30 FOR 30: SOCCER STORIES: HILLSBOROUGH (TV)

Summary

One in this series of sports documentaries presented by ESPN about important figures and events in athletic history. This program, part of a limited series focusing on soccer-related events, explores the story of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster and its aftermath. The story begins in England as several Sheffield residents, including members of the Jones family, describe their lifelong love of football and their excitement at attending the F.A. Cup semi-final match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on April 15, 1989. The South Yorkshire police were tasked with monitoring the event, with a full third of the force assigned to patrol the stadium and surrounding areas. Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield had recently been placed in charge of the force, replacing the much more experienced Brian Mole, who was transferred after a public scandal involving several cops' embarrassing prank on a colleague. Duckenfield's subordinates quickly realized that he was "not a football person" and was unaware of the necessary protocol for the popular event, and at the pre-match briefing, he spoke only about disciplining individual fans for offenses, not about crowd safety, sure that they were prepared for "every eventuality." Eight years earlier, however, several fans had been injured when the gates into the stadium were inadvisably opened, allowing too many spectators to crowd behind the goal. Despite this incident, no additional preparations had been made for safety.

Fans describe the "good-natured carnival" tone of the event as the crowds began to assemble at the stadium on the day of the match, but the atmosphere turned to "mayhem" as more and more people arrived and were not led into an orderly line. The game commentators, overlooking the field, observed that the areas behind the goals, considered the prime viewing spots, were overfilling, though the side areas were partially empty, owing to the "pens" that prevented any sideways movement with gates running perpendicular to the benches. As kickoff time approached, the police began to grow "frantic" at the sheer volume of fans and, on Duckenfield's orders, soon opened the internal gates and allowed the guests to stream inside. Tony Evans describes his momentary joy at entering the stadium and seeing the pitch, though Dan Davies explains that the crowd inside the pen began to tighten dangerously and people began to pass out as more fans surged in from behind. The referee halted the game after a mere six minutes of play, and Stephanie Jones recalls being hoisted onto the pitch itself as police reinforcements were finally called out onto the scene. The police realized that the fans were unable to simply move into the adjoining pens due to the six-foot spiked fences separating them, and John Taylor emotionally describes seeing "a sea of bodies" crushed against the front, including several dead bodies of those who had suffocated.

Brian Anderson explains that he found his father's body near a line of policemen who appeared to be doing nothing whatsoever to help, and police and fans alike began pulling people onto the field to perform CPR. Families at home began hearing the disturbing news on the television, and when football associate chief executive Graham Kelly arrived in the control box, Duckenfield claimed that drunken Liverpool fans had stormed the gates without tickets and caused the overcrowding, a lie that would quickly come to define the legacy of the disaster. Ambulances began to arrive outside, though the police continued to receive unclear orders and many fans joined in the effort to help the injured. Twelve were pronounced dead at the hospital, but many more were, bizarrely, taken to a "temporary mortuary" at a nearby gymnasium. Les Jones describes the "horrendous drive" to the stadium with his wife Doreen, both fearful for their children's lives, and the initial news reports stated that at least eighty had died. Coroner Stephan Popper arrived and, in another startling decision, opted to take the blood-alcohol level of all of the dead, including the children, furthering the story that the fans' own inebriated antics had caused the tragedy. The attendees' family members were shepherded to a nearby Boys' Club outside of the Hammerton Road Police Station and shown Polaroids of the dead, and Les and Doreen realized that their son Richard and his girlfriend Tracey Cox had both perished. Doreen was forbidden from holding her dead son and told that he was now "the property of the coroner," and Stephanie describes giving her statement and being aggressively questioned about her and the others' alcohol consumption prior to the match.

The death toll rose to 95, and Lord Chief Justice Peter Taylor launched an inquiry into the disaster. The police – and the press – continued blaming the "hooliganism" of the Liverpool fans, claiming that they also robbed the dead bodies and attacked the cops attempting to help the injured, which Evans angrily denounces as entirely false and illogical. Health and safety executive Graham Games discovered that the Liverpool fans had access to far fewer turnstiles to enter the stadium – approximately one turnstile per group of 1,500 fans – and not nearly enough time to safely enter before the match started. The police were heavily criticized in the official report, particularly Duckenfield, who "froze" in the face of disaster, though no criminal charges were brought as the months wore on. Popper continued focusing on the fans' alleged drunkenness, even publishing their BALs in the newspaper, and the families were devastated when all of the deaths, including that of the 96th victim, taken off of life support in 1993, were deemed "accidental."

Professor Phil Scraton, author of "Hillsborough: The Truth," then saw a TV interview with one of the policemen stating that his official report had been "sanitized," and he tracked the man down for an interview. The policeman gave him a copy of his own statement, which bore clear redactions and edits, proving that the police did indeed engineer a cover-up designed to smear the victims. The case was revisited in 1997 under the new Labour government, though the families were again defeated by "patronizing" Lord Justice Murray Stuart-Smith, who declared that there was not enough evidence of criminal wrongdoing to merit another thorough examination. Undeterred, Scraton visited the austere House of Commons Library and combed through the disorganized boxes of police statements, determining the clear process of the alterations, and added a new chapter to his book. The families joined together and launched a private prosecution of Duckenfield and another officer, Bernard Murray, but this resulted in a hung jury and an acquittal respectively, prompting many relatives to lose hope that justice would ever be served. Scraton comments on the far-reaching emotional and social consequences of the "institutional injustice" and the vilification of innocent victims, noting that several premature deaths and suicides have been linked to the disaster.

At the twentieth anniversary ceremony, angry spectators interrupted sports minister Andy Burnham's speech with a chant of "justice for the ninety-six," rejuvenating some survivors' hopes of progress. Scraton was invited to lead an independent review panel in 2010, and the families were finally validated when the officials found that not only were the fans not at fault for the disaster, but at least forty could have been saved with a speedier and more efficient medical response. Scraton describes his shock at learning that the victims' criminal records, as well as their blood-alcohol levels, had all been checked by police, further supporting the idea that they were determined to slander the dead. The altered police statements were released publicly, and Martin McLoughlin comments on his shock at seeing "his" two different statements, both of which bore his signature. The claims of "accidental death" were thrown out, and stadiums outlawed standing-room-only areas in an attempt to prevent future incidents of overcrowding. A new coroner's inquest was launched in 2014, and the case continues to evolve, with the families still hoping for true justice for the dead. Commercials deleted.

Details

  • NETWORK:
  • DATE: April 15, 2014 8:00 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 1:48:08
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: 114776
  • GENRE: Sports
  • SUBJECT HEADING: England
  • SERIES RUN: ESPN - TV series, 2014
  • COMMERCIALS:

CREDITS

    • Charlotte Moore … Executive Producer
    • Emma Willis … Executive Producer
    • John Battsek … Executive Producer
    • Andrew Ruhemann … Executive Producer
    • John Dahl … Executive Producer
    • Connor Schell … Executive Producer
    • Bill Simmons … Executive Producer
    • Jed Drake … Executive Producer
    • Erin Leyden … Senior Producer
    • Deirdre Fenton … Producer
    • Andrew Billman … Producer
    • Libby Geist … Producer
    • Dan Silver … Producer
    • Daniel Gordon … Producer, Director
    • Jenna Anthony … Associate Producer
    • Brian D'Ostilio … Associate Producer
    • Stephen Slater … Archive Producer
    • Lynn Roberts … Line Producer
    • Tim Atack … Music by
    • Stephanie Jones … Interviewee
    • Les Jones … Interviewee
    • Doreen Jones … Interviewee
    • John Taylor … Interviewee
    • Brian Anderson … Interviewee
    • Tony Evans … Interviewee
    • Graham Games … Interviewee
    • Phil Scraton … Interviewee
    • Martin McLoughlin … Interviewee
    • Andy Burnham
    • David Duckenfield
    • Tracey Cox
    • Richard Jones
    • Brian Mole
    • Bernard Murray
    • Stefan Popper
    • Jeremy Stuart-Smith
    • Peter Murray Taylor