Hillsborough Inquests: Fan says disaster 'must have been obvious' to police

The Hillsborough disaster Image copyright Hillsborough Inquests
Image caption Stephen Allen saw police "putting [fans] back in" a pen when they tried to escape

An off-duty police officer caught in the crush at Hillsborough told the inquests "it must have been obvious" to police that a disaster was unfolding.

Stephen Allen was "surprised" an exit gate was opened at the Leppings Lane end at 14:52 owing to a crush outside.

The Liverpool fan saw police "putting [fans] back in" a pen when they tried to escape and was sworn at by a senior officer when he tried to "move bodies".

He believes the 15:00 FA Cup semi-final kick-off should have been delayed.

Ninety-six fans died as a result of a crush at the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989.

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Mr Allen said he had entered pen three, where a crush occurred, via the tunnel at about 14:55.

Warrant card

He told the court that opening the exit gate to allow fans in was the "strangest thing" and appeared to be an "implicit invitation" to go down the tunnel.

As the disaster unfolded, Mr Allen shouted at pitch-side police officers "that people were dying in there - let people out. And they, for some reason, didn't respond".

"I then produced my warrant card and I thought if they realised that I was a policeman... then they would respond."

He said: "The thing that I find hard to reconcile and I struggle with is that it must have been obvious what was happening at the front of the pens."

Image copyright Other
Image caption The exit gate was opened 14:52 owing to a crush outside

Describing the conditions in the pens, he said: "Going to matches, you get used to being in crowds and the pressure, and sometimes the pressure can be quite intense but it would always be relieved.

"In this instance, you would go forward but not come back."

He said he noticed "half a dozen" fans trying to climb over the fence at the front of the pen and said police were "putting them back in again".

The court heard he gave first aid when the pressure eased off and started trying to lift people out.

"I was trying to clear some bodies."

'Individual responsibility'

Mr Allen said as he tried to get people through a gate in the front fencing, he was "pulled from behind" by Ch Supt John Nesbit.

The senior officer swore at him after he had explained he was an off-duty policeman who was "trying to help", the inquests' jury in Warrington heard.

Mr Allen served with the Metropolitan Police had worked at matches at Wembley, the jury was told.

He said there was a "collective breakdown" among the officers at Hillsborough and those at the front of the pens may also have "individual responsibility".

"I don't know why - you know, why couldn't they see? I don't know," he told the court.

After the disaster, Mr Allen said fans were "upset and distressed" at what happened.

"There were police who were carrying out CPR and undoubtedly doing their best, but there were also several officers who were milling around not doing a lot.

Image copyright Inquests handout
Image caption Stephen Allen said the "problem was a lack of turnstiles and fans couldn't get in"

"I think personally what added insult to injury is the fact that there were 20 or however many police strung across the half-way line."

He said he presumed those officers "thought there was some kind of crowd disorder going on".

"The time that it took for them to realise that it was not a crowd disorder situation seemed to take forever.

"I think that's probably why fans reacted in the way they did to the police and again, I can see it from both sides because I was a serving police officer and also a fan.

'Deflection of blame'

"But I think more could have been done by police to instigate the recovery."

He said: "For me, the thing is the match should have been stopped, it should have been delayed. I don't know why it wasn't delayed."

A statement Mr Allen made in December 2013 was also read to the court.

In it, he said the disaster "was not caused by the fans arriving late" and the "problem was a lack of turnstiles and fans couldn't get in".

"The deflection of blame onto those that died and supporters is what I find very difficult to deal with."

The inquests have also heard from two other fans.

Andrew Blair, who went to the match with his father, said the crowd outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles was "impetuous" and Clarence Ellis-Jones said there was a "mad scramble outside the gates".

The inquests continue.

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