Hillsborough pitch like ‘battleground’ after crush, victim’s mother tells court

The mother of a Hillsborough victim has told a court that she saw the pitch turn into a “battleground” from the stand above the terraces where the fatal crush happened.

Dolores Steele, whose 15-year-old son Philip was one of the 96 people killed in the crush at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, gave evidence at the trial of match commander David Duckenfield and former Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Graham Mackrell on Friday.

She told Preston Crown Court that she and husband Les had travelled to the match on April 15 1989 with Philip and his brother Brian, 13.

The boys, who had tickets for the Leppings Lane terrace, went into the ground first and Mr and Mrs Steele followed later and took up seats in the West Stand, where they could look down on to the terrace.

She told the court she saw the coin toss at the start of the game but then became distracted by what was happening below.

She said: “It just didn’t look right at all, it suddenly looked very crowded down there.

“What I did see was somebody being carried, I don’t know whether they were male or female, but somebody was carried on to the pitch and then I saw a jacket being put over that person’s face.”

She said she could hear the crowd shouting for the gates to be opened because people were dying.

“I seem to remember about four police officers standing looking in towards the pens but nothing seemed to be getting done about it.”

Mrs Steele said a gate to the pen was opened and people were carried out.

“Suddenly the football pitch looked like a battleground – there were so many people out there lying round,” she said.

“I saw that first ambulance come along and by that time it all seemed like it was just slow motion.”

Mrs Steele told the court that she and her husband walked down from the stand and saw Brian standing on a wall in the concourse looking for his brother.

After splitting up to look for Philip, Mr and Mrs Steele were given an emergency number to call by a police officer.

The couple found a phone box nearby to make the call but there was a queue of “anxious people trying to get in touch with families”.

Mrs Steele said they went to the house of a “very kind lady” who told them they could use her phone to call the emergency number.

She said: “We just couldn’t get through on that number and we were at our wits’ end at this time, we just did not know what to do.”

She told the court the woman and her family were “guardian angels” and took Mr and Mrs Steele to Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital.

When they were there, she said, a doctor read out descriptions of people from Hillsborough who had been treated at the hospital and had died.

One of the descriptions almost matched Philip, but initials on a signet ring were in a different order from those on the ring he wore.

Mrs Steele said she found a nurse, who showed her the bag of possessions and identified it was Philip’s signet ring, which was in the bag along with his watch, a match ticket and some change.

The court heard that Mr and Mrs Steele were joined by Brian and taken to a boys’ club, where families had gathered, and then back to the gymnasium at Hillsborough stadium where Mr Steele identified Philip’s body.

Duckenfield, 74, denies the gross negligence manslaughter of 95 Liverpool fans who died in the crush on the Leppings Lane terrace.

Under the law at the time, there can be no prosecution over the 96th victim, Tony Bland, as he died more than a year and a day after the disaster.

Mackrell, 69, denies breaching a condition of the ground’s safety certificate and failing to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety Act.

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