Hillsborough: Timeline of the 1989 stadium disaster

  • Published
Hillsborough disasterImage source, Hillsborough Inquests
Image caption,
Hillsborough remains the worst disaster in British sporting history

On a sunny spring afternoon in 1989, a crush developed at the Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield resulting in the deaths of 97 Liverpool fans attending the club's FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.

It remains the UK's worst sporting disaster. Since then, many families and survivors have led a 30-year campaign to discover how and why they died. Here are some of the key events.

  • 15 April 1989: Fans gather at Sheffield Wednesday's football ground amid a "carnival atmosphere". The mood is described as "boisterous" but jovial. As kick-off approaches, a large crowd builds up outside the Leppings Lane turnstiles. Following an urgent request to relieve the pressure, match commander Ch Supt David Duckenfield gives the order to open an exit gate. Two thousand Liverpool fans enter via a tunnel on to already-packed terraces. A severe crush develops in the central pens and people are pulled out in a "human cascade". Ninety-six men, women and children lose their lives with hundreds more injured. The oldest victim was 67, the youngest just 10 years old.
  • April 1989: As the disaster unfolds, Ch Supt Duckenfield tells key people that a gate was "forced" by Liverpool fans, a claim reinforced in briefings to media sources. The lie goes around the world, in TV and radio news bulletins. Newspapers take up the story pointing the finger at "drunk and ticketless" supporters. The Sun prints its now infamous front page alleging Liverpool fans had "urinated on police officers" and "picked the pockets of the dead".
Image source, Hillsborough Inquests
Image caption,
The tunnel leading to pens 3 and 4 was directly opposite the turnstiles
  • January 1990: A judicial inquiry is held into the tragedy. Lord Justice Taylor's report concludes the failure to close off the tunnel was "a blunder of the first magnitude" and match commander David Duckenfield "failed to take effective control". His final report recommends a move to all-seater stadia, which leads to a ban on standing at football matches, eventually imposed on all clubs in the top two divisions in 1994.
  • August 1990: The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) rules out bringing criminal charges against Sheffield Wednesday FC, Sheffield City Council and stadium safety engineers Eastwoods. It is a blow for the families who had hoped someone would be held accountable.
  • March 1991: The original inquests into the deaths prove hugely controversial. Coroner Dr Stefan Popper rules out any evidence relating to fans' deaths beyond 3.15pm because, by this time, he said "the damage was done". This is "strongly disputed" by bereaved families.
  • November 1991: David Duckenfield is medically retired from South Yorkshire Police on full pension, two years after being suspended from duty. A police doctor diagnoses him with "severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder".
Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Donna Miller, with a picture of her brother, Paul Carlile, who was 19 when he died at Hillsborough
  • March 1993: The 96th victim of the Hillsborough disaster, Tony Bland, dies after being left severely brain damaged in the crush. After nearly four years in a persistent vegetative state, life support is removed after a legal battle. He was 18 at the time of the tragedy but 22 when he died.
  • December 1996: Hillsborough, a controversial drama-documentary by acclaimed Liverpool writer Jimmy McGovern, reveals new evidence claiming some of the 96 were still alive after 3.15pm. Researchers also track down Roger Houldsworth, the stadium's video technician, who said it should have been "obvious" to police that the pens were "very, very full" when gate C was opened.
  • February 2000: In a bid to hold someone criminally responsible for the deaths of the 96, the Hillsborough Families Support Group begins a private prosecution. David Duckenfield and his deputy Bernard Murray are charged with manslaughter and misconduct in public office. The jury acquits Mr Murray and, after they fail to reach a verdict on Mr Duckenfield, the judge imposes a "stay of prosecution" saying he should not face a retrial.
  • April 2009: At the 20th Hillsborough memorial event at Anfield, fans heckle the then Culture Secretary Andy Burnham demanding "justice for the 96". Their anger prompts the MP, an Everton fan from Merseyside who is now mayor of Greater Manchester, to join calls for any information held by public bodies on Hillsborough to be made released. A 140,000-signature petition forces a Commons debate leading to the full disclosure of 300,000 documents.
Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
A memorial at Anfield remembers the 96 fans who died
  • January 2010: The Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP) is appointed to review previously unseen evidence.
  • September 2012: After sitting for two years, the HIP publishes a damning report into the tragedy. It is highly critical of the emergency response by a number of organisations and blames senior officers for opening exit gates without thinking about what would happen.
  • September 2012: Former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie offers "profuse apologies to the people of Liverpool" for blaming fans for the Hillsborough tragedy. He says "I published in good faith and I am sorry that it was so wrong." Trevor Hicks, of the Hillsborough Families Support Group, says it was "too little, too late".
  • December 2012: The High Court quashes the original inquest verdicts that had stood for more than 20 years. Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge also orders new inquests after the HIP report said 41 of those who died might have been saved. Then home secretary Theresa May announces a new police inquiry into the disaster.
  • April 2013: The families' joy at the quashing of the original inquest verdicts is tempered by the death of campaigner Anne Williams from cancer at the age of 60. She never believed her son Kevin, and 94 others, were dead by 3.15pm on the day of the disaster and led calls to have verdicts overturned.
  • March 2014: The new Hillsborough inquests open in Warrington and last for two years - the longest inquests in UK legal history.
  • March 2015: After six days of questioning, David Duckenfield admits his failure to close a tunnel before opening gate C "was the direct cause of the deaths of 96 people". Under pressure, he "froze" and failed to consider the consequences of admitting thousands of fans on to already-packed terraces, he told the jury.
Image source, Dave Thompson
Image caption,
David Duckenfield gave evidence to the fresh Hillsborough inquests in 2015
  • April 2016: Hillsborough Inquests conclude the 96 who died in the 1989 disaster were unlawfully killed. Jurors agree fans played no part in the deaths and instead blame police failures, stadium design faults, and a delayed response by the ambulance service. Families celebrate as they emerge from court.
  • June 2017: The Crown Prosecution Service announces David Duckenfield is to be charged with manslaughter by gross negligence of 95 people. Under the law at the time, there can be no prosecution for the death of the 96th victim, Tony Bland, because he died more than a year and a day after his injuries were caused.
  • June 2017: Five other men also face charges: Former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell is charged with safety offences; former South Yorkshire Police (SYP) chief inspector Sir Norman Bettison is charged with four counts of misconduct in public office; former SYP solicitor Peter Metcalf and former SYP officers Donald Denton and Alan Foster are charged with perverting the course of justice.
  • June 2018: An order imposed in 2000 preventing Mr Duckenfield from being tried on charges relating to Hillsborough is lifted.
  • August 2018: All charges against Sir Norman Bettison, who was accused of trying to blame Liverpool fans for the disaster, are dropped because of insufficient evidence.
  • January 2019: The first Hillsborough trial begins at Preston Crown Court. Hillsborough match commander David Duckenfield denies the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans. Graham Mackrell denies two health and safety offences, one of which is later dropped due to lack of evidence.
  • April 2019: The jury fails to return a verdict on the manslaughter charge against Mr Duckenfield. Prosecutors say they will seek a retrial. Jurors did find Mackrell guilty by majority on a health and safety charge relating to the adequate provision of turnstiles on the day.
  • November 2019: After a six-week trial at Preston Crown Court, David Duckenfield is found not guilty of the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans.
  • April 2021: Trial of retired Ch Supt Donald Denton, retired Det Ch Insp Alan Foster and former South Yorkshire Police solicitor Peter Metcalf accused of altering police statements after the disaster opens at the Nightingale Court at the Lowry Theatre, Salford.
  • May 2021: Mr Denton, Mr Foster and Mr Metcalf are acquitted of perverting the course of justice. Mr Justice William Davis ruled they had no case to answer.
  • July 2021: Andrew Devine, who suffered life-changing injuries in the crush, dies at the age of 55. A coroner rules later that month that he had been unlawfully killed.
Image caption,
Ninety-seven Liverpool fans died as a result of the disaster on 15 April 1989