlife. There’s just nothing that’s worth taking your life for. Nothing will ever be the same again.
All names have been changed.
The mother: Anne Williams
Anne, who lives in Chester, has spent 18 years campaigning for a new inquest into the death of her son, Kevin, at Hillsborough I didn’t go out to take the system on. I just wanted to find out what happened to Kevin. But the jury at the inquest never heard the true story of how my son died. He would’ve been 16 in May 1989, and he’d been working really hard for his GCSEs. He was due to go to the match with his friend Andrew and Andrew’s dad. But the night before, Kevin told us Andrew’s dad had to work, so he couldn’t take them. Steve, Kevin’s stepdad, said: “Well, you can’t go.” Kevin went upstairs looking so sad. Steve said: “Poor little bugger, all he does is study. Shall we let him go?” And I said yes.
We never got a call to say Kevin was missing. There was a young lad up the road, Stuart, who’d gone to the match, too, and his mum had just heard that Stuart was dead when I called in on her. She was in floods of tears, but she said: “Don’t worry, Anne, Kevin will be OK.”
I phoned the hospital in Sheffield, and eventually I got through to the mortuary at the ground. And I said to this guy: “Can you look for a little boy with a horn of life around his neck?” He said: “You best stay where you are, the police are coming round.” I put the phone down and said to my mum: “I know why the police are coming.”
Kevin had been pulled out of the crush in pen 3, but he died not long afterwards. When we got to Sheffield we weren’t allowed to touch him. He was behind a pane of glass: “Property of the coroner”. When the coroner finally released his body I was really excited, it was like: “Kevin’s coming home!” He was in his little coffin, but he looked lovely. He was just Kevin.
At the inquest in March 1991, the coroner ruled that everyone who’d been killed at Hillsborough had died of traumatic asphyxia, and that they were all dead or brain dead by 3.15pm. This ruling was crucial, because it meant there could be no investigation into the actions of the South Yorkshire police after this time. Questions like why were over 40 ambulances not allowed into the ground, and why did the police not activate the major accident plan until 3.55pm couldn’t be examined because everyone was meant to be dead at 3.15pm. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.
But an off-duty policeman at the match, a Mr Bruder, gave a statement that he gave Kevin the kiss of life at 3.37pm, as he still had a pulse. There had also been a WPC at the game who said she’d held Kevin in her arms when he died, and that it was a few minutes before 4pm. She gave Kevin heart massage, and his ribs were moving. He started breathing, and he still had colour. He opened his eyes and murmured the word “Mum”. Then he died. How could Kevin have opened his eyes and called for me if he’d been brain dead for 40 minutes?
In 1991 Dr Iain West, a leading pathologist (he’d worked on the King’s Cross fire, the Brighton bombing and the Clapham rail crash), looked into Kevin’s case for me. The inquest had ruled that Mr Bruder had mistaken Kevin’s pulse for his dead body twitching. But Dr West told me that a body simply won’t twitch from 3.15 to 3.37, so at that point Mr Bruder must have been dealing with a live body. From the autopsy report and post-mortem photographs, Dr West concluded that Kevin hadn’t died of traumatic asphyxia, but of neck injuries, which closed down his airways. (Dr Carey, the pathologist who worked on the Soham murders, was of the same opinion.) Kevin, and others who died, could have been saved, he said. A tracheotomy (a quick incision into the windpipe), or even the insertion of a rubber tube down the throat, would’ve reopened Kevin’s airways. An ambulance attendant would have known how to perform a tracheotomy. But the police wouldn’t let the ambulances on to the pitch.
In 1997 Jack Straw appointed Lord Justice Stuart-Smith to review whether the Hillsborough inquest should be reopened. Both Mr Bruder and the WPC told Stuart-Smith that they had come under pressure to change their statements about finding Kevin alive after 3.15pm, but that they stood by them. Other witnesses said that statements and CCTV footage of the disaster had been suppressed. But Stuart-Smith ruled there was insufficient new evidence to reopen the inquiry.
Kevin’s case is now being heard in the European Court of Human Rights, under Article 2, the right to life. Kevin died in the hands of the state, and it’s his right to a thorough investigation into how he died. We’ve also gone under Article 6, the right to a fair trial. My solicitor has told me that if they rule in my favour, we’ll get that inquest. That would open 3.15pm till 4pm for everyone.
I’m really tired of it now. Sometimes I wake up and think: “No, I don’t want Hillsborough today.” I grow my flowers in memory of Kevin, marigolds and asters and lobelia. It’s helped me a lot. But if Europe doesn’t rule in my favour, I’ll carry on, because I know that the only answers I can get are in court.
• Thanks to the Hillsborough Justice Campaign