England

Hillsborough stories: Christopher Barry Devonside

  • 26 April 2014
  • From the section England
Christopher Devonside Image copyright Hillsborough Inquests

Christopher Devonside was a student from Formby, Merseyside who drove to the match with his father, Barry Devonside, and some friends, who all survived.

This is the full statement to the inquests from his mother, Jacqueline Devonside, read by his father, Barry Devonside:

Today I will read this statement of Jacqueline Devonside, and she will say as follows:

Christopher Barry Devonside was born on 1 April 1971. For several years he was the only child in the family, so he received a great deal of attention from the adults around him and was given a lot of their time.

As he grew into a toddler, he was always cheerful and content. With his white-blonde curls, he always looked angelic.

As a young boy, Chris was comfortable in the company of adults. He developed a strong sense of humour and he loved to make people laugh.

Around the age of four, he delighted us when he began to make his own jokes.

His earliest attempts didn't always make much sense, but he would fall about laughing at himself, which made everybody else laugh.

'Playing conkers'

He also had a great deal to say for himself. Christopher's nan used to look after him when I was out at work, and she complained that he never stopped talking. She didn't really mind, though, because he was the light of her life.

He got on well with his granddad. The two of them used to disappear off on long walks together, like great conspirators.

His granddad believed we were too protective of him, and together they used to do 'boy things', such things like playing conkers and climbing trees. They even made cardboard leg pads for cricket practice.

Chris quickly grew in confidence and was ready to stand up for himself. When he was about five years of age, he was upset when his dad would not let him watch something unsuitable on TV. Chris's response was: "One day, when you're old and I'm 12, I'll be able to watch whatever I like".

Around the same time, he arrived home with a stray cat in tow. He said: "Look, Mum, it likes me. Can I keep it?" He never got to keep the cat, but he got two pet mice instead and he called them Asterix and Obelix after his favourite cartoon characters.

'Aptitude for sports'

Chris's sense of humour grew along with his quiet sense of mischief. Around the age of seven, he impressed everyone in the supermarket by mimicking perfectly the sound of a knife cutting open a cardboard box.

A little later he got the chance to experiment with a video camera and he took to this like a duck to water. We still have the video taken by Chris at his nan's house.

The whole family was there and his nan was making Sunday lunch. Chris does not appear on the film of course, but we can hear his non-stop commentary as he moves from one family member to the next, revealing their individual foibles and poking gentle but insightful fun.

At primary school Chris was academically able and used to get really good school reports that made us very proud. He responded well to the male teachers who taught sports and he soon showed an aptitude for sports of all kinds.

He was cricket captain for his junior school and he played in both the athletics and football teams. He represented his school and he represented Ellesmere Port Town in all three sports.

We have a letter from Mr Holden, his primary school teacher, who said: "Even after all these years, I still have fond memories of Chris as a model pupil and an all-round sportsman."

"Looking back over my teaching career so far, lasting 35 years, there have been no better all-rounders than Chris and Rob Jones [the same Rob Jones who went on to play for Liverpool and England]. The success in sport achieved while they were in their last year of primary school has never been bettered."

'Protected friend'

Chris was becoming a very popular, self-effacing young man. His teachers and the parents of his friends all confirm this. Chris was brought up to have respect for himself, to have respect for his family and to have respect for his friends, and he had the strength of character that made him able to go against the crowd.

He had a friend called Gillian, who was a little dot of a girl. On the last day at junior school, Gillian's mother came over to tell us how grateful she was to Chris because her daughter had been bullied at school until Chris had taken her under his wing. He used to look after her and protected her from the bullies. We had no knowledge of this.

Chris was protective towards his sister, Vicki. She was seven years younger than him, and his pet name for her was 'Stig'. It was some years later before we learned he had named her after the book 'Stig of the Dump'. If she was Stig, though, he was Barney, and just like in the book, Stig and Barney had a very special relationship.

Chris enjoyed travel and we had lots of lovely family holidays. Almost always there were new sports to get involved in.

In Sorrento, he never left the swimming pool; in Newquay, he learned how to surf. We bought him a surfboard and he surfed all day long.

At night he slept so well that one night he fell out of bed on the top bunk. We heard the thump on the caravan floor and ran to see what had happened. When we got there, though, he was curled up on the floor still fast asleep.

In Nant Gwynant, he went canoeing and, in Portugal, he played golf at Vilamoura and afterwards went to a barbecue. Chris loved every moment of it.

On another occasion when Chris was playing golf, he hit a really bad shot and threw his club down in disgust (he had seen this happen during the previous year's British Open Championship).

His dad told him off and said that was no way to behave. Chris pulled himself together on the next hole and drove just short of 300 yards from the tee to the green. Unfortunately, he three putted and only ended up with a par.

As a result of dad's promotions, Chris moved from high school in Ellesmere Port to another school in Greasby and then on to Range High School in Formby.

'Well groomed'

Moving schools in this way can be a hindrance to a young person, but Chris seemed to take it in his stride. He was capable and prepared to work hard, so he always managed to keep up with his school work.

He also always managed to fit in with his new school environments. He never had any difficulty getting on with either the pupils or the teachers. His relaxed attitude and ability to talk to adults made him very popular.

At high school, Chris played any sport he could, including volleyball, basketball, table tennis and badminton. His teacher wanted us to find him a volleyball team to play in because he felt Chris should not drop it, but, unfortunately, there were no teams in our area. Instead, he represented his school in rugby.

Chris was 16 when we moved to Formby. We can still remember him going out with his friends. Chris was always very well groomed, clean and fresh and his friends were just the same. Endearingly, they all seemed to wear the same clothes: light blue denim shirts, light blue denim jeans and white trainers.

Among them were Jason Kenworthy, James Thomas, more commonly and affectionately known as 'Hairy', Billy Hutt, Tim Knowles and Anthony Owens, Gary Church and Simon Bell. There were 10 of them in all and, of the 10, three were killed at Hillsborough.

'Quietly ambitious'

By the time he was 16, Chris was taller than me. He used to walk past me and pat me on the head and say: "Hello, little mum. I used to think you were big". I loved him too much to tell him off. He loved me too.

When Chris had money, he would buy me presents. He had several summer holiday jobs, washing dishes in a local restaurant and working in a garage.

With his first ever week's wages, he bought me a set of patio furniture so the family could sit out in the garden in the warm weather. The quality of the patio set wasn't great and sadly it rotted away long before we could bear to throw it out.

On occasions, his sense of mischief did get the better of him. One time Chris and his friends went out for a meal at a Chinese restaurant. As they left home, their behaviour was very 'grown up', but to our great remorse, after they finished the meal, they unscrewed the table legs and were summarily evicted from the restaurant.

At Hugh Baird College, Chris studied history, politics and economics at A-level. He was quietly ambitious and wanted to go to university. He was expected to get good results and would have liked to become a journalist.

He was interested in current affairs and was able to argue articulately his views on a range of social issues. He was never afraid to say what he thought, but always in a pleasant way and was never offensive.

Media captionBarry Devonside read a tribute to his son Christopher written by his wife Jacqueline

Chris was interested in the game of football. He had a season ticket with Liverpool but in no way was he a fanatic. He went to some away games with his dad, including the Arsenal v Liverpool Charity Shield match at Wembley and then, after the match, we went to go to see the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and Downing Street.

As Chris got older, he became interested in the wider social and political issues surrounding the game of football. He believed that the condition of those football grounds he had visited was unacceptably poor and argued passionately that the circumstances surrounding the Heysel Stadium disaster warranted greater transparency and honesty on the part of officialdom.

Chris's taste in art was avant garde. He was very taken with graffiti art and we bought him books on the subject, unsure of whether we should be encouraging this particular interest. Fortunately, his curiosity extended only to reading about it and looking at the pictures created by New York artists of the early 80s.

'Dreams of travel'

His taste in music was also contemporary: he liked The Police.

Chris passed his driving test in March 1989 and would wait for his dad to come home from work so he could go out in the car. He loved the freedom driving gave him and he also talked about taking a year out before university to go travelling.

He would never have been able to afford it, but that was one of his dreams for the future.

Tim Knowles was a friend of Chris's and he wanted to share the following:

"I remember Chris as a friendly, thoughtful and laid-back lad. Although we were in the same year at school, we didn't share many classes, so most of my recollections of him involve going to the football.

"Liverpool supporters of our generation were a lucky lot, having known little apart from constant success. Inevitably, many fans, particularly the younger ones, were spoilt by this, developing a sense of entitlement.

"The occasional bad results of players were greeted by a disproportionate amount of moaning and scapegoating of the players. I was no exception to this, but Chris was. Walks back to the station after a defeat invariably involved Chris defending the players against his mates' irrational attacks.

'Strength of character'

"'Whelan's useless', someone would cry. 'No, he's not, stop moaning, we're top of the league"' Chris would reply. Of course, he was right.

"This showed a maturity beyond his years, a realisation that the good times should be savoured as they wouldn't last forever. An understanding not just of football, but of life.

"It also showed strength of character, at that age, to go against the consensus of your friends' opinions, however immature or poorly reasoned.

"Chris was a lad who took things in his stride. I recall a day in the new year of 1988 when Chris, Simon Bell and myself set off for an away game at Derby County.

"Boarding the coach at Anfield, the driver told us that there was heavy rain in the Midlands, the game was in doubt and we would wait for a pitch inspection before setting off. A day we had been looking forward to was about to be nipped in the bud.

"I was frustrated but Chris made light of things and started cracking jokes. His good humour was contagious. We waited for an hour on the coach before the news came that the match had been cancelled because of a waterlogged pitch.

"By now the three of us were laughing - chucking banter about with excitement only the young, for whom a day away from parents was still a novelty, can manage. A postponed match was hardly the end of the world. I think that is my overriding memory of Chris.

'Wonderful person'

"He had a sense of perspective and proportion - an insight - that is very rare in a teenager. I am fortunate to have been Chris's friend and I appreciate this opportunity to pay him a small tribute all these years later."

As a son, Chris never gave us any problems whatsoever. He was full of life, laid back, relaxed and pleasant to be with. He was a wonderful person to be around.

Our son went to a football game on a sunny Saturday in England and never came home. His life was ended abruptly, prematurely and unnecessarily because of the failures of others preventing Chris from fulfilling his dreams of travel and university.

We only have this statement to do justice to the person that Chris was and the life he had enjoyed so very much.

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