Hillsborough Inquests: Mortuary 'like scene from hell'

Hillsborough stadium Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The gymnasium was commandeered for use as a first aid centre and mortuary during the disaster

A makeshift mortuary set up as the Hillsborough disaster unfolded was a "scene of utter chaos", a former police inspector has told the inquests.

John Charles said the facility, in a gymnasium, was like Dante's Inferno, a poem depicting a journey through hell.

He described seeing "fighting and arguing" over casualties and people "dumping bodies and running out again".

He also spoke about a "police action note" which he agreed was a direction "to sanitise" accounts of the day.

The court heard the note addressed to Supt Norman Bettison, who was gathering evidence about what had happened at Hillsborough, recalled how South Yorkshire Police's lawyers Hammond Suddards "required rebuttal evidence" in 1990.

The gym was commandeered as a first aid centre and mortuary after a crush on the Leppings Lane terraces fatally injured 96 fans, during the FA Cup semi-final in Sheffield between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989.

Mr Charles said he went to the room twice, once briefly and then for a second longer time.

He said when he first arrived, there "seemed to be dozens of people in there".

"As you came through the door, it was just bodies, then in the cricket nets, you had casualties," he said.

'Bit of panic'

At the far end of the room, he said he also saw programme sellers handing over unsold magazines and money to Sheffield Wednesday officials, which he said he was "incredulous" about.

Mr Charles said after going outside to try and contact his officers and help clear a ramp leading into the ground, he went back into the gym, which was "like something from Dante's Inferno".

"It seemed to be utter chaos. It just seemed to be uncontrolled. It was not somewhere that you wanted to be."

While looking for a way out of the gym, he said Det Supt Graham McKay ordered him to deal with the situation.

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On being given that order, Mr Charles said he "stood a bit nonplussed for a few seconds".

"There was a bit of panic on my part because I thought 'How am I going to sort this out?'," he said.

"I think... discipline and training then took over."

The court heard he "got rid" of people who should not have been there and were not dealing with casualties "to get some calm and some order to the situation".

'No disrespect'

He said he then ordered officers to sort the dead into rows, give them numbers and take Polaroid photographs of their faces to use for identification.

He also allocated each body an officer to ensure "continuity", he said.

The jury was told the officers were fed a meal of chicken and chips in the gym on his orders, which Mr Charles said "wasn't out of disrespect" but was done to keep that "continuity", as he "didn't want officers wandering off outside and not coming back".

Mr Charles was also questioned about his written accounts of the gymnasium, which he described in his first handwritten report as "unbelievable chaos" and "utter chaos".

The court heard that in his formal typed statement though, the scene was described as "somewhat chaotic".

Mr Charles said somebody had "paraphrased" his statement when it was written up.

Asked if he thought the typed version had a "pretty significant difference in emphasis", he said he could "only agree".

He said he had never considered why the accounts were different, but it may have been to "play down the chaotic situation".

He was also asked about the note to Supt Bettison, which said a nurse who was a spectator at the match had made a statement about the conditions in the mortuary and added that "rebuttal evidence [was] required".

The note, dated 5 June 1990, asked for new statements from officers in the gym and those in charge.

Pete Weatherby QC, who represents 22 of the victims' families, said it amounted to a "direction to fit up evidence".

"I would say it's a direction to sanitise, remove stuff that people didn't want to come out," Mr Charles said.

He added that he stood by his first account, which said the gym was a scene of "unbelievable chaos".

The inquests in Warrington continue.

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