Hillsborough policeman breaks down as he recalls efforts to help fans
A former police officer broke down as he recalled the Hillsborough disaster to a jury.
Stephen Ellis was an inspector with South Yorkshire Police on duty outside the stadium on the day 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death on the Leppings Lane terrace.
A huge crowd had built up outside the ground at the turnstiles for Liverpool fans, Preston Crown Court has heard, and exit gates were opened to relieve the pressure and let fans in as kick-off approached for the 50,000 all-ticket FA Cup semi-final match in Sheffield on April 15, 1989.
But once the gates were opened many fans went inside and straight down a tunnel facing them, leading them on to already packed central pens on the terraces behind the goal.
David Duckenfield, who the prosecution alleges bore ultimate responsibility as match commander, is accused of “extraordinary failings” in not monitoring the overcrowding in the central pens, not blocking the tunnel so no more fans could get into the central pens, and not ensuring supporters were directed away from the pens behind the goal to less crowded areas.
Mr Ellis’s job on the day was to escort Liverpool fans arriving on a “Football Special” train to the ground, he said.
By 2.45pm, a dense crowd had built up amidst “bloody chaos” outside the ground, the jury has previously heard, with more of the 24,000 Liverpool fans arriving for kick-off, mounted police and foot patrols overwhelmed and spectators being crushed at the turnstiles.
Mr Ellis knelt on top of a police Land Rover to speak to fans, shouting through a loud speaker.
He told the jury: “It was to stop pushing, move back, telling them people are getting crushed at the front, please move back, stop being anxious, anything I could think of.
“I may have said that we are delaying kick-off, albeit I had no instructions.
“People were shouting ‘Get it delayed’, so I told them what they wanted to hear to calm the situation.”
At 2.52pm, the largest exit gate, gate C, was opened and more fans entered the ground, but over the next few minutes fans in pens three and four behind the goal were crushed to death and the match was abandoned.
Mr Ellis, his voice breaking, became distressed and had to compose himself before he continued: “This part upsets me because I was so concerned for the safety of people in front of Leppings Lane and I had been shouting over this speaker system for 20 minutes, coughing every 30 seconds because I was shouting so loud.
“Witnessing things in front of me, that I was seriously concerned and then what seemed like seconds, I looked again and there was just about five metres of spectators in front of the turnstiles.
“I had a huge sense of relief, but where have they gone? They went in there quick…”
Duckenfield, 74, of Bournemouth, denies the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans.
Former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell, 69, of Stocking Pelham, Herts, also denies health and safety offences.
The trial continues.